• Search Keywords

  • Year

  • Production Status

  • Genre

  • Co-production

  • SA Supported

  • First Nations Creative

  • Length

  • Technique

  • SHARE THIS ARTICLE

Podcast – Dune director of photography Greig Fraser ACS, ASC

From Lion to The Mandalorian, Dune and soon The Batman, Australian director of photography Greig Fraser ACS, ASC charts his story-driven approach.

Greig Fraser on the set of Dune

Greig Fraser on the set of Dune

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

Director of photography Greig Fraser ACS, ASC says filming features such as Lion and Mary Magdalene helped in the lighting approach for sci-fi epic Dune.

Fraser was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Lion, which similar to Mary Magdalene (both were directed by Garth Davis), didn’t rely on big artificial light sources.

“I have a definite bent when it comes to what I like to see from a lighting perspective,” Fraser says on the latest episode of the Screen Australia Podcast.

“I do like natural light. I do like it when it feels like everything's motivated by the real world…

“So on Lion and Mary Magdalene we didn't light that much, but when we did have to, it was really important that those lights didn't stand out. So that when you watch the movie, you don't go, 'oh yeah… scene 10, they had a big lighting set up there'… because then you'd be out of the movie.

“I do believe that that experience and that ideal coming to a film like [Dune] helped it feel grounded.”

Dune is based on 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert and is the latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049). It stars the likes of Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Dave Baustista and more, and tells the story of young man pulled by fate into an intergalactic power struggle. Set thousands of years in the future, it brings to life a world of enormous scale – one of different planets, vast landscapes, and conflicts over natural resources.

The shoot also came off the back of Fraser’s Emmy-award winning work on The Mandalorian, which used ground-breaking VFX technology. Dune is just as big in terms of scale, but Villeneuve prioritises in-camera, practical effects as much as possible. Fraser says it was fantastic to move between the two, very different approaches to sci-fi worlds.

“If I've done Mandalorian, then I go and do Dune in a totally different way, it's amazing because you get to pivot,” he says. “I think that's part of the enjoyment that I get out of doing films of different types is that I get to pivot literally on a dime where last week I might have been in the in the desert of Abu Dhabi, but next week I'm going to be in a rainy kind of northern Scottish city looking at something. For me, there's something about that because I don't get bored and I get to make sure I give everything that I can to a project because I'm super pumped about what I'm trying to do.”

Throughout the podcast, Fraser talks about why Dune is a movie to see on the big screen, the choice to shoot on IMAX and the camera and lenses they went with, and a technique they used which found a middle ground between shooting on digital or film.

Fraser also speaks to his career, which encompasses Australian features Last Ride and Jewboy, as well as films including Bright Star, Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher, Snow White and the Huntsman, Vice, and Rogue One: A Star War Story. He also has The Batman coming out in 2022, which he lensed for director Matt Reeves.

“There's a misconception that I base my decisions or DPs base their decisions on the size of a movie, or the budget, or the scale. And it's totally not. For me, it's total story-based and filmmaker-based. It's trying to work with my buddies, filmmakers or people who I've known for a while, like Denis, who I really wanted to work with, or Matt (Reeves), who I've known now for 12 plus years,” he says.

Dune is a huge movie and it's exhausting even just thinking about how big it was, but it's also a real small story about that family, about character.”

Dune is a Warner Bros film, distributed in Australia by Universal Pictures, and is in cinemas now.

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast, I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication, Screen News. I'd firstly like to acknowledge the countries we meet on. Wherever you might be listening in from, we are joining from the unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This podcast has been produced on the lands of the Gadigal people who are of the Eora Nation. I'm a visitor on this land and have huge privilege to be able to work on this country. Always was, always will be. On this episode of the podcast we are joined by Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser ACS ASC, who was the director of photography on the new sci-fi feature Dune, which was directed by Denis Villeneuve and is in cinemas now. Based on the 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, the movie stars the likes of Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebeca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista and more, and tells the story of a young man pulled by fate into an intergalactic power struggle. Set thousands of years in the future, it brings to life an epic world: one of different planets, vast landscapes and conflicts over natural resources. Throughout the chat with Greig, he talks about why this is a movie to see on the big screen, the choice to shoot on IMAX and how his work on Australian features Lion and Mary Magdalene, which relied a lot on the use of natural light, helped in his approach to Dune and the big desert sequences. He also talks about a technique they used on Dune that found a kind of middle ground between shooting on digital or shooting on film. Before we dive into the chat, a bit about Greig first. His extensive credits include Australian features, Last Ride, Jew Boy and the aforementioned Lion and Mary Magdalene, as well as films including Bright Star, Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher, Snow White and The Huntsman, Vice and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In 2020, Greig won the Emmy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on the Disney+ series The Mandalorian. And aside from the release of Dune, he also has The Batman coming out next year, which he lensed for director Matt Reeves. To stay up to date with the Screen Australia podcast, you can subscribe to places like Spotify or iTunes, where you can leave a rating and review. Send any questions or feedback to [email protected] . And remember to subscribe to Screen Australia's fortnightly e-newsletter for all the latest articles, funding announcements, videos and more. Now here's Dune director of photography Greig Fraser. 

