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Categories: Interviews

Simon Rowling is a cinematographer whose work includes a BBC sci-fi drama, a biopic about Henry VIII, and a medieval “Predator” fan film with over a million views on YouTube. Simon sat down with Cameron Johnson to discuss his approach to cinematography.

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Simon Rowling is a talented cinematographer with strong technical knowledge and a diverse resume. Relatively new to the job after to switching from special effects a few years ago (he has a degree in model-making), Simon has worked with an international range of producers and directors, on projects from commercials to music promos to short and feature films.

Notable among his work is the fan film Predator: Dark Ages, a film he co-created and shot with director James Bushe that has gone viral on YouTube, raking in over a million views. Combing sci-fi elements with a textured, detailed dark ages world complete with Templar Knights and “Saracens”, Predator: Dark Ages is pure genre fun, accessible even to those unfamiliar with the Predator. I spoke with Simon about his work on the Predator fan film and his approach to cinematography in general.

Tell me about your work on Predator: Dark Ages. Where did the idea come from?

I met James Bushe, the director, for a pint, and he mentioned to me the idea of doing Predator, but in medieval times, and I was like “ah, we could it in the dark ages with Templar knights” and he was like “Templar knights, that’s better than shiny armor knights!” So we came up with that idea there and started working on it, and a year later we released. We produced it ourselves, and we got a couple other producers on board for when we were filming. 

How as cinematographer did you go about combining the medieval setting with the sci-fi element of the Predator?

We were just really going off the original. I didn’t watch the original leading up to filming, but I had an idea of what shots would work. I thought it would be nice to have high production values with everything on steadicam. So we shot pretty much 90% of it on steadicam, and then for time, with standing-still conversations we did handheld. I wanted to go handheld as soon as we saw the Predator, as soon as he de-cloaked, that’s when the shit hit the fan, when we could start getting more movement with the handheld, get that bit more urgency happening. 

There are also shots in there that are homages to the original. If you watch the original, they almost do family portrait setups, where a character’s kneeling, and another one is crouched over him, and then the other one’s taller, then the other one’s taller, so it looks like a family portrait, or like a rugby team photo, yet they’re just looking into the jungle. 

I’d say all that was about 75% me, and 25% the director, in terms of how we could approach certain elements, but we agreed on a lot of stuff in terms of taking stuff from the original.

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So does the cinematographer have a lot of creative control over what the shots look like?

Well, I think in 10-20 years time, the better directors I work with will probably tell me what to do. Most of the time, when you’re younger, I think DoPs have to be more [knowledgeable]. Often, it’s just a case where I have to get my mind around the director’s brain, and understand what he wants, and I interpret that. We’ll often talk about every single shot that we’re gonna do, and come to an agreement. 

Were there any significant challenges when filming on location for Predator: Dark Ages?

We were lucky that it was quite warm mid-October [2014]. It was about the same as this year – the leaves hadn’t fallen and they were going orange, which is what I wanted, that kind of rusty metal color. We kept pushing the date of the shoot, and it ended up being the perfect time, because the trees were starting to go orange. I didn’t want it to be like the original Predator, which is green, green, green, green, cause they’re in the bloody jungle, whereas with us, I wanted to have something medieval, but it had that little sci-fi element. It was more a standalone medieval film, but with a really cool character that everyone knows, than just another Predator film. 

We always had, because we were under canopies of trees, the odd sprinkling, and a bit of mud, and that’s why we did a lot of steadicam stuff, cause it takes time laying track, and if you only have one or two grips it’s really difficult. But the only real issue was the amount of people we had on set, and the distance we had to go. Kit, and people, are the main issues. 

On your website you have the motto “’creating a beautifully lit image from nothing, is a truly exciting task to undertake”. What makes that process exciting for you?

It just brings things to life. It’s like sculpting – I used to sculpt, and sometimes still do – making something from nothing, you can look back, and go “wow, this is what I’ve done!” I think in life, if you can do something, and look back on it, and you’re happy, and it gives you pleasure, and it gives others pleasure, then I think that’s one of the most important things. Whether it’s having children, or sculpting beautiful casts that you have in your hallway, or making a beautiful film and a beautifully-lit image, creativity is the most important thing in life. If you can make something out of nothing, and it’s beautiful, then I think it’s a great thing. 

Follow Simon Rowling on Twitter @SimonRowling. Find out more about his work on his website

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Posted on Dec 7, 2015

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