The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship

“The Great Game” (TGG) has it all. It was the first episode of Sherlock filmed in Series One, and as I write during the filming of Series Four, to my mind it remains the best. It’s got a complex twisty time bomb of a plot. Mark Gatiss’s dialog pops with characteristic wit and a droll darkness. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes is captivating, a petulant, preening, terribly pretty live wire. Martin Freeman plays the stalwart, sensible and mostly sleepless Dr. John Watson. The detective and his blogger have only recently met, they’re young, and John only has the vaguest sense that he will gladly endure years upon years of Sherlock’s… Sherlockiness.

Cumberbatch and Freeman are handsome men handsomely shot. TGG is gorgeous. 221b, London—they’re rich environments—contrasty, dark yet inviting. Painterly. Painterly. The cinematography of TGG is painterly. I can’t think of another word for it and given that the center of the plot is a mystery surrounding a “lost” Vermeer, I’ll stick with the term.

By the time the credits were rolling during my first viewing of TGG, I had fallen hopelessly in love with every aspect of Sherlock. Though amusingly dazed by its cliff-hanger, I managed to pause the screen right when the director of photography’s name appeared. I wrote his name down: Steve Lawes.

When Martin Freeman accepted his BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor, he made the unusual move of specifically thanking Steve, “a fantastic DoP who managed to light me well.” I’d call that an understatement. For his work on Series One Steve Lawes won a BAFTA Cymru award and an RTS Craft nomination.

I couldn’t get the show off my mind. Finally, after Series Two aired in 2012, at 42 years old, I joined the Sherlock fandom, my first, on tumblr. I began blogging obsessively about the show, particularly its cinematography. When Series Three began filming I learned that Lawes was returning to the show as the Director of Photography for the first two episodes.

You know how you play that game– “if you could talk to anyone over dinner who would it be?” Well that someone for me was Steve. Once filming wrapped, I packaged up all my Sherlock blog posts that had anything to do with his work, sent the list to him, and asked for an interview. He agreed to talk after Series Three aired. The resulting interview, “Each Frame Tells a Story,” went well, was very well received, so we decided, much to my fannish elation, to continue our conversation.

Now I know film canon pretty well. I studied film theory in grad school—from early silent cinema to the usual Hollywood suspects. I’m fluent in the lingo from “aspect ratios” to “zooms”, but I desperately wanted to learn to speak cinematographer. Steve agreed to teach me. I spent the summer and fall cramming over piles and piles of production-focused cinematography blogs, textbooks and manuals, before we were officially to begin our work in the winter. My intellectual research could never have prepared me for the joyful journey ahead. I was to learn how to see Sherlock, a show I love dearly, in a whole new light. Through light.

In the brutally cold winter of February, 2015 Steve and I sat down together in my living room in Ithaca, NY. I’d gathered about 100 screen caps of TGG and we discussed each one of them before watching the episode together. This (incredibly) long transcript (about 100 printed pages!) is the result of some of the hours we’ve spent together happily geeking out. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as we enjoyed making it!

-MJW

The Great Game

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

SL: This is an example of how (Director) Paul McGuigan and I would shoot. We’d create a wide shot like this one, and then we’d see where we wanted to go from there. We had two main angles in mind. This track-out from the beginning was from the original angle that we set up. We were going to shoot a lot of the scene from there.

Then we decided to come round to the angle in front of the windows with Sherlock and Berwick sat across the table from each other.

MJW: Tell me about the lighting.

SL: We got an atmos machine in there, which is basically like an industrial hazer they use at concerts. It takes a few hours for the haze to build up so you can start shooting, and it got incredibly cold, by London standards anyway.

Color-wise, the lights are standard. There’s no color taken off them. It’s just standard HMI colors: 5600K or thereabouts. They are diffused. I think there’s probably around about 250 diffusion, which is about a half diffusion frame, in front of the lamp.

One of the main reasons for that is to soften the light slightly, but it’s also necessary because it’s actually dark outside. If I don’t diffuse the lamp, you’ll tend to see darker areas outside the window. If you look at the two side windows, they actually look darker than the middle windows anyway. That happened because the four lamps in the middle windows are 18 kW and the two side lamps are 6 kW. Those were all I had. If I’d had six 18 kWs, I would have used them. But I didn’t. Anyway, if the sun was shining through the middle window, it would tail off as it gets to the sides of the frame.

