Jakob Ihre. Light, atmospheres and talent.
A few years ago this Director of Photography had not yet become professionally interested on television. However, after authoring acclaimed productions such as “Thelma” (2017), “Louder than Bombs” (2015) or “The End of the Tour” (2015), his following project was taking charge of the cinematography in what eventually became the breakthrough fiction for 2019: “Chernobyl” (HBO), created by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck.
The power of completely developing -with the same team- the visual finish of the 5-episode miniseries was the final push that this creative Swede just needed to get involved in the world of series. His brilliant participation -it could not be otherwise- has paid off: the project has been a boost for growing -even more- his international recognition and made him win an Emmy award in the ‘Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series, Movie or Special’ category.
TM Broadcast had the opportunity of chatting with Ihre to delve in his views about the profession and in some of the creative keys for the ‘Chernobyl’ universe.
First, how would you define your work as a DoP? Are there any common elements among your works?
I am a cinematographer telling stories, expressing emotions with moving images. Hopefully, the projects I do are so diverse that you shouldn’t really be able recognise who is behind the camera.
Technology is critical to DoPs. How is your relationship with technology? Does technology help or limit you?
Every project needs an enormous amount of technology, but it shouldn’t be an obstacle or take space, but rather something so consumed that it becomes a part of your own intuition and creativity.
“Chernobyl” is your first TV experience. Why didn’t you decide previously to get involved in this area?
I have always focused on feature films where a fixed group of the filmmakers are part of the entire journey of a film. In that sense, it is something very personal for all of us. You are giving birth and raising a child. Chernobyl felt in many ways like a feature film. The construction of Chernobyl as a miniseries made it possible to have the same team (Director, Prod designer, DoP, 1st Ad, etc.) thought the shoot – one voice.
You just said you understand “Chernobyl” as a “long feature film”. But, isn’t it true that the barriers between contemporary TV dramas and feature films are increasingly blurred?
The cinema theatre makes the big difference. To present your work on the big silver screen to an audience is the ultimate presentation. It’s a temple in the dark, where a ray of light travelling over the audience projects an image larger than life. TV can’t beat that.
What was your camera + lenses package for “Chernobyl”?
ALEXA Mini and Cooke Panchros.
Due to the realistic depiction of what happened in “Chernobyl”, it seems you replicated stock footage. What was it like working on the reproduction of those videos?
We never wanted to replicate the stock footage. The research material helped us to understand the world of Chernobyl. The amazing art department with production designer Luke Hull and costume designer Clair Levinson Gendler set out to make our world believable. But still in their work they make the own decision on how they see Chernobyl. It’s not a 1 to 1 replication. As for the cinematography, we took our own stand and wanted to portray the Soviet Union our way, based on facts, but also artistic and creative preferences.
The main characters in the show are not heroes, but people in difficult and on-the-edge situations. How does it translate into your work? Did this drive any creative decisions?
The cinematography sought out portrays real people. To be honest and truthful in that approach. No need to enhance the protagonists with heroic lighting or framing. Just honesty.
Did you have any visual references to the TV world when creating the “Chernobyl” Cinematography? What’s Jakob Ihre’s visual imaginary?
When shooting a film for 8 months about the Soviet Union in Lithuania and Ukraine, once part of the former USSR, there is an urge to know more about the period. We all studied the history and politics of the era, and you get, of course, interested to study the cinema of the time. Films like “Andrei Rublev”, “Stalker” and “Come and See” inspired us all in making the film.
“Chernobyl” presents both an oppressive feel, and interesting work on particles and how light transform them. How did you work on both fields?
We introduced the sun in many scenes. Rays of light are often present in the frame, often overexposing parts of the witnesses and victims’ faces and bodies. We had from early on made the decision to portray the radiation with beams of light. The more radiation, the more overexposure. Also, hearing the accounts from Chernobyl witnesses that some thought they were seeing the radiation in the dust and particles when backlit by the sun, gave us the motivation to use sun as something foreboding and oppressive.
Post-production and VFX are very important in “Chernobyl”. How do you get involved in these processes?
The main approach is to not see it as post production (something you solve later), but rather try to early in the process visualise how you see the result. VFX and SFX work should work hand in hand with the camera on set. The VFX/SFX supervisors are, of course, as important to you as your gaffer and camera crew, which you should develop a very close collaboration with. Not be seen as something remote that speaks another language.
Moving on to a broader view of the DoP world… What technological solution would you like to see developed in the future?
If it is physical impossible through new technology to create a laboratorium that will develop motion picture camera film faster, cheaper and closer to the location where you are filming, then I hope that one day we can reproduce the texture and quality of film emulsion with a digital camera. So far, there is no digital camera that can resemble the glory of something shot on 35mm film.
Finally, what’s next for you? Will you continue to delve into TV shows beyond “Chernobyl” and “Dispatches from Elsewhere”? Johan Renck is developing the TV adaptation of “The Last of Us”. Are you going to work with him again on this project?
I am trying stay away from longer projects in these trying times. It would be amazing, of course, to team up again with Johan Renck (“Chernobyl”) and with Jason Segel (who shot the pilot of “Dispatches from elsewhere”). I had such an inspiring time filming with them both.