Behind the scenes of Poor Things with camera on crane

ARRI Rental talks lighting with “Poor Things” gaffers

BrikLoks, SkyPanels, and 18K HMIs were among the fixtures used by gaffers Andy Cole and Gromek Molnar Jr. on Yorgos Lanthimos’s Oscar®-nominated film.

Mar. 8, 2024

Revered for similarly offbeat films “The Favourite,” “The Lobster,” and “Dogtooth,” director Yorgos Lanthimos has reached new heights of critical acclaim with his latest feature, “Poor Things.” Nominated for 11 Oscars, the surrealist black comedy has already won a BSC Award and the Camerimage Bronze Frog and Audience Award for its stunning cinematography by Robbie Ryan BSC, ISC. Shooting on 35 mm film, Ryan worked with camera, lighting, and grip equipment supplied by ARRI Rental. His two gaffers, Andy Cole and Gromek Molnar Jr., speak here about their work on the movie and the fixtures they chose for some of its elaborate sets. 

How did you get involved with “Poor Things”? Had you worked with Robbie Ryan before?

Andy Cole: I’ve worked with Robbie for over 20 years and we have developed a very close working relationship, as well as a strong friendship. I understand and anticipate what he needs in relation to each film without having to go into too much detail.

Gromek Molnar: The producer Ildikó Kemény, founder of Pioneer Pictures, who I had worked with on “Halo,” called me about an exciting project with an exciting cinematographer. I hadn't worked with Robbie before “Poor Things,” although I had heard a lot about him because I lived in his native Ireland for two years and worked on films there.

How long was the shoot and how big was the lighting crew?

AC: We had a nine-week prep and a 12-week shoot with an on-set crew of 10 to 12 technicians. The prep involved a lot of research and detailed set plans to make sure we made best use of the available lighting, as we couldn’t just light every set and leave it lit.

GM: Also, in the background, there were 20 to 30 riggers and rigging workers on set every day.

How did you devise an overall lighting concept for the elaborate sets?

GM: Robbie and Yorgos always discussed the lighting atmosphere they wanted, and then we designed how to achieve it with the fixtures. For each set, we first created a lighting plan on the computer in 2D, after which we discussed any changes directly with Robbie. We also needed 3D planning because we often didn't have time for a pre-light, but we had to show Robbie what to expect or what to change.

AC: There were two concept artists who built every set in a digital environment so you could walk around them virtually. This was a new way of working for me and you could get inspiration from it. But we also had the traditional set plans, which were available earlier than the conceptual sets, so we would discuss them together, talk about which studio each set was in, and work through our lighting.

GM: The original idea was to use Vortex and Dino lights everywhere, but we would have needed such a large quantity. Instead, we went with 18K HMIs with CTO filters. We had already worked with ARRI Rental’s BrikLoks and knew that we could easily combine them with ARRI SkyPanel S60 units.

Behind the Scenes of Poor Thing actor Jerrod Carmichael on stage

Which set had an LED wall and how did you balance your set lighting with the wall?

AC: We had the LED wall on the ship set at Origo Studios in Budapest. We surrounded the ship with around 100 SkyPanel S60s and used 15 or 20 of the bigger S360 SkyPanels to light the glass roof and large back window. When we needed more daylight intensity for the glass roof, we used six or eight 18Ks, and we hung teasers behind the lighting boxes to stop spillage onto the screen. I would ask the LED wall crew what color temperature the wall was and then relay this to our board operators so they could match it with our lighting. We did try some effects but the LED wall was such a powerful light source that it did the work for us.

Poor Things behind the scenes on set

Did you use similar fixtures on the other key sets?

GM: Most of the 18K lamps were in the Lisbon set, around 18 to 20 of them. In addition, there were 800 SkyPanels and 50 Dinos. We knew that we wanted softer lights on location, so we used fewer HMI lamps there. Mainly we used SkyPanels, which was a good choice because we could adjust the color temperature.

Poor Things actress Emma Stone and actor Mark Ruffalo on roof behind the scenes

AC: For the big roof sequence, we used light boxes with SkyPanel S60s. It wasn’t that challenging because all the back drops were very well painted and so we just needed to get coverage on them.

GM: We always discussed the lighting of the painted backgrounds with the VFX team. We would ask about their requirements and if there were areas where it should be brighter or darker.

What lighting fixtures did you use to light the actors’ faces?

GM: We lit the faces using a SkyPanel S60 with Chimera attachment, strictly from batteries because cables were never allowed on the set floor. I was happy when Yorgos mentioned that he didn't want to see cables; I don’t like to see them on the floor either.

Did you need to adjust the lighting for scenes shot with black-and-white film stock?

AC: Initially we were worried about only having 100 ASA when filming on Ektachrome, but we did some tests and pushed one or two stops, and it was OK. Shooting on black and white allows for more forgiving shadows, so you can use harder lighting than on the very colorful sets.

Poor Things Behind the Scenes with Emma Stone Black and White picture on bed

What was your favorite part of the shoot and why?

GM: For me, it was the pleasure of getting to work with Robbie Ryan. And now, with all the success of the film, I am very proud because I had the best team in the world behind me.

AC: I loved the ballroom sequence. It was a location shoot, so it was nice to not be in a studio for a bit, and I just really liked the whole scene – it had so many layers.

Poor Things Behind the Scenes with Robbie Ryan behind the camera