In terms of the grade, it was a case of just getting that punch in there. What you get when you go to a wider shot like this is silhouettes. When you get close to them, then you put a little bit more. You flatten the contrast out a little bit, just so you see a bit more of their face.

MJW: Did you spend the whole day at this location?

SL: We had two major scenes to shoot that day. One was the exterior scene in the car park where Sherlock and John go and see Lestrade and Donovan, and it starts off with a high-angle shot looking down.

"The Great Game" | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

The scene on the ground took us about half a day to do; then after lunch, myself and Martin Scanlan, the focus puller and I went up in the cherry picker to do the top shot—and the cherry picker broke down! We were stuck around 45 meters in the air for about half an hour, but we managed to get down in the end.

We then moved on to the Belarus scene.

MJW: Those are two very different locations to tackle in one day!

SL: Selecting environments is dictated by the way they look and also by schedule. You usually try to get a location somewhere close to your previous one so you’re not wasting time driving around. I think we actually recce’d this Belarus room while we were shooting.

MJW: What did you discuss during the recce?

SL: (Production Designer) Arwel (Wyn Jones) talked about putting tables in. Paul wanted to make it feel like the tables were in lines and then use the lens to create perspective. There’s not complete symmetry in the frame, though, because there are six windows.

I talked about having a wet down and then basically lighting every window, putting some coolies in there, some practicals for a bit of shape on the back wall.

A "Coolie" Practical Light | Benedict Cumberbatch | "The Great Game" | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

A “Coolie” Practical Light | Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

MJW: So: this is one of the most beloved frames in Sherlock fandom.

SL: The lighting is the same, but the difference between this and the wide shot is that I’m using shiny board to reflect the light onto Benedict rather than polyboard or a reflector, which has gold and silver on it. Shiny board is just a piece of domestic wall insulation, with foam inside and dull silver foil on both sides. It’s sold as film reflecting medium now, but it’s ten times as expensive, so we just buy the insulation version and use alcohol to rub off the words printed on it. Shiny board has a little bit of directional punch, more than you would get from a piece of poly. It’s not really harsh and it’s easily adjustable.

You can see in this shot that the reflection from the shiny board is coming from the bottom right-hand side of the frame. I can tell that by the shadow on Benedict’s lip and the shadow this side of his nose. The obvious reason why I’m using it is that if I didn’t use it, you’d see nothing on this side of his face. I’m just reflecting the light from the window, like with a mirror. It also helps light his breath, so you get a bit more of an effect there.

Steve Lawes |Shiny Board | Behind the Scenes of Providence

Steve Lawes |Shiny Board | Behind the Scenes of Providence

Everything else that you see the light around the back of Benedict’s head, his hair, and the main rim down the front of the face is coming from the windows.

MJW: Did you have a reference for this shot? What made you think to do it this way?

SL: Because it looked good. That was definitely it. There’s no reference unless it’s subliminal. It just looked right. The coat gives a strong shape, and Benedict has a good profile. Some actors don’t like being shown in profile because of the shape of their nose, but Benedict’s lucky. It was a logical progression from a wide shot, too.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: This is our first view of Sherlock in 221B.

SL: The big thing for me to try and do with the light is to get shape on a face. I’m always trying to get a ping in the eyes. If you don’t see the eyes, then you don’t see what’s going on.

You’ve got a 3/4 backlight on Benedict. We started off by laying a rail for the dolly because we wanted to track behind Benedict and come in. This was the close-up version, but we did a wider one first.

The choice of which lamps to use depends on where the actor is sitting. If you have lights up in the corner above him, that just flat lights the set. So when you’re shooting this way, you turn off everything that’s pointing away from you, and you just have lights coming towards you. In this shot, you only have one backlight because that’s all you need on Benedict – you don’t use backlights for furniture, just for actors.

There’s a bit of light on Benedict’s cheek coming from one of the fluorescent fixtures above, and then there’s the shadow on his cheek from his nose. It’s coming from the light which is coming from the top right-hand corner, but it’s quite a bit behind him, as you can tell from the shape of the shadow on his face.

