An Interview with Don't Look Now Cinematographer Tony Richmond

I thought I'd republish my interview with Tony Richmond, a British cinematographer who has worked on some really excellent cult horror movies: Don't Look Now, Ravenous, Candyman. This interview originally appeared in an issue of Scream magazine in 2011.

The reason for the chat was the Don't Look Now and The Man That Fell to Earth Blu-ray restorations. I had about fifteen minutes to discuss his career and the movie. I asked about Ravenous and a couple of other titles.

How did you get involved with Nic Roeg and Don’t Look Now?

Tony Richmond: Nic asked me shoot it. It’s as simple as that. I’d been Nic’s assistant for quite a few years and I worked with him on Walkabout (1971). I was credited as special photographer, but I mostly did second unit. After that he asked me to shoot all of Don’t Look Now.

How do cinematographers choose projects? Is it the same process as a director’s? A reaction to the material?

It’s a combination. Sometimes it’s both the script and the director. The job of the cinematographer, ultimately, is to put the director’s vision on the screen.

The visual style of Don’t Look Now is very distinct. Did you talk a lot about the photography and its presentation with Roeg?

Yes, it’s a very cold film and we discussed having no red in it, except the girl’s rain jacket, the dwarf’s red coat and blood. We took colour out of the movie … even the set decoration. Obviously it’s a very cold movie, because we shot in Venice in the winter. With the exception of the opening Venice sequence, we shot in places and parts people didn’t go … the back alleys where it was dark and murky. Venice closes down in winter and people leave because it’s so chilly and damp. We captured that in the movie.

Was there any post-production, colour-processing work done, that kind of thing?

There’s nothing done in post-production. We shot it naturally … it was the standard process with celluloid and you had to be spot on with your lighting!

What about any special effects work?

There wasn’t much. There was a tiny bit during the scene with the slide, you know, when he spills water on it. It’s so hard to remember that far back, but I think we achieved that effect in-camera.

What are you memories of the shoot itself?

It was fantastic. We were really upbeat. I had one [English] camera assistant and the rest of the crew were Italian. It was a happy set and we shot the film in six weeks. It is great working with a director you really know. I’d known Nic for years and he’s a real visionary. We had a great story to tell and he took it a stage further.

Where did you shoot the opening with the lake and girl’s drowning?

It was shot somewhere in Hertfordshire and I remember we shot for four days and the last day of the shoot was Christmas Eve. I do remember that. We struck really lucky with the weather because it was just a beautiful wintry sunlight.

Can you talk about how you filmed the moment Donald Sutherland’s character finds the daughter drowned. I assume you didn’t shoot it in a real pond?

The stuff we shot in the water is where you see the girl at the edge. I was in a wetsuit in the pond and we shot Donald [Sutherland] running into it then it cuts. We shot underwater stuff on a set where there was a huge tank, and it wasn’t the usual movie water tank, it was just some huge tank we’d found.

Donald Sutherland’s death scene is a classic moment in horror cinema and it takes place in a very cramped space. How did you film it?

It was a tiny space. We shot in a derelict building and we’d managed to rig it but with very little light. Donald was very superstitious about that scene and insisted it be shot on the last day of filming in Venice. The logistics of shooting in Venice itself was hard. There are no roads so there are no trucks to use to move everything around. Everything came in by barge … cameras were on a barge and the rigs were on a barge. And the tides! We had to time everything by the tides otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to get under some of the bridges.

Don’t Look Now features a famous sex scene. A myth developed it was shot for real. You were there, what can you say about it?

Of course it wasn’t real. That would have made us pornographers. But that scene is such an integral part of the movie and the way it was cut … we shot it straight and the way Nic cut it really made the scene.

Did you ever think it would become such a classic horror picture while working on it?

I thought we were doing something really special – I really did. I think with Nic directing and the story based on the Daphne du Maurier short and the performances … it had something.

It has been voted the Best British Film by Time Out London. Did you know that?

Really? That’s absolutely fantastic. When did that happen?