[00:02:42] Caris Bizzaca So just first of all, just acknowledging that you have worked on some huge international productions, you know, The Batman is coming out, Rogue One, The Mandalorian and now Dune. Do you remember what one of the first big international projects you worked on as a cinematographer was when you made that leap from like the Aussie industry to the global one? 

[00:03:03] Greig Fraser It's a funny, funny one. Because, yes, I can tell you that I definitely did a film called Let Me In, which was an American film. So if you want to say that was the leap, maybe, but I also did a film called Bright Star with Jane Campion, which was a really beautiful film, and The Boys Are Back with Scott Hicks and, you know, The Last Ride. So I feel like I've not really ever made the leap per say, but obviously it's just happened by default. You know what I mean, like-. 

[00:03:34] Caris Bizzaca Mmhmm. The next project. 

[00:03:34] Greig Fraser The next story that I'm working on it. That's right. But remember, I did Lion with Garth Davis as well. So in the middle of, you know, I think I did maybe Lion just after Rogue One or just before or whatever, but it felt like it was kind of trying to mix up the sizes of movies. Like there's a misconception that I base my decisions, or DPs (Directors of Photography) base their decisions on say the size of a movie or the budget, or the scale. And it's totally not. For me, it's total story-based and it's total filmmaker-based, and it's trying to work with my buddies, filmmakers or people who I've known for a while, like Denis, who I really want to work with, or Matt (Reeves), who I've also known for a while, like I've known Matt now for 12 plus years. So, yeah, it's a bit of a misconception about trying to do big movies. Like, you're right, Dune is a huge movie and it's exhausting even just thinking about how big it was. But it's also a real small story about family, about character. So that's where I kind of liken it to other smaller scale films that I've done. 

[00:04:51] Caris Bizzaca At its heart they're the same. 

[00:04:53] Greig Fraser Yeah, exactly. 

[00:04:55] Caris Bizzaca So, you know, Dune, obviously, your latest work based on the 1965 sci fi novel by Frank Herbert, but I heard in terms of you coming on the project, I heard it was actually another cinematographer Roger Deakins, who first introduced you to director Denis Villeneuve. Is that right? How did you meet, if not? 

[00:05:14] Greig Fraser It is. It is. It was quite a while ago, actually. I think they'd just finished Sicario or something. And I had a nice barbecue down at Roger's house. I met Roger actually on like a Hollywood Reporter roundtable that I was doing what I was doing Bright Star and I met him years ago. So I've known Roger and James for years. And so they have these famous barbecues at their house in Los Angeles. And yeah, I was invited along and met Denis. It was fantastic. It was enjoyable. I mean, of course, that was way too early for him to be offering me movies. But it was a nice introduction to the guy in a very social environment, not in a stressful sort of film environment. 

[00:05:55] Caris Bizzaca Mmm. And then how did Dune come about? 

[00:05:58] Greig Fraser He rang me. I mean, he sort of called me. I knew his production designer, Patrice Vermette, who listen I probably over a massive debt of gratitude to for suggesting my name. 

[00:06:12] Caris Bizzaca You worked with Patrice on the Dick Cheney movie Vice. Is that right? 

[00:06:15] Greig Fraser That's correct. Yeah, that's correct. Yeah, so I probably owe him a big debt. Because I'm sure Denis went, 'what's this Greig Fraser and Patrice easily could have said, 'oh, that Australian a-hole, don't work with him'. But funny enough, we got along really well with me and Patrice. But what I've discovered with the French Canadians is they're a lot like Australians in that they don't really beat around the bush, like we call a spade a spade. If we like something, everybody knows we like it because we're not afraid of expressing ourselves. And if we don't like something, everybody knows it because we're not afraid of expressing ourselves. So I found that in Hollywood, which is obviously there's a lot of great things going for Hollywood, but that doesn't exist that often - that straightforwardness, that bluntness, that lack of a filter which we, as Australians, hold quite quite dear to our hearts. I found getting along with Patrice really well, like that. And the same goes with Denis. He's a passionate man. Like if he likes something, you know it in a second. 

[00:07:25] Caris Bizzaca And so then in terms of your approach in Dune, from a cinematography standpoint, you know, there was some IMAX format, some handheld camera work depending on what's being shot. Can you talk about your different approaches with this film? 