There’s bits and pieces around to give you the general ambience, and there’s a fluorescent light over the chair. It’s fresnel: probably an Arri 650.

I like to have something we call a rock and roll rig, which is effectively tri-light scaffold structure built. So the room on-set is a rectangle with no roof, and inside it, we build a grid of scaffolding, which we put on electrical hoists. It can go up and down at the flick of a switch.

Rock and Roll Lighting Rig on the 221b Set | photo by Steve Lawes

Rock and Roll Lighting Rig on the 221b Set | photo by Steve Lawes

You put a lamp on each corner as a backlight, lamps on the sides, and fluorescent lights up there too. Plus skirts. All of those lamps will have a number on them, which go back to a dimming rack.

Skirted Light (#6), Hoisted Rock and Roll Rig, 221b Baker Street Set | Sherlock

Skirted Light (#6), Hoisted Rock and Roll Rig, 221b Baker Street Set | Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: Did Arwel choose the practicals, like the moon lamp in the left of frame?

SL: Yeah. All I ever say is “give me loads of them.” Sometimes we debated what went where. I rejected a lot. I don’t like stuff that’s clear glass because you tend to see the bulb in it. So you’ll generally see lamps with opaque or darker shades. But apart from that, Arwel chooses it all.

MJW: Sometimes the moon lamp looks orange, and sometimes it looks white.

SL: That depends on how I overexposed it. If you look at the moon lamp there, and obviously if it’s dimmed down, if it’s up at full level, then it should look slightly orange. When you dim a lamp, the lamp always gets warmer, color-wise. So if you have a tungsten lamp, a tungsten lamp’s only 3200K at 100%, if you dim it down to, say, 75%, it will drop to ’round about 2500K. The more you dim it, the warmer the light it gets. So it will be depending on where it was dimmed and lots of other things. I will quite often see an improvement in an environment on set as the show goes on because you learn that certain things work better than others.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: This is pretty much just the reverse of the shot above. No backlight on Benedict. The light that you see on him is all coming from fluorescent lights above. Obviously, the fire is on. The muzzle flash was put in in post.

MJW: I did not know that.

SL: Yeah, nine times out of ten, the muzzle flash’ll be put in in post for no other reason other than that it tends to not be that big when you’re firing a blank. But also you’ve only got a 50% chance of catching the flash because of the shutter of the camera opening and closing.

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: I chose this one because of the hallway lighting. Is the whole flat on the same level in the studio?

SL: This part of the flat is built slightly above the studio floor, so it enables you to have that first quarter-landing coming upstairs. It’s just slightly higher than the normal floor. There’s a quarter-landing behind Martin there, then you’ve got a flight of just six more steps down to the studio floor. So the floor that we see here is about six to eight feet off the ground. We built it that way because of the stairwell. On the other part of the downstairs set, you’ve got the stairs going up, and then that quarter-landing, and then the return. But where Martin is now, you won’t get any higher than that. It just ends.

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: There are ceiling lights.

SL: There’s a practical on above. There’s a practical on behind. There’s a bit of light coming in through the window. Obviously, the light’s on over in the kitchen. I tend to light the practicals, and then I add from there. If a practical light provides enough light, then I don’t bother putting any more light in. Here, there are just a couple of other lights, film lights, around to get a bit of shape.

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

SL: You’ve got a bit of simulated sodium light, coming from the street through the window, then a practical on the desk and a practical in the background. And then I’ve got the other studio light, and it moves around.

The computer screen’s the correct blue, actually.

We had two cycs outside the window – photographic backgrounds. We had one for day, one for night. They were basically on big curtain rails that you can drag around.

Baker Street Cyc | Behind the Scenes Sherlock

Baker Street Cyc | Behind the Scenes Sherlock

I put very little light facing the night cyc because it tends to pick up radiance from the street lamps that you shine through the window of the 221b set, but I do put lights behind some of the fake windows, to make it look like the windows in the house across the street are lit.

An Example of a Studio Light Behind the Baker Street Cyc | "A Study in Pink" | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

An Example of a Studio Light Behind the Baker Street Cyc | “A Study in Pink” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: Another iconic shot: Sherlock on the sofa.

