Today is the UK general cinema release of “The Limehouse Golem“, an adaptation of Peter Ackroyds novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem”.
Starring Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth and Daniel Mays amongst many others. Alan Rickman was originally cast but became too unwell to continue with the project and sadly passed away in January 2016.
“The city of London is gripped with fear as a serial killer – dubbed The Limehouse Golem – is on the loose and leaving cryptic messages written in his victim’s blood. With few leads and increasing public pressure, Scotland Yard assigns the case to Inspector Kildare (Nighy) – a seasoned detective with a troubled past and a sneaking suspicion he’s being set up to fail. Faced with a long list of suspects, including music hall star Dan Leno (Booth), Kildare must get help from a witness who has legal troubles of her own (Cooke) so he can stop the murders and bring the killer to justice.” – rljentertainment
Its been two years since my first involvement with this movie. I was asked not to post any details to social media or to my blog until now, sworn to secrecy as such. I’ll not be revealing any spoilers or twists either so you’ll just have to go to the cinema and see it for yourselves.
Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite.
I sent along some examples of my work, and then Mary came to the studio to see the process first hand. She showed the results to the Director, he loved it and wanted me on board.
So between September to November I had ten sessions at various locations that included London, Leeds, Bramham Park, Wentworth Woodhouse and Dalton Mill, Keighley.
Sessions were split into three specific themes: cast portraits, some as advertising and others for murder suspect portraits, a set of scene of crime photography and also a series of fetish nudes.
The Cast Portraits
Cast portraits were shot at a variety of locations, usually when the cast were available between scenes. Mostly comprise of wholeplate tintypes. The “Dan Leno” portraits were most difficult for Douglas Booth as he wanted to capture a certain look that the original Dan Leno had. This involved a grin which was difficult to maintain for the lengthy exposures and pre-focus was tricky, as the resting face of Douglas was in a different plane each time to the posed smiling face needed for the plate. The Art Dept were more interested in the image and what they could do with it than the plate, so there could be a fair amount of interpretation in post production and Photoshop and the images were being reproduced in various print formats.
Cabinet card reproductions. They make a fleeting appearance in the movie in a restaurant/fan scene.
One of the early photo sessions was for a series of fetish nude images to be used in the plot of the movie. These were shot at Studio 81, Leeds in one of the side units being used by the production crew.
It had some windows and relatively low ceilings so I could bounce my lights back down on the scene. Anyone who shoots wet plate will appreciate the difficulty of lighting a set adequately for decent exposures. In this case we were around f6 for around 15-20 seconds. Although the exposures could have done with twice that, I was using a developer that would allow me double double my dev times without risk of chemical fogging.
There were a lot of dark red fabrics and brown woodwork which is always a challenge in wet plate as they have a tendency to photograph darker than seen by the eye.
The painted backdrop was a hired original. I later found out the daily hire cost of that alone was more than my daily fee! I need to put up my prices!
Some of the “prop” names were amusing, especially Big Bertie!
These are a mix of quarter and whole plate ambrotypes and tintypes, some more successful than others…
One of my favourite plates is of Stephanie reclining on the chaise longue. I think it looks great in a circular crop.
I did a couple of tests to see how the glass plates printed as cyanotypes. I’ll be looking into printing these as a set in the future.
Thank you to the life models on the day, Stephanie Dubois (Instagram and Twitter) and Zoe Pearce, they were very patient and understanding. If the third model reads this please get in touch and I’ll add your details. Sorry.
Scene of crime
The crime scene images were mostly shot on set between scene filming. This made it pretty challenging at times with a limited window of opportunity, but this was countered with a lot of waiting around and drinking tea, while the actual movie making stuff was going on. It was fascinating to watch it all going on around you. It’s amazing what they do.