[00:07:39] Greig Fraser Well Denis told me that he dreamt this film in 4:3, and that's a very unusual thing to dream a movie in 4:3, because if you think traditionally 4:3 is a TV format, you know, an old TV format, like analogue TV, but also, some arthouse movies like black and white polish films are in 4:3 like, it's a bit of an arthouse format. And so to dream about a movie like this in that format is unusual considering it was going to go wide. But we talked about this going well, how else can we see it in 4:3? What other projection formats are in 4:3 and we went and looked at IMAX and said, right, well, maybe this is the way to see this movie. Maybe the way he was seeing it was 4:3, but he wasn't seeing it 4:3 cropped at the sides in the regular cinema. He was seeing it 4:3 in IMAX, you know, 12 stories high and 14 stories wide, like something that's super duper big. And we did some of our testing in the IMAX theatre in Los Angeles, and that was definitely the format we were going to shoot. Like we could tell instantly, like that size, we were like, 'Oh, yes'. I think we were saying, I mean, could you imagine Timothee's face, you know, 12 stories high? Could you imagine Josh Brolin's head kind of 14 storeys wide? Like, we were kind of like just dreaming about what these tests would look like. And these tests were amazing, but they didn't have amazing actors or bells and whistles, and we were blown away by the tests. So we're like, well, maybe maybe with the proper ingredients, this film will look amazing in that format. So that's where we kind of finished on 4:3 for IMAX, and then we knew we couldn't do everything in 4:3 because it was a story that sort of had to open up to Arrakeen. And so all the interiors, a lot of the interior work and stuff on Caladan was 2:40. And then when he got outside into this land that he'd been dreaming about, we clicked open to 4:3. 

[00:09:55] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, OK. And in describing this movie to people, one of the things I found myself saying was how it was a big screen movie. In the same way, like Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 felt like a movie you wanted to see at the cinema. What is it that makes this a big screen movie? Is it that IMAX format? Is it something else? 

[00:10:16] Greig Fraser Yeah, it's a really great question because I feel like the cinema is an event, you know, and there was an era, long ago, and again, I probably wasn't around and conscious for it where people would get dressed up, they'd go to the cinema. Like that would be their outing for the week. They'd sit in a room of people and they'd laugh or they'd cry or they'd scream. That idea of community enjoyment of a product feels like it's kind of been whittled away with social media, with small screen, with home theatre, all these factors. And Denis and I both love going into the dark room and watching a big screen event. So we're like, 'Well, how do we make this so'? And IMAX felt like a really good way to do it. And also, the story just opened itself up to it. Like, you've got these intimate little moments with humans that we know and love. And then it opens up - these big action pieces and these massive CG effects and big practical effects. So it felt like the right time to to send everyone back to the cinema. But funnily enough, it happened before COVID, so we were dreaming about this before the idea that actually you couldn't fill a theatre with people even existed and so COVID for a period of time really put the brakes on that idea. And there was, I'm sure there was talk about releasing it not to the cinema, which would have been an absolute travesty. So now that it has been released, everybody that goes and sees it in the cinema we're eternally grateful because I believe we're part of the wave that gets people going to see films back in theatres. 

[00:12:03] Caris Bizzaca And, you know, you mentioned something like visual effects there. But a film like Dune, from what I've heard, it didn't want to rely on visual effects. And I was just wondering, something like The Mandalorian has a huge level of CGI. It doesn't use green screen, but it used these like virtual sets and you know, for anyone that doesn't know what I'm talking about, look it up. It's pretty incredible. But my point being that the approach from Dune was very different. What was it like going, you know, from The Mandalorian to another sci fi world in Dune, but where everything like the shadows, the sand, the light, it's very in-camera. 

[00:12:41] Greig Fraser Yeah, it was amazing. And you know why it's amazing is because I get bored super fast. So the thing is, if I've done Mandalorian, then I go and do Dune in a totally different way, then it's amazing because you get to pivot. You get to not do the same thing twice, you know? And I think that's part of the enjoyment that I get out of doing films of different types, is that I get to pivot literally on a dime where last week I might have been in the desert of Abu Dhabi, but next week I'm going to be in a rainy kind of northern Scottish city looking at something. And there's something about that. For me there's something about that because then I don't get bored. And also, I get to make sure I give everything that I can to a project because I'm super pumped about what I'm trying to do. So when it comes to Mandalorian and Dune, I mean Denis wanted to make sure that he did this as practical a way as possible and I was down with it. I mean, I was fully supportive because how could you not be. Like, that's a great way to do it. 

[00:13:53] Caris Bizzaca And you and Australian director Garth Davis, who you worked with many times, but most recently, Mary Magdalene and Lion, like you really achieved a look without using a lot of lighting. You relied on locations and times of day. Did that help with coming to Dune, particularly with those big desert scenes? 