Kino 4Bank

Kino 4Bank

SL: Above him is a what’s called a Kino fixture. They come in various sizes and with various numbers of tubes; this one’s got four 4-ft. bulbs in it. They’re a modified version of the fluorescent striplights you get in shops. The fixture here is just above the top of the frame, and it’s got a skirt on it.

MJW: There’s a lot of light reflecting off the wallpaper.

SL: Yeah, a lot of that’s coming from the practical. It’s also coming from the film lamp above. I could have put a pool of light above Benedict, so you’d get hardly any light on the sofa and the wall, but this was about introducing viewers to the environment.

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

MJW: Looking into the kitchen. There’s a continuity issue! The skull disappears in the next shot, then it comes back.

SL: So he’s still alive… We were using practicals again. I collaborated with Arwel in putting colored glass and clear glass on the lights, for look-throughs. Again there’s a bit of streetlight color out the back – that’s the fluorescent tube but in a film fixing. I got Arwel to put in that domestic fitting over the table. It’s on chains, so it can be lowered and raised depending on the scene. Watch Sherlock Series One, and you’ll see the lamp change in height quite often. If I’m shooting an actor, I’ll bring it up so the light doesn’t interfere with their face. I chose a blue lamp, 5000K rather than 3200K, so as to give a contrast between that and the other lights. So the kick on the silver refrigerator is blue.

In the distant hallway you’ve got a tungsten lamp, which is kind of neutral. The foreground lamp is slightly warm, but it’s kind of neutral. You’ve got the warmth of the color of the glass and everything in the doors. You’ve got the even warmer palette through the window. It’s all about creating contrast through color. If it was all the same color, or all the same lighting color balance, it would look a lot blander.

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

SL: That’s not the regular 221b refrigerator. It’s an old one with the back ripped off. Because of the hassle over where you can actually put a camera, the fridge is actually in the doorway. On the left side of the fridge, there’s a little LED film lamp on the tray with the head on it, shining up and getting a bit of light in there. Outside there’s a Kino Flo lamp lighting the side of Martin’s face, and there’s a bit of backlight on him as well.

I don’t actually like this kind of shot – I don’t think you should put the camera anywhere a human being could not physically be. But that’s just me.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: This is one of the shots that just made the show. This is Sherlock.

SL: Yeah. As I’ve said many times before, Benedict’s just got one of those faces that responds very well to being lit, however you do it. He’s not got traditional Hollywood looks, but his face is very angular so it works well. And you get that relief on the side of his face. This shot is an example of when you let an actor choose to be in a certain position, and then you capture it.

MJW: What about the skin tones?

SL: There’s no conscious decision about them, other than getting the balance right to not to make him look ill.

MJW: It looks so different on a TV screen to how it does on my computer screen.

SL: There was a conscious effort to keep a little bit of green in a lot of this stuff, which is quite difficult because there’s a very fine line with green. If you get too much green in an actor’s skin tone, then they tend to look like they’ve got jaundice. Green is a great color if it’s used with great subtlety. A lot of people shy away from green for that very reason. Paul is a massive lover of green. The whole of the show would have been green if it was up to Paul.

MJW: What color is the sofa? It changes from episode to episode. It’s hard to tell.

SL: Well in real life, it’s brownish. A kind of dusky tan.

On a movie where you have a long time to grade a show, you’ll want the sofa to look the same color all the time. But in television the schedule is shorter, so the colorist’s priority is the actor. You’ve got to remember that when you’re doing the grade and you adjust one color in the frame, it adjusts every color, whether primary or secondary. Unless you put a window on for somebody’s face and just adjust that area, it will have an effect on the whole frame. So quite often, the colorist is gonna be looking at Benedict more than at the sofa. The priority order is probably going to be Benedict, then Benedict’s costume, then the sofa, then the wallpaper.

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: Here’s Martin.

SL: I got Arwel to put that little fluorescent tube over the counter in the kitchen, to give me an option for a bit of light there. It’s overexposed, which I like – just let it burn out a bit. When you first start out, you spend a lot of time trying to get everything correctly exposed, then you realize things don’t necessarily look great that way.

