Posted April 21st, 2022 by Jim Read

For our second New Shoots event of 2022 – SP’s Cath Le Couteur welcomed two incredible cinematographers, Tom Townend and Annika Summerson, for an online Q&A focusing on all things cinematography. While very different in experience, the two collectively shared some incredible insight, including how they go about their relationships with directors, the importance of storyboards, what it’s like working with actors and so much more.

If you missed the Q&A or you simply want to hear all their top tips again, then you can re-watch it here.


Tom (pictured left) / Annika (pictured right)

Both Tom and Annika have shot iconic features, but bring two very different perspectives to the world of cinematography.

Tom has a long-standing creative partnership with director Lynne Ramsay and was nominated for the BIFA for Best Cinematography for You Were Never Really Here (starring Joaquin Phoenix). His layered visual approach has been featured in British Cinematographer, including stunning work on Attack the Block (starring John Boyega) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (starring Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller).

Swedish-born Annika recently received the Sue Gibson Cinematography Award for her work on Mogul Mowgli (starring Riz Ahmed). An NFTS graduate, Annika also gained invaluable experience working for cinematography legend Christopher Doyle. She has picked up multiple awards for her work, including her latest feature Censor (BFI/ Film4/ Film Wales), which was shot on 35mm and premiered at Sundance in January 2021 to great acclaim.


Annika commented “You have directors that only care about the actors, then you have directors that want to direct the film to every millimetre. It’s important to know where they’re going to sit… You want to be on the same team.”

Moreover, she delved into how this unfolded on her work with Mogul Mowgli – “I had never met Bassan [Tariq] before. He came over and I had 4 weeks prep, twenty days shoot and that was it. We had to find a language very quickly. When you have that