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THE DUNES Specialist Portfolio

By Natalja Safronova Natalja Safronova


The visual style of ‘The Dunes’ was largely formed through location scouting and based on the seaside town of Hastings which we visited in the early stages of preproduction. Hastings weather, location and the mood of the town shaped the script as did the location - an old apartment right on the seafront of Hastings town centre. As the story was shaping inf luenced by the location, so were the visuals and the mood of the film.

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INTRODUCTION ‘The Dunes’ is a short f ilm about Eric, a old man living in a carehome by the sea and unable to paint anymore. With the unexpected arival of a new roommate Eric changes his attitute towards life and starts to paint again. Cinematography of the f ilm is inspired by the emptiness of the space around the characters as in the actual location so in the created one. The idea to use the 2.35:1 aspect ratio also appeared due to the large amount of empty spaces in the location and the ratio is used to intensify that. Ideally, I wanted to use Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.40:1 but unfortunately the spaces once furnished became much smaller and due to budget restrictions we could not afford to have the lenses wider than 18mm. Apart from the story and the location setting the mood and look of the f ilm, I had other major inf luences. These primarily include Wong Kar-wai’s f ilms and Christopher Doyle’s cinematography. As Wong often tends to use off centre framings with characters looking off screen instead of the more conventional framings - for example, if a character occupies left third of the frame he has to look to the right of the frame. Here, consciously, I let the characters occupy the left/ right side of the frame and look the same way. The characters often occupy quite a small part of the frame comparing to the empty space around them. The first half of the film was planned to be shot mostly in wide shots to again intensify the emotional isolation of Eric who rejects the company of Thomas. Most of the other characters - Lady Violin, Lady Ballerina and the Lady in Waiting were also shot mostly in wides to portray the atmosphere of emptiness in the carehome.

Natalja Safronova


‘La Grande Bellezza’

Paolo Sorrentino / Italy / 2013

‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ Tim Burton / USA/ 2007

‘In the Mood for Love’ Wong Kar-wai / Hong Kong /


‘One Million Yen Girl’ ‘Dunny’

Yuki Tanada/ Japan / 2008

Phillip Van / 9 min / USA / 2009 ‘In the Mood for Love’ Wong Kar-wai / Hong Kong /


‘Holy Motors’

Leos Carax / France / 2012

‘2046’ Wong Kar-wai / Hong Kong /

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‘Stoker’ Chan-wook Park / USA /


‘The Dunes’ We adapted the lighting idea from ‘Stoker’ to the bathroom scene by creating a grid like effect to portray the idea of Eric feeling trapped.

The visual references include a variety of films, however, it is hard to name one which would serve as a major inspiration. The framing style perhaps comes more from Wong Kar-wai’s works and especially ‘2046’ with its off-centre framings. Other inspirations include some shots from ‘La Grande Bellezza’, ‘One Million Yen Girl’, ‘Holy Motors’, and images from the internet. Therefore, it could be concluded that inspiration came more from watching f ilms in general as well as the script and the location with their quirky and a little bit of a surreal feel.

Natalja Safronova



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THE VISUAL PHILOSOPHY OF ‘THE DUNES’ 1) Eric is shown in Medium shots or Wide Shots in the beginning of the film so the audience feels distant from him 2) Eric and Thomas are shown separately in Wide or Medium Wide shots until they become friends 3)The atmosphere is still most of the time, if there is camera movement, it is slow 4) While most of the shots involving Eric are completely still, the shots with Thomas often have slight camera movement 5) Lighting on Thomas is yellowish 6) Lighting on Eric is bluish 7)No over the shoulder shots 8) As the story progresses the camera gets closer to the characters and lighting gets more of a warm tint. 9)Two shots, handheld camera and faster camera movements are introduced with the development of the relationship between Eric and Thomas 10) Eric’s POVs are fiilmed on a lensbaby (originally, Eric was supposed to be on the verge of blindness) f

Natalja Safronova


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An idea to create a Quirky World through using miniature effect with Tilt Shift lenses

In the beginning of the preproduction, when the f ilm had more of a surreal touch and sci-f i elements and due to the budget restrictions I decided to shoot on Canon C300 and Zeiss CP2 primes to achieve a sharp, non cinematic look. However, as the story kept developing the sharp look was not needed any longer. As the budget for the camera and lighting was restricting, after some tests I decided to rent out SOFT FX Filters. This way we were still on the budget but got that soft cinematic look. While looking for equipment which would help to create the quirky world, I was considering the use of tilt shift lenses for 2 reasons. The first was to create a miniature effect when the house or any parts of the town or seaside are seen. The second idea was to tilt and shift while f ilming to achieve a weird effect of the changing perspective. However, again, with the story developing in a different direction, a more conventional look became preferable. Another creative tool used was Macro extension tubes used with my M42 mount old Soviet 50mm lens to get some extreme close ups of Eric’s and Thomas’ faces. In a peculiar way, an overtly soft photographic lens on a sharp C300 camera gave much more cinematic look than any of the other expensive lenses used.