Martin is predominantly lit from the top. The Kino has a soft effect on his shirt. On the top of his hair you’ve got the harder light from the fresnel behind him.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

SL: Benedict’s sat up, and I’ve got a very small fixture on the floor, just to give that highlight on the side of his face and his hand. Again, if it wasn’t there, you would lose the highlight from his eye, and you’d lose the contrast in his face.

MJW: What lenses are you using?

SL: All Cookes. The whole show. It was all S4s for Series One.

Martin Freeman & Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman & Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: There’s a little glint where Martin’s eye is. We were actually using quite a wide lens, but with a shallow depth of field, so you still get to the shape of Benedict in the background and the relief, the glint on the top of the table. But our eye goes to Martin because he’s in focus .
Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: Trying to simulate the street light through the window, you want a bit of soft light coming from the outside, setting the frame so that you get the light in the background. And you get that depth with the practical in the background.
Sherlock 1x03 (398)

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: Obviously the shot before this one of Benedict looking out the window was filmed in the studio. This angle out the window from his point of view was shot on location in the flat above Speedy’s Café, looking down onto the road.

MJW: Oh, so that’s actually North Gower Street in London? I thought you only shot exteriors there. I didn’t know you actually filmed in the interior of real flat.

SL: Yeah. Yeah, we did.

Exterior of 221b Baker Street, actually North Gower Street in London | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Exterior of 221b Baker Street, actually North Gower Street in London | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: That’s actually looking up at the flat in North Gower Street with Benedict in the window. It’s the real thing.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: A-ha!

SL: You see the toplight on Benedict, and you see the cyc in the background, creating a streetlight effect on the net curtains. This is where you start being restricted in terms of where you can put lights, and also you’re putting them in places where they can illuminate the dust. Realistically, the light on the net curtains is a bit too bright, but I’m working on the basis that when the window goes, you need the light to pick up all the dust that they’re gonna blow through.

This is obviously done as a plate, so the explosion is done without Benedict in the shot. It’s got several elements, the main element being the background plate. We shot Benedict first, and then the explosion, and they comped the two together. Effects-wise, (Special Effects Supervisor) Danny Hargreaves was just blowing debris through, so the actual explosion was put in in post. There’s sugar glass in the window, but all the cameras had a Perspex shield in front of them because you can still get injured by sugar glass. It’s just not as bad as real glass.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Director Paul McGuigan | Cameras Behind a Perspex Shield |"The Great Game" | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch & Director Paul McGuigan | Cameras Behind a Perspex Shield |”The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

The Mill created the fireball explosion outside and put it in the frame. The debris coming through is mainly what was actually there on the day.

Martin Freeman & Zoe Telford | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman & Zoe Telford | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: Sarah’s flat.

SL: I hated this flat. The tone of the wall color is too close to a skin color. Look at her skin tone and the lit area, and how close they are in terms of shade. We moved that bit of furniture on the right so you get a better break-up and create a bit of shadow, but I was struggling to try to stop the light from going everywhere. So it’s very hard to get delineation of the actors from the wall behind them. I managed to do it, but it was very much a compromise for me, this flat.

MJW: Why not paint the wall?

SL: Cost. It was an expensive flat. If a place is a bit run-down then the owner is obviously very happy to have it painted. If it’s an expensive flat, they don’t want it messed around with. It comes down to money and time, because if you want to paint the flat you have to get in there, and you pay a location fee on a daily basis. Then you have to paint it back afterwards, and that adds two days to the fee.

"The Great Game" | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: We had a crane shot for another scene that we were doing there, so this is basically a locked off shot from a crane. A lot of the debris you see on the ground – the bricks, the glass – is real. The vehicles are real. The main bit that’s being comped is the hole in the wall and all the debris on the ground outside the exploding building.
Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: The violin scene. Famous!

SL: The biggest challenge with this was the fact that the windows were supposed to be blown out. So we reasoned that the emergency glaziers had been in to board the windows up. I asked for the boards to be put very close together, but with slits that shafts of light could shine through.

