As part of our Women of Wednesday in Space series, we caught up with Molly Ellis, who was responsible for cinematography in the student-made sci-fi comedy.
How did you get into cinematography?
So it started when I did a GCSE in media at school. There were loads of opportunities to get stuck in and do little film pieces for the school, and I decided I really liked it. I spent the last four years of my school education making films and doing little documentary pieces. When I got to university, I joined the student television committee and spent a couple of years making films with them. Then I got a couple of commissions and decided to do some freelance work.
How would you describe your role to someone who doesn’t know what cinematography is?
I would say it’s being in charge of the way the camera is set up, the way the shot it framed, the way it is lit, what you can see, how the camera moves. It’s not so much what’s on screen but how that is translated to the audience.
Who are some of your influences?
I don’t really have any cinematic influences in terms of filmmaking. The kind of filmmaking that we did in Wednesday in Space was new to me. The more fun thing was working with Ben’s vision and bouncing off another creative person and trying to match our creative ideas. His ideas were grounded in a theatrical sketch-show style so it was cool to look at reference pieces and work from there.
What is it like being a female cinematographer?
With regards to freelance stuff, I don’t know any local cinematographers who are women. In contacts I’ve made when I’ve spoken to people that work in the industry at the moment, they’re all guys. It’s almost like you have to prove yourself to start with before you enter the industry. It does feel like a male-dominated field. Fortunately I’ve still got work and contacts, but it does feel like you’re breaking new ground as well as entering an industry. You need to prove yourself before you’ve even begun.
Who are your favourite women in the film industry?
I am in love with Lily James if that counts! I think she’s excellent. My go-to film stuff is old Hollywood, so I do love Betty Davis. I think women who are empowered, especially old Hollywood when the system was built and dominated by men, are really amazing to see. I love icons of female empowerment!
What was it like carrying out your role on such a small budget?
It felt like a group of friends. There were maybe 20, 25 people, but normally about 12 at a time doing shifts. It felt great, you were surrounded by fellow creatives all wanting to make something as professional as it could be on no money at all. The first day I sat painting plastic guns and reassembling parts to look more space-like. The crew all became producers and prop-makers and costume-makers. It was very collaborative and hands on. It made it more heartfelt, I think, because it felt so much more personal when you saw a prop you made being used in the scene. The lack of budget made it all the more like we were making something together.
Without giving too much away, what was your favourite scene to shoot?
There was one scene where we were essentially locked in a shed for six hours to film. It was not necessarily the favourite but the most memorable. There was a lot of smoking in that scene so I felt like I’d smoked 40 packs by the time I emerged from the shed. It was like 2m and had 7 cast/crew members plus props jammed inside.
There’s a couple of special effects shots in the film which are always fun to do because you have to think about the edit when you’re filming. You have to get the blank shot, the edit, then layer them up. That was great fun.
Were there any especially memorable moments, either good or bad?
There were some very late nights, because a couple of the shots we had to shoot in the dark, but also the shooting schedule was so tight that we couldn’t afford to not. We’d be there at like one in the morning trying to keep our eyes open. There were a couple of green screen sequences where the director was absent so I got to yell directions at the cast members. The scenes are quite absurd and action driven, no dialogue, so getting to play director and make the actors do ridiculous things with a bunch of instruments was really good fun.
Do you have a favourite character?
I really like Ezra, because he’s an idiot and very funny to film with. The amount of takes we had to cut because we were laughing is too many. I also really like, without saying too much, Commisaire Fleck. A lot of his stuff, if not all, was in French, which made it an interesting and funny shoot to keep up with where we were in the script and what cues we were going off.
Well, it might be too late to play a starring role in the film, but if you’re keen to help get a student-budget film onto the silver screen, you can get involved by donating to the film’s Kickstarter, which will be launched soon. For updates as to when the film will be available to watch, follow Wednesday in Space on Facebook.