It was during one of the crime scene shoots that I had the most embarrassing shoot of my life. It was supposed to be an image of one of the victims lying prostate on a mattress with her intestines hanging out. The actress had been lying there for a long time under hot lighting and a heavy prosthetic abdomen, I doubt it was at all comfortable. I was called in to take a plate so they could move on to the next scene. Originally the lighting crew had discussed what I needed so they could set it up as it was a very cramped room. Unfortunately my misunderstanding was when explaining that I need a certain colour temperature for wet plate collodion, it didn’t translate very well into movie terms. The lighting set up was tungsten lights with blue gels! These don’t emit the same light but I shot the plate anyway, hoping I was wrong. I knew I wasn’t, there was absolutely nothing to show on the plate. Things were getting a little tense as time was short. I explained I could set up my own light in a matter of minutes and we could shoot again. Okay lets go! By now I’m pretty hot and flustered…. guess what? Nothing on the next plate! I’m totally dumbfounded. The Director by now has had enough and is “asking” me why I can’t do it, I should know what I’m doing, etc., all in front of the cast and crew. Very ,very embarrassing indeed as there should be no reason at all for whats happened. I’m dismissed with my head hanging in shame. I get back to my darkroom, throw the camera to one side, pour another plate as I can’t believe whats just happened. Shoot it just pointing where it stood…..
Perfect! What on earth is going on? Then it slowly dawns on me. An old school boy error. I had placed the plate holder into the camera backwards, even though its marked “back” and shot the side without a plate in it. Thus developing a totally unexposed plate! Idiot. Needless to say I doubt that will ever happen again. When I saw the Director next, thankfully he was very understanding and explains these things can happen on a busy stressful set. Still, it was very embarrassing indeed.
Bramham Park – location
Portraiture and scene of crime photography. At the end of the shoot they take down all the set and leave it as it was. I hope that blood mops up okay.
Wentworth Woodhouse – location
This location was a little unusual, my area to set up a darkroom/studio space was in a gigantic safe! The amount of dust in there was a huge problem.
Dalton Mill – location
Dalton Mills in Keighley was one of the final locations I worked at.
One space we used was for some crime scene plates. The problem was there was no power in the building for artificial lighting. There was though one very large window, just a shame it was behind the subject.
Decapitated but no headless chickens…
I must take the opportunity to say how Mary seemed to always be in three places at once, yet managed to remain patient and understanding to the limitations of shooting wetplate collodion on location of a movie set. Thank you Mary.
The day they came to work…
My usual workplace, The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, where I am one of the Heritage Photographers, is often used for TV and Film locations. So it is was a pleasant surprise to see The Limehouse Golem pitch up for a few days to use the John Rylands as a substitute for the British Library. I might be a little biased but in the movie the John Rylands features quite often and it really does look the part.
Just check out the lighting balloons they used in the Historic Reading Room! It would have been great if they could have left them behind, they seem to suit the place so well.
I wasn’t shooting plates at the Rylands but I did pop along to see what was going on. During filming the fire alarm went off and it was a perfect opportunity for some staff to grab a selfie with the cast while we gathered outside….
I soon realised I might need a hand with carrying all the kit from my car to locations, as often the two were far apart. I’d put a call out on my blog and FB for people with some understanding of wet plate collodion, and luckily a few people replied. So thank you to Jamie Pettigrove, Helen Slattering, and Jim Grainger for your help and hard work.
Looking back at the plates I can see how they could have been improved, and can now appreciate that my wet plate technique has improved somewhat over the past two years. Maybe I can ask for a reshoot?
On the 20th of July this year I had an invite to the cast/crew preview of the movie in London. I got a train from Manchester straight after work and managed to get there just in time for a quick pint with Laura, Andy and Helen before the screening. I stayed overnight near London Euston, getting the early train back to Manchester for work at 0900. Very tiring but well worth it.
The movie is a little different to what I expected. I was really interested in how the sets would appear through the Directors eyes. I also really wanted to see if they actually used any of my images or had they ended up on the cutting room floor!
I’m pleased to say many of my images appear throughout the movie. Some feature quite prominently as part of the plot. During the Preview it was a case of “spot the plate” with a lot of nudging going on in our seats. We also sat through the credits at the end of the movie, its only polite after all , and would you believe it, I get a credit! My name in lights! Oh the fame! Okay, it was an ego boost to say the least. I’ll see if I can get a screengrab eventually just to prove it!
For me Douglas Booth/Dan Leno steals the show.
I might be a little biased but do go see The Limehouse Golem. It’s an enjoyable, if not a little different, movie to what you might expect.
On another note, keep an eye open for Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest offering with Daniel Day Lewis, due for release December 25th…. That’s all I’m saying….