Interior-wise, it’s almost the same as how we do the night. There’s an example of Benedict underneath a top. You can see a bit of a shadow on his eye, but it’s not really going down his cheekbone, and he doesn’t look any worse for it. If you put Martin in that situation, it looks totally different.

MJW: It’s so smooth, and it looks like a painting.

SL: Yeah.

Mark Gatiss | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Mark Gatiss | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: Here’s a similar sort of light on Mark.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman & Mark Gatiss | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman & Mark Gatiss | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

MJW: I love these shafts and the contrast. Tell me about how you achieve this look using the lights exterior to the set.

221b Baker Street Set Exterior | photo by Steve Lawes

221b Baker Street Set Exterior | photo by Steve Lawes

SL: My main light source is outside. I’ve basically got two soft lights, called half Dinos, the square ones above the windows. They’re both 12 kW each. They’ve got 12 individual bulbs in three pods of four. They’ve got a 250, ½ diffusion filter framed in front of them. The half Dinos give me the kind of ambient source, a white soft light, like you get from a cloud. It’s also very beneficial if you look directly outside the windows of 221b because you’ve got a light you can use that’s mounted out-of-shot.

And then I use very directional lamps, the round ones called Molebeams, for the two shafts coming through. Molebeams burn things. If you point them onto a set you’ve got to be careful that the set doesn’t get too hot because they really do focus the light straight forward. They’re the only light I’ve come across which enable you to create sun.

Both Molebeam lamps are behind the bison head. I’m always careful to direct the shafts to go in a realistic way because otherwise it looks like you’ve got two suns, you know? But within reason.

MJ: So what are the panels near the Molebeams for?

SL: They’re both flags. One is to flag the side of the Molebeam, and one of them is to flag the top, what we call a top chop. I chop the top of the light so I can get just the bit I want to come onto the bottom of the set. If I don’t top chop it, the light will probably hit an actor which I don’t want it to do. You wouldn’t ever light an actor’s face with a Molebeam.

MJ: It would fry them!

SL: It would. And it would also look like a David Bowie video.

MJW: What have you done in the interior of the set?

SL: There’s atmos in the air. It’s quite problematic, the atmos in this first series, because there was no roof on top of the set, and we’re inside a big studio, albeit one with a low roof. You pump the atmos into the set, and there’s heat in the set because of the lights, so all the atmos wants to do is go up. When you first pump it in, before a take, it swirls around, and it looks like a disco. There’s a fine point between waiting for it to settle and it disappearing.

Apart from that, we’re using a top light again, practicals on, and keeping Martin dark. The shot has a frame, with this dark edge on both sides. It’s the kind of contrast I didn’t get around to doing on Series Three.

MJW: Why?

SL: Lots of reasons. Jeremy Lovering (the director of “The Empty Hearse”) wanted to do tracking shots in 221b which we hadn’t really done in Series One. I had to change the lighting scheme you see here to accommodate the camera movement.

Tracking Shots in The Empty Hearse
Mark Gatiss | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Mark Gatiss | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: There’s a bit of depth to this shot, with the blue light in the background behind Mycroft. There’s no point just leaving the top light on now. You’ve got a soft key light on the side of Mark’s face there, and then just a little bit of backlight. He’s playing the slightly demonic brother.

MJW: Dark circles under his eyes.

SL: Yeah. And kind of playing on it.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

SL: Again, the same thing with Benedict. The kick on the violin is from the light above. I have a bit of shiny board, to get a ping in his eyes. Because of the bone structure of Benedict’s face, the way light hits it, you can play with the shape and still see his eye on the other side.

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: When Martin stepped forwards, he had a bit of light from the window. When an actor does something at a rehearsal and it works, you don’t change it. As long as the light that hits them looks right.

MJW: What about that skull?

SL: You take care of the out-of-focus bit as much as the bit that’s in focus. I made a conscious decision to get that skull in the frame. It balances the frame slightly.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: Benedict’s bowing his head, so there’s obviously less light on his face – but he still has the ping in his eyes. It’s a great example of the value of the ping. Lose that and you don’t see into his soul. You don’t get his expression.
Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: In the cab.