Natalja Safronova


Filming and editing the Kickstarter video was a useful preparation and a test before the actual shoot. It was helpful in creating the mood and getting the feel of the locations of the seaside town of Hastings. It was also an opportunity to see the space on camera and previsualise the shots and equipment needed.

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Natalja Safronova


In the beginning of their relationship Eric and Thomas are shown as opposites - always in the straight on shots - Medium or Wides. Lighting also adds to the mood - shots with Eric are much bluer than the light falling on Thomas. With the progression of the relationship the lighting becomes warmer and camera moves in closer to the characters.


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THE LIFT SCENE An important scene for the development of the relationship between the two characters is the lift scene where Eric and Thomas are framed in the same shot for the f irst time apart from the Bathroom scene where they meet. It is a one long take trip in the lift through 5 floors. The idea was to light all the floors so the lighting becomes brighter and warmer as the lift goes up. Half a day was spent with a team of 5 people running extension cables through the building and lighting the location. Unfortunately, with things constantly going wrong while trying to control lighting on 5 f loors only 1 of the 6 takes has the right lighting. As performance is not great on that take, the director and editor decided to use a different one in the cut. THOMAS






Natalja Safronova

GETTING THAT SHOT While exploring the location I noticed an intereting effect of the grid which appeared as the sun was shining through the window. Later I asked the gaffer to recreate it on Eric. By cutting out holes in one of the polyboards and shining a 2K from the balcony we managed to recreate the effect on Eric on an overcast day.

The wheelchair race was shot on 400mm lens with the next shot from a wheelchair to see the contrast between Thomas and Eric

Lensbaby Effect was used for Eric’s POV shots to suggest his eyesight problems

To get the shot of the line we clamped a slider to 2 stands upside down, so the camera was sliding along the line while looking directly at it.

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Fig.3 Lady Violin’ scene as planned

Fig.1 - Rotating light in front of Lady Violin’s face

Lady Violin’s scene, even if it did not make it to the f inal version of the f ilm, was supposed to play an important part in Eric’s emotional change and development between his and Thomas’ relationship. I have done a lot of visual research and tests with lighting to ensure the scene has a visual impact as well as the emotional one. Originally, when the f ilm had a more of a surreal touch, my plan was to use the Tilt Shift lenses when the ‘transformation’ of the older Lady Violin to the younger one occurs. I was hoping to tilt and shift the perspective simultaneously as the change progresses while achieving the effect of the whole room moving around her. As the f ilm was gradually turning from surreal to just quirky, the idea with changing lighting appeared. An option of having a bulb rotating aroud her face (Fig.1) as she is playing the violin would have created a transformation of the face through the shadows. Another option (F ig.2) was using an LED light gradually going down and sideways would create an effect of Lady Violin’s shadow dancing separately from her. In the end, we decided to make the scene elegant and went for the option with just seeing her silhouette at the window (Fig.3) However, things on the day went wrong and we lost the daylight being unable to shoot the scene. Therefore her scene was recreated in a studio in a simple and elegant way as in Fig. 4.

Fig.4 Lady Violin’ scene - f inal version

Fig. 2 LED light moving up and down creating a ‘dancing’ shadow Natalja Safronova

STORYBOARDS Storyboards by Natalja Safronova

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Finished Storyboards by the Storyboard Artist Tohko Kanzaki

Natalja Safronova


Mega Boom Arm for a Top Down Shot in the Bathroom

Mega Boom Arm for a Top Down Shot of Eric and Thomas

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Lighting elevator scenes

Camera and Lighting team meeting

Handheld shots for the Balerina scene

Thomas’ death scene on a slider

Wet and Windy day on the beach

DOP and the Gaffer checking frame and Lighting in the lift scene

Dollycrane set up for the mural scene

Camera and Lighting team

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The Dunes