[00:14:14] Greig Fraser Yes, I think it did, actually. I think it did. And I have a definite bent when it comes to what I like to see from a lighting perspective. I do like natural light. I do like it when it feels like everything's motivated by  the real world. So I definitely have a bent like that. So on Lion and Mary Magdalene we didn't light that much, but when we did have to light, it was really important that those lights didn't stand out. So that when you watch the movie, you don't go, 'oh yeah, scene seven that was lit. Or scene 10, they had a big lighting set up there'. Like, it was important that you never thought that because then you'd be out of the movie. So, yeah I do believe that experience and that ideal coming to a film like this, helped it feel grounded. 

[00:15:07] Caris Bizzaca Hmm. And what camera and lenses did you actually shoot on in the end for Dune? 

[00:15:14] Greig Fraser So we shot with the Alexa LF and we shot with Panavision Ultra Vistas and Panavision H-series lenses. And that was because we went from anamorphic 2:40 to 4:3. So yeah, it was quite a juggle for my camera department to make sure that we had every single lens that we needed. It was a bit of a big package and I'll give it to them as my thanks because I know it weighed on their job description quite heavily. 

[00:15:46] Caris Bizzaca And so shooting on an Alexa obviously meant, you know, opting for digital cinema camera as opposed to using something analogue like film. But I heard that you did something pretty interesting as a technique that still put Dune through that analogue process. Can you explain what that was and what it actually means for a viewer? 

[00:16:04] Greig Fraser Yeah, I can, because I think it's a really interesting technique that will interest a lot of filmmakers going forward, you know? And basically there's two camps, there's 'I want to shoot on film' camp and we know who those directors are and there's the 'I want to shoot on digital' camp and there's a lot of directors in that camp. There's nowhere in the middle that it kind of falls. Like you either shoot digital and also film and then you mix the formats, they look different. Or in what we did on Dune is we shoot digitally, we output digitally, we do all the post digitally, we do everything the way that's the most efficient and that was best for this film. And then we spat it out to film. We spat it out to a film on a film scanner. And so we've got a negative now that sits of Dune. It's a negative. It's over seven reels or however many reels it is. And we re-scanned that and that's the film that you see in the cinema. So you re-scan it and then you re-grade or you just touch up the grade to make sure that it all matches and you're now watching something that's been through the film process. Like, there are so many people that have so many opinions about film and digital. Like I mean, listen, go to a cinematographer's party and start listening to the conversations about film versus digital. It's actually a bit silly because people get so passionate about their beliefs. But the good thing about this is that you have a format that you can put in the middle of the output, so it's digital acquired, but then film output. And you could output to negative or you can output to negative and then print, or you can skip bleach or you can push the negative or you can flash it. There's so many kind of options now. That on Dune, there was a number of flash forward, like flash sequences, dream sequences that we output to 16mm and 8mm and then the editor and Denis had the option to decide on the best image that suited that scene. And if they've got this entire sequence in 8mm and 16mm, they can choose the first shots in 8mm, the second shots in 16mm, the third shots in 8mm and the fourth shots in 35mm. So they can actually choose depending on what's best for the movie, what format they choose. And that's something that hasn't really been on the radar of many people. Because what's happened, unfortunately, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, is that film labs have closed, so there now is not that option in Australia and New Zealand to do that. I mean, maybe I'm wrong, and I feel like that's probably not an option there. 

[00:18:53] Caris Bizzaca Mm-Hmm. And so just I suppose lastly, you know, Dune is such a massive story that the book has been split into two films. Like while you're doing press for this first one, are you already in pre on the second? 

[00:19:07] Greig Fraser Well, I'm not officially, no. But it definitely is in my brain. And I'm spending a bit of time with Denis and quite a few of our collaborators. It's definitely being discussed. I can tell you that, like, we're not talking about the last one. We're looking forward. So it's definitely being discussed. And I know that Denis' working quite furiously on it. So yeah, it's very forefront of our imaginations right now. 

[00:19:39] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, fantastic. All right, a lot for us to look forward to. Well, we'll have to leave it there, but thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today and talking to us all about your career in Dune. 

[00:19:51] Greig Fraser Yeah, my pleasure. Good to talk to you. 

[00:19:55] Caris Bizzaca That was Dune director of photography Greig Fraser. And remember, you can catch the film in cinemas now. For all the latest episodes of the Screen Australia podcast, click that subscribe button on places like Spotify and iTunes, where you can leave a rating and review. And remember for all the latest funding announcements, videos, articles and more, you can also subscribe to the Screen Australia fortnightly newsletter. Thanks for listening.