SL: The cab is on a low-loader or, as the Americans would call it, a process trailer. That’s basically a tow trailer that goes behind a truck which is as low to the ground as it can be. You put the vehicle on there, and that means you have a bit of surrounding to shoot from. And you don’t have to worry about driving the vehicle, so it’s quieter.

The unaired pilot used half a taxi in the studio, with back projection or CGI background plates.

No criticism of Matt Gray, the pilot’s DP, but the car stuff never worked for me. It felt wrong geographically. It was another example of where you can’t physically put a camera, because there’s a bulkhead there in a taxi.

I remember a conversation with (Producer) Sue Vertue where she said that they still had the back end of the taxi from the pilot because they’d bought it, and would we consider using it. I refused. I think Paul backed me up. We wanted to shoot all the taxi stuff for real.

MJW: There’s a lot of taxi stuff.

SL: Yeah, and process trailers always suck up time. It takes two hours to get them rigged. So one thing we did was to use more than one camera at a time, so we could get different angles. We also used the Canon 5D Mark II which was very new at the time – on certain shots, because we could just put it in places we couldn’t yet put the other, I was very keen on shooting reflections. I don’t really like shooting car stuff, because it’s a pain in the arse, but if you’re going to do it, you want to get the feel that you’re really there. It’s hard to make back projection and CGI believable. You have to shoot reflection plates and CGI them on.

We wanted to get a lot of reflection stuff, and getting reflection plates is quite difficult because obviously you want to see the actors. So it’s a fine line between getting the angle right so you can see a reflection but not the camera. Normally in this situation, you’d put a black cloth up behind the camera, if the camera was reflected, and it gets rid of the camera’s reflection. And then you just see the actors, with nothing in front of them, so you lose the sense of it being a moving vehicle – you get the stuff moving in the background, but not in the foreground. We were shooting at dusk, and rather than the reflection burning out, it’s almost like a silver plate. We did it once, and Paul loved it, so we did it for the rest of the show.

MJW: It’s fantastic. It gives a sense of depth to London.

SL: We wanted to feel that it was Victoriana, and it was London, but in the 21st century. Bringing it up to date. In order to do that, you need it see it and feel it. You need to create the environment.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Rupert Graves | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch & Rupert Graves | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: This was another tricky location because it was on the second floor, and impossible to light. I refused to shoot in that location to begin with, and Paul backed me up, but the location manager was a bit of a stickler. This location happened to be in the same building that the production office was in, and we were told it was the only option we had.

It was a very bland interior and two floors off the ground, which meant we had to build platforms to get lights outside. Lots of glass, so you were completely at the mercy of what’s going on outside. Arwel painted the glass darker to help. A lot of this scene is shot through the reflection of the glass because it just breaks it up. It gives it a more cinematic quality. You can play around with the reflections visually.

So our hand was kind of forced – but it worked out well in the end.

 "The Great Game" | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

MJW: So, this close-up on the envelope?

SL: We’re using a macro lens, and the camera is steady, but somebody – probably me, actually – is passing the letter underneath.

Benedict Cumberbatch | "The Great Game" | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: The daylight coming through is bluer than the practical lamp, so you see the color of the lamplight on the envelope. It’s achieving contrast through color.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Una Stubbs | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch & Una Stubbs | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: Una Stubbs!

SL: If you look at her when she was younger, in Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard, Una was stunning. Her back catalogue is huge. She’s such a delightful lady to work with; she embraces the fact that she’s got older, so you can show those lines and not be worried about it. I love being able to do that with older actresses because there is so much character in them.

There’s simple light source, low down from the left corner of frame. It’s making it more about her than him at that moment.

This scene is obviously filmed in a studio. It’s quite funny, because when they enter 221c, they’ve just gone under the studio stairs, and there’s barely enough room in there for two people, but they’re all crammed in.

221c Baker Street | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

221c Baker Street | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: These are Carl Powers’ shoes.

SL: This was the basement of some dodgy old building in the Valleys. We hadn’t recce’d all the locations, and some I didn’t see till the day we shot them. This was at night because the light went. 18K outside the window with a bit of diffusion on it. Bit of atmos.