Not long ago.

I do think it’s Nic’s best picture because it works for the general audience. Don’t Look Now stands out. I saw it again a couple of months ago when they sent me over the files for the restoration. I hadn’t seen it for a long time and it really does stand out.

Does it surprise you people want to talk about it even now after all these years?

It does and it’s fabulous being associated with something like Don’t Look Now.

How closely have you worked with Optimum Releasing on the Blu-ray transfer?

They did some of restoration in Germany and sent me the files and I went and saw it, made some notes and passed it back. It was a pretty straight forward and easy process. I was meant to go over to London but couldn’t so they sent the HD masters and the digital files and we did the colour correction at Laser Pacific here in Los Angeles.

You’ve shot a number of other horror films such as Candyman, Ravenous and Cherry Falls. Do you have particular affection for the genre?

I like them because they are all dark and moody. Ravenous is another of my favourites. I love that movie and it was greatly misunderstood.

Ravenous endured a troubled production. What do you remember about it?

It was a troubled production and what happened was the original director [Milčo Mančevski] and the original cinematographer were relieved of their duties. I can’t go into it too much, but they’d been shooting for ten days and then Antonia Bird – who I’d never met before – went in. I got the call from Twentieth Century Fox on a Friday morning. I read the script and had a medical. I was on a plane from L.A. to Prague by Saturday morning and it was a long flight with stopovers at Chicago and Frankfurt. I arrived in Prague sometime on Sunday night and at eight a.m. Monday morning we started shooting. But it was fabulous. We just got on with it. We shot half the movie on sets in Prague then the other half on location in Slovakia.

It wasn’t well received at the time of the theatrical release.

They hated it in America. It was released and it lasted for about four days. In the UK it became a cult classic.

Do you think the way the studio marketed the film damaged its prospects? It’s a horror comedy and not a straight hardcore cannibal movie.

Yeah, it’s a very dark comedy.

Maybe it was too subtle and confusing for some audiences?

The humour didn’t travel. I don’t think it did at all.

Do you have any personal favourites from the films you’ve worked on?

Don’t Look Now and Ravenous are my favourites.

What was it like working on Candyman? That’s another classic. 

Candyman was fantastic. Bernard Rose did a fabulous job. Interestingly all three of those: Don’t Look Now, Ravenous and Candyman were low-budget films. They didn’t have much studio involvement.

How did you develop your own style of cinematography that, obviously, horror directors have sought you out for?

I’d like to think I don’t have too much style and the subject matter dictates the style, if you know what I mean. I’ve been very lucky my career has been long and I’ve done a lot of stuff from comedy to horror. The other horror film I really liked is Autopsy. Did you see that one?

I have.

I loved filming that. The director Adam Gierasch went the other way from the standard dark horror-slasher films. He didn’t want the grainy look. He wanted to have a ‘1970s Dario Argento look’ for that movie. It was a lot of fun.

Do you think Don't Look Now has had an influence on other horror films?

Yes, very much so. Another one I did was Cherry Falls, which is a cult classic. I don’t know what happened to Geoffrey Wright, the director. Prior to that, he’d done Romper Stomper with Russell Crowe.

Quite a change for him going from neo-Nazis to a slasher flick isn’t it?

The studio screwed up on Cherry Falls. It really was fabulous in its original cut then they decided all the sex needed taking out, which doesn’t make much sense since it is what the film was about.

We’ve run out of time, but thanks for talking to me, Tony. It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you. I hope you get something out of it. It’s not my favourite thing, doing interviews. I feel very uneasy talking about my own work. Every movie I’ve shot I’d like to shoot again so I can do it better.

Do you always think that?

Yes, I do. I always think you can do something better.

You’ve shot some fantastic horror films, so you won’t hear any complaints from me.

That’s very kind of you.

Tony Richmond Select Filmography

Autopsy (2008)
Cherry Falls (2000)
Ravenous (1999)
Candyman (1992)
Bad Timing (1980)
The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Don't Look Now (1973)