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Making Macbeth: Week One

By Will Haydon | 15th June 2015

A drum. A drum. Macbeth doth come.

Principal photography of GSP Studios’ ambitiously innovative adaptation of Shakespeare’s ghastliest play has begun. Regular updates here as the six-week shoot progresses. Kit Monkman takes the helm – his debut as solo director, having made GSP’s first film, The Knife that Killed Me, with theatre director Marcus Romer. As in that film, Macbeth will be shot entirely against a green screen: the fully fleshed-out universe of the action will be supplied in post-production.

The idea is for the essence of this one-set, quasi-theatrical filming space to carry over into the film, supplementing and in some way qualifying the vast VFX backdrop, and generating a film that feels in equal measures rooted in theatrical traditions and cutting-edge filmic practice.

This photo: Painting the large green screen set prior to the shoot.

This photo: Painting the large green screen set prior to the shoot.

All shots are live-tested on the set, with the VFX backdrop substituting for the green screen to check no one’s walking through a pillar. Now is not the moment to reveal much about the look, but we can report that it’s not only intricately designed to showcase character and story powerfully, yet it will also make its own decisive interventions into that world.

Polanski’s sweeping landscapes, Kurosawa’s foggy battlefields, Justin Kurzel’s (promised) drizzly heaths? We think we have something quite special brewing to add to this line-up.

Some last minute studying.

Some last minute studying.

Kit is amply supported on-set: Tom Mattinson is creative producer – he and Kit are a tight-knit team behind the camera, independently nodding appreciation at the same moments, swooping together after takes to offer suggestions to Mark Rowley and Akiya Henry, who respectively play the troubled thane and his aspirational wife.

Judith Buchanan, a world-leading professor in Shakespeare and film from the University of York, was a central creative agent in the adaptation process and is now working with Kit and the actors to provide expert guidance in performance and language. And Tom Wexler, who alongside Kit runs an artistic agency, spearheaded the design of the world behind the actors and will oversee the integration of the filmed actors with this virtual world.

Mark Rowley (Macbeth) rehearsing with the director and producer.

Mark Rowley (Macbeth) rehearsing with the director and producer.

The key players gather behind the camera and before it as the first week of shooting begins, and the tone is easy, if a little apprehensive.

Monday is given over to costume tinkering, light checks and rehearsal. Mark, playing the lead, wryly asks whether he ought to be trusted with the stage daggers given the constant risk of him “going method." Akiya is subject to unremitting lighting tests – “Face the camera. Now in profile. Now the other way. Now back the other way” – and she sees the funny side, barely suppressing a trademark winsome laugh throughout.

Camera...

Camera...

By Friday, the effects of inhabiting the English language’s darkest manifestation start to show, and the current mood of the pair is, if not quite full of scorpions, at least ready for the weekend. They’re shooting ‘I have done the deed.’ It is the play’s emotional apex, a fraught moment of distilled intensity, so naturally Kit and Tom are keen to nail it.

The takes proliferate.

Mark’s preparatory routine before such a scene is to pace and bark profanities, which as the afternoon continues get louder and more profane, and beget a wonderfully appropriate nervy edge in the room which feeds directly into the performance.

VFX Tests

VFX Tests

When the end of shooting for the day is finally called, it’s a welcome reprieve, and we all to some degree shake out the shadows of the play.

NEXT WEEK: Mark and Akiya will have company – Banquo, Fleance and, whisper it, the witches will tread the fluorescent green floors of GSP Studios. Catch you then!

You can learn more about GSP’s production of Macbeth on their Facebook page and on Twitter (@macbeth_thefilm)

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