You can see I was getting into a groove of going more contrast-y. In here, I probably would’ve put the light up, set the frame up, and then I would’ve looked at the monitor and seen that you can see the room, you can see the fireplace, you can see the mirror. But then you decide you don’t need to see any more than that, and it’s actually putting the shoes in the centre of the frame, playing with the symmetry. Creating this darker feel. Once we got into the groove, we knew we could push it further and further, and that happened very quickly.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

SL: The same here, just reverse. That room is quite small, and we’re using quite wide lenses that exaggerate its size, and allow us to get in Rupert and Martin and the window.

There’s another light outside just to give you a bit more contrast there. And then Benedict is pretty much is catching the light from the window.

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

“The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: One of the victims in her car.

SL: I didn’t shoot this. Another DP (Mark Waters) shot a bit of extra stuff, purely down to the amount of work we had to do. I had to do something in the studio, so we did what we call double bank.

Barts Hospital general view | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Barts Hospital general view | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
MJW: This is Barts.

SL: The tilt and shift effect was put on in post.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

MJW: That is so cool. With the reflection, he’s got five squares around him.

SL: There’s sort of a frame within a frame within a frame here. That was shot across an atrium. The room you see here has got nothing to do with the actual lab that we use. It was just used for the shot. As a framing device it works very well.

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
SL: That’s a crossfade, isn’t it?

MJW: Yes.

SL: I use pieces of moulded and shaped acrylic to shoot through to create that colored kick you see. Some of them are thick, some of them have angles on, and they basically give you a prismatic effect when you shoot through them, but don’t affect the frame any other way. I used those a lot on this episode, especially in this room.

Acrylic Rig in the Lab | Behind the Scenes of "The Sign of Three" | Sherlock | Photo by Steve Lawes

Acrylic Rig in the Lab | Behind the Scenes of “The Sign of Three” | Sherlock | Photo by Steve Lawes

Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts
Mark Gatiss: (The lab is) beautifully lit by the great DoP Steve Lawes who’s incredible. It’s one of those things about making a very sterile environment actually sing.

Benedict Cumberbatch: Gorgeous.

MG: It’s full of color, lots of jars of colored water which obviously have no scientific function (laughs) but it just has a lovely… (The color) makes it interesting…

BC: But also managing to get contrast (in the frame) as well because there’s such a depth in it, where the sterile environment is so bleak and over lit. It kind of washes everything out but (Steve’s) got wonderful tones and shadows…from the DVD Commentary of The Great Game

SL: So the desk is all top-lit from the ceiling. We had all the tubes at the back of the room dressed in behind the bottles to give you a bit more shape on the background, and there’s other bits and pieces of light around. I got Arwel to get some light boxes for the light coming up on the desk next to Benedict, and also to change the color in them and diffuse them slightly.
Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

SL: Same again, there. That is probably the same tubes because we didn’t have enough to do both sides at once, so we would’ve nicked them and put them over the other side afterwards.

The thing that looks like a microwave behind Benedict – that’s a film light, a little brick I put some color in the jug and pipette holder next to it. This is the optometry department in a university. It’s very white, and there are actually windows all the way down one side, but it’s on the third floor, and it had blackout blinds, so I decided to just shut them so we’d never have any light in there. That meant the environment was quite controllable, but I also had to try to get some shape in there because, again, it’s quite bland. I think Arwel just cluttered up the desks with a load of stuff.

MJW: I like the color.

Andrew Scott, Martin Freeman & Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Andrew Scott, Martin Freeman & Benedict Cumberbatch | “The Great Game” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

Commentary - Steve Lawes & Mary Jo Watts

MJW: What’s the angle on this one? There’s something odd about it.

SL: It’s a wide lens close-up. It’s rounding Andrew’s chest a bit, you see? It looks like he’s pulling his shoulders back, which he isn’t. We call it barrelling. If you shoot a building on a wide lens, you see the lines of the building sort of barrel on the outside. There’s a lens called an Arri 8R which doesn’t do that; it’s incredibly expensive and it’s an amazing lens. But you tend not to shoot actors’ close-ups on wide lenses because it’s not aesthetically pleasing.

MJW: So you did it just because of the tight space?

SL: Just to purely get a three-shot with no room behind us. If it was a studio, we would float the wall. But you can’t go any further back.

 Next (Part Two) >