The filming of Lady Macbeth; Ari Wegner holding the camera. Image by Myron Jonson.

Trapping Lady Macbeth in a corset and frame: cinematographer Ari Wegner

Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2006 Ari Wegner has worked on dozens of commercials, short films, TV series and feature-length films, before landing the gig as cinematographer for Lady Macbeth, which hits cinemas on 29 June.

Interview by Sarah Hall.

Ari, how did you get into cinematography?

I’ve been interested in photography since high school, or even before, and I’ve always liked writing. I guess at film school (Bachelor of Film and Television, VCA, 2006), I realised that cinematography encapsulated both of those interests.

How did you get from your Bachelor of Film and Television at the VCA to Lady Macbeth?

After the VCA, I did really small stuff, then moved on to bigger projects – making commercials, TV shows, feature films and short films, including Night Shift (2012), which did really well. I also shot Ruin (2013) in Cambodia, which was received really well and won a prize at the 2013 Venice Film Festival (Special Orizzonti Jury Prize).

On the back of Ruin I signed with an agent in the UK and we were both really excited about Lady Macbeth. The director [William Oldroyd] and I hit it off right away, and agreed on how it might look and how we wanted to work together.

Florence Pugh as Katherine Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, 2017. Image supplied.Florence Pugh as Katherine Macbeth in Lady Macbeth, 2017. Image supplied.

How do cinematographers and directors tend to work together?

Ideally, in collaboration. Some directors are really loose and free-form; some work best when everything is planned out meticulously. Some have a very clear idea of what they want, and others prefer to have a cinematographer lead the visuals a lot more. Every project and director is so different, which is a huge part of what I love about this job.

Of course, there are so many other people involved too: the production designer, the editor, the cast, wardrobe people, location, sound – it’s such a team effort, and really needs to be for the whole thing to look great.

What was it like to work on Lady Macbeth with star-in-the-making, Florence Pugh?

Florence is fantastic. I don’t think we realised until much later how uncomfortable that shoot must have been for her – she was wearing very tight corsets the whole time and some of the dresses she had to be sewn into … Plus, the dresses were all period pieces, so she had to be super-careful not to damage them.

Can you talk us through some of your cinematographic decisions for the film?

Both myself and the director William Oldroyd wanted to establish quite formal cinematographic rules, not least because the lead character Katherine has very strict rules in her life. Our idea was to shoot Katherine in these locked frames in parts of the film where she doesn’t have any freedom or agency. At other times there’s a more freehand style of filming. We didn’t pan or tilt or move the camera at all until those moments.

Ari Wegner with Lady Macbeth Director, Will Oldroyd. Image by Laurie Sparham.Ari Wegner with Lady Macbeth Director, Will Oldroyd. Image by Laurie Sparham.

What attributes best serve you as a cinematographer?

I guess I’m quite a calm person naturally, and I can see that kind of energy really trickle down. I sometimes feel a bit like the MC – trying to set the tone and make sure we’re moving at the right pace, listening to anyone who’s having a hard time or needs some extra attention.

What other projects have you been working on?

I shot a film called Stray last year with the first-time-feature director Dustin Feneley, who I met at the VCA. It’s in post-production now and, given we’ve been talking about making it for 10 years, it’s so great to have finally done it.

What advice would you give emerging filmmakers?

Trust your gut. Don’t be afraid to say no to projects that really aren’t for you. As much as that might feel weird it’s actually more respectful to everyone involved – and it frees the­­ job up for someone who really wants it.

Lady Macbeth opens in Australia on Friday 29 June 2017.

Banner Image: The filming of Lady Macbeth; Ari Wegner holding the camera. Image by Myron Jonson.

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