Roger Lanser ACS (www.rogerlanser.com) has been working on feature films since 1975 and the DOP's well regarded film craft has earned him accolades describing his work as elegant, sumptuous, evocative and gorgeous.
He was therefore well matched to the production requirements of Every Cloud Productions and its 13 part television series for the ABC, Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries. Set in Melbourne in the roaring twenties it follows heroine Phryne Fisher as she explores the highly stylised Flapper era and its new found freedoms for women.
"The demands on any camera for any production can be quite individual and in this case there were three elements," said Lanser. "We needed to shoot flash back scenes showing clues and others showing memories of Phryne's childhood - we wanted to delineate between those shots and the Sony SRW-9000PL had ability to do that in-camera through speed ramping which no other camera had at the time.
"We also were using a Steadicam so the camera needed to be Steadicam 'friendly' so we could match up all the camera accessories."
These requirements were paired with Lanser wanting to use new cutting edge technology so he revisited rental supplier Gear Head where he had previously sourced a Sony F35 camera for The Jesters series.
"Gear Head had given me a good leg up when I was entering the world of digital film capture. David Knight ACS gave me a lot of information that was not just sales pitch so he was my first call when it came time to select a camera for Miss Fisher.
In preproduction I also talked to other cinematographers and gaffers who had used it on Packed To The Rafters and Underbelly Razor to see how the SRW-9000PL responded to light and if they used speed changes, used it on the shoulder and if it was easy to swap from Steadicam to production setup mode," explained Lanser.
With further recommendation from director Tony Tilse, Lanser booked two SRW-9000PL cameras together with matching production kits and zoom lenses, plus a lightweight zoom for Steadicam use.
As a cinematographer moving from feature film to television drama using digital cameras with large sensors, the DOP followed new protocols.
"Previously I did not normally shoot with two cameras due to the cost of film but shooting ratios are not so much of a consideration now. I have moved into a world where everything is shot with two cameras which can compromise lighting but by having them skillfully placed by great camera operators, in conjunction with very skilled directors, there are part of the success of the show. Being able to use Steadicam constantly helped in many ways and the Sony cameras were very capable of supporting what was demanded of them with all those variables."
On location shoots Lanser said the cameras proved very serviceable. Because of the murder mystery elements of show he shot 2, 3 or more locations each day in dusty environments, old buildings and in the rain using many setups such as handheld in vehicles or on the ground for pebble stone roads shots.
"There was no digital voodoo or inherent foibles or surprises that occur with other cameras that dont handle while clipping very well and can't see into the dark like the Sony can so I was very impressed with its response," he confirmed.
Lighting success for the look
"I was lighting in the style of film because of my background and found the camera was very responsive to that traditional type of lighting. I like to use backlight and this camera responded very well. The leading lady Essie Davis was always a high consideration and I used a very minor softening effect with lamps which gave a very pleasing result. The challenge was lighting around her cloche hats with broad brims so had to light carefully."
The resulting look has attracted a lot of positive comment, particularly from female viewers of all ages who notice the beautiful look Davis carries on screen and Lanser believes the Sony SRW-9000PL helped him achieve the desired result.
"Production values are very important and the quality of light and how it falls on peoples' face are of a prime concern to me," said Lanser. "This type of work is not my specially and I was very nervous about the whole post-production path. I had people warning me that digital cameras didn't like shooting into the sun, they clip and don't like contrast or black - all those fears were belayed when I saw it going to air on a conventional flat panel television so I think there are several episodes worth entering into ACS awards.
"You dont want technology that confirms or limits you - you want a camera that stretches your creativity and I think the Sony SRW-9000PL did that for me on Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries."