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Interview: Emmy Award Winning Cinematographer Neville Kidd on Capturing the World of ‘The Umbrella Academy’

Emmy Award winning cinematographer Neville Kidd has worked on all of our favorites shows. Whether that’s Sherlock and Doctor Who, my personal favorite Outlander, or Netflix shows such as Altered Carbon. For one of his most recent endeavors however, Kidd was back working with Netflix for The Umbrella Academy. Based off of the comic book series created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, The Umbrella Academy follows the story of a group of dysfunctional adopted superhero siblings who band together to solve the mystery of their father’s death all the while trying to stop their impending doom with the apocalypse on its way. This past Wednesday I had the pleasure of being able to chat with Neville Kidd about what a typical day looks like on set, how he liked working in Ontario, and the inner workings of the VFX animation behind The Umbrella Academy.

Marie-Rose: Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

Neville: Hi, it’s my pleasure honestly.

Marie-Rose: Shall we just jump into it?

Neville: Yeah, let’s start!

Marie-Rose: The first question I wanted to ask was what does a typical day at work look like? Is there even such a thing as typical day?

Neville: There are two kinds of days, there’s a sort of prep day for what you’re about to make and then there’s a kind of shooting day. And when you’re shooting, you’ve gone through all the preparations for it and when we’re filming like on The Umbrella Academy you know I would alternate with another DP crew, Craig Wrobleski. When I’m prepping he’s shooting, when I’m shooting he’s prepping and vice versa. When you’re in shooting mode you’re basically making sure that everything’s all going to plan. All the lights that you’ve requested, all the cranes that you need for it, all the lenses you’ve asked for the cameraman. Basically you’ve got to make sure everything’s there. Everything you’ve blocked and walked through with the director you know is still the kind of Plan A because you’ve got so many variables in filmmaking. It’s important to limit them as much as you can to maximize filming time. So you can allow as much creativity that you possibly can.

Marie-Rose: How did you like filming in Ontario with The Umbrella Academy? I know you’ve worked in Vancouver before with Altered Carbon so you’ve gotten the experience of that part of Canada but how was it in Ontario?

Neville: No, I really enjoyed Ontario and it’s a fantastic location to film. I think Hamilton turned out to be a fantastic location for just older properties that would kind of work with our quirky world. And I think the choice of location in Ontario is phenomenal. It’s like a director of photography’s kind of dream coming here. So that variation of architecture styles, you know going across so many different time spans its fantastic.

Marie-Rose: How does it differ from the locations you’ve filmed in across Europe, such as where you’re from in Scotland with Outlander.

Neville: Yeah, I think it’s…you know basically they’d shoot until one part when you’ve got a script. You know studios they basically choose the place that benefits the script. So things like Outlander will obviously benefit from being filmed in Scotland because they’re all kind of based in Scotland. So there’s so much of it where you need the kind of local sorts of castles you know obviously and the kind of Scottish nights. And the same with when you’re doing like a sci-fi. You know British Columbia works fantastically well because when we’re doing like another planet you could go up into the Squamish and find a different terrain and then the same with Umbrella Academy because Umbrella Academy is sort of two degrees less than normality. You know it’s nearly the same but just a little bit different. You know mobile phones don’t exist, the internet doesn’t exist. So we wanted, for that basis, Ontario worked really well for location that everybody would recognize but slightly different.

Courtesy of Netflix (The Umbrella Academy)

Marie-Rose: Yeah, they both have their different types of charm right, each location.

Neville: Yeah! No, charm…that’s a good word to use you know. And I think, so it depends on the script. Things like, you know when I was filming Sherlock the studio stuff was filmed in Wales, Cardiff and we did all the location filming in London. You know, because Sherlock is fundamentally kind of London set and characters.

Marie-Rose: The next question I wanted to ask was, in terms of The Umbrella Academy, what was it like to work on an adaptation of a comic, something that is very visual already, does that make it easier or harder?

Neville: Well I think it makes it harder because what you’re doing is basing it on a kind of comic, you know, a graphic novel. Everybody knows what that visual language is. So you’re now turning that visual language into reality. So, you know my job as a director of photography is to then turn that visual dial into a real world that people believe in. You know and I think I was coming at it like if I could convince people this world really exists and the characters lived in it, then the people you know, you would care for them as a viewer. You would believe the world, you would care for the characters and kind of go on their journey with them. I think if you don’t believe the world, subconsciously you’re not taking an interest and you lose interest ultimately and don’t watch the show.

Marie-Rose: Yeah, exactly! It’s about being able to relate almost and just make that connection.

Neville: Yeah, its connecting with the people and saying this is my world, will you please believe in it. And I think that’s one of the decisions we made early on, that we make the set 360. You know we could film in any direction and because of the height of Luther, you spend a lot of time looking up that way. So where you would have a lighting grid, we couldn’t have a lighting grid. So, we made the decision to take all the lights outside the set and try and make it feel like a real mansion house and have a lot of light coming in. So, my jobs harder, the electricians jobs harder but I think you end up with a real place where you can believe it’s a real place. You can believe they’re actually in their front room, in the kitchen you know? Because it essentially was. And I think it added to the style of the show, the way its lit, it was very hard for us to light it but I think it just it definitely gave you a kind of believability. And it’s a kind of stylized believability. You know you’re still enjoying the kind of…you can do camera shots that are a little bit more quirky and you know stylized than if you were doing something contemporary. You know, where these shots are a little bit more aware of themselves and sometimes kind of stand out and I think my kind of view is to make sure that the viewer doesn’t jump out of the journey you’re taking so that they’re with you for the whole hour and there’s nothing…there’s not a shot that feels wrong or doesn’t feel right because you’re feeling that this world isn’t real anymore.

Adam Godley provided the facial performance reference and voice of Pogo in The Umbrella Academy.

Marie-Rose: Of course. Speaking of Luther and how his character posed some sorts of challenges, were there other challenges similar to that like maybe with Pogo?maybe with Pogo?

Neville: Yeah, Pogo was fantastic because he was 100% VFX. You know he was made by Weta [Digital], the people who made Planet of the Apes. You’ve essentially…we had an actor that played Pogo [Ken Wall] and he’s in his grey suit with all the markers on them so the cameras can see him. And he interacts with actors so the actors can have something to hold, somebody to hug, to hold and to move with.  And then we take the eyes of a real actor, Adam Godley, and we put them into the Pogo. And…so Pogo is a combination of two actors, three cameras, and lots of reference kind of photos and you know there’s so much work that goes into creating Pogo when you finally see Pogo its quite an emotional moment …you know because you know essentially you’ve given birth to a real character who doesn’t exist.

Marie-Rose: Its fantastic, hearing how all that work that goes on behind the scenes translates to what we see. We could never imagine how much work goes into that.

Neville: Yeah, because the crew really cares for Pogo. It’s one of those things that you know he not there but you care so much for him. It’s fantastic, it’s a real…I think its a great experience to put so much work into creating him and then when you first finally see Pogo its phenomenal. He’s like a part of our family.

Marie-Rose: Production for season two just started  filming not too long ago, is there anything you can say about it? Anything we can be excited for?

Neville: Unfortunately I can’t mention anything about season two but it’s going to be awesome, people are going to love it. Again, you want to be surprised, but yeah it’s going to be fantastic.

Maire-Rose: Are you filming in Ontario again?

Neville: Yeah, we’re filming in Toronto.

Marie-Rose: I’ve got some general questions about your career to close up. Would you say you have somebody who inspires you in your work?

Neville: Good question. I think Wim Wenders. I’m a big fan of his films so I think I’m inspired by the kind of the expanse and the scale of past excerpts of films. That definitely took me in that direction cinematography wise. I think I kind of bare the responsibility of the director of photography to make sure that I’m giving people as much production value and as much…kind of scale of epicness that I can possibly give them. You know so they can enjoy the story in whichever direction its going, whether its Sherlock, Outlander, or The Umbrella Academy. I think I try to give things as much sort of scale and scope as I can. I think that’s because people watching on bigger televisions now a days, there’s so much more detail that’s seen on television that you wouldn’t have seen say fifteen years ago. You know the production quality has gone up enormously.

Marie-Rose: It has its advantages and disadvantages then I guess.

Neville: Yeah, exactly! It’s a disadvantage because you have to maintain a standard then because you know there’s so much great television out there.

Marie-Rose: One final question that I was just curious about, do you a preference in lenses or a favourite to use?

Neville: No it’s funny I’ve been using…I’ve always gone to Cooke’s you know as my kind of default kind of number one. But when we move to the large format cameras, we start to do things with a Cine kind for their size because they can fit the large cameras and now with what they’ve done to the Supreme’s and the Cooke’s, which I find are a great combination. Optically they’re very cool with each other.

Huge thank you to Mr. Kidd for an amazing talk about his unique and amazing career!

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