The Immersive Glow of Red Sparrow

Gaffer Walter Bithell Gives an Inside Look at the Lighting Approach for Francis Lawrence’s Latest Mystery Thriller

Francis Lawrence’s third collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence follows ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) who is recruited to Sparrow School, a Russian secret intelligence service that trains young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Her outlook on her training suddenly changes when she meets a CIA agent who tries to convince her not to trust anyone. Both Lawrences previously teamed up in the Hunger Games series. Like the former, Red Sparrow is also based off a best selling, highly acclaimed novel. Production took place in Budapest, Hungary-Vienna, Austria-Bratislava, Slovakia and London, England early last year. With the premiere right around the corner, we were able to catch up with Gaffer Walter Bithell.

If you’ve seen the trailer for Red Sparrow, you’d immediately notice the riveting and mesmeric cinematography conducted by Jo Willems, ASC, SBC. “He (Willems) approached Red Sparrow with an eye towards stylized naturalism. His general approach is to let the story dictate the actual style,” says Gaffer Walter Bithell. To help capture the stylistic natural aesthetic, Bithell relied on a broad assortment of different LiteGear fixtures. “We could not have shot Red Sparrow the way we did without LiteGear products.  We used them for everything on every single set.  We shot for 85 days in 45 locations and there wasn’t one day on the entire movie where we didn’t use at least one LiteGear product,” says Bithell. He adds, “Many of our locations were chosen to reflect the diverse architecture of Eastern Europe.  A mixture of buildings ranging from the ancient architecture of the Roman Empire and expanding along the timeline from Neo Gothic, Ottoman, Baroque, Classical, Neo-Classical, Communist, Art Nouveau, Contemporary and Postmodern.   We ended up shooting in quite a few buildings from the Eastern Bloc Communist era.  So the lighting had to take all of this into account but still have a unifying feel.”

Before principle photography commenced, Bithell reached out to us in regards to creating a variety of custom LiteRibbon panels in many different sizes and shapes. We were able to design and construct multiple RGBA/ RGBW/ Hybrid circular panels, square panels, LiteStix, and jem ball inserts. “We used the custom pads in cars, behind computer screens, hidden on the side of beds and dressers, inside of lamps.  Anywhere really,” says Bithell.  He adds, “We used LiteStix in cars, on the edge of moulding and ceilings, on the floor, behind beds, on desks, counters, kitchens etc.  We used the RGBT & RGBW pads to create round, colored reflections in actors eyes (eye pings) or to recreate sodium and mercury vapor colors as fill light.”

Bithell and his team would rely on LiteMat for many interior shots throughout the film. “We used LiteMats on interiors for everything,” says Bithell. He adds, “Key, fill, backlight, general room tone. We shot inside a lot of older buildings where we would only be there for a few days.  Many of these were historical buildings with extreme restrictions on drilling, grip rigging, wall spreaders etc.” Bithell ended up utilizing over 12 LiteMats for Red Sparrow. “LiteMats were perfect because they are lightweight and fast,” says Bithell.  He adds, “We ran them wirelessly off of batteries every single day.  Anywhere we could fit them was where we put them.”

Red Sparrow has all of the key ingredients to become the next big espionage popcorn flick. Check it out in theaters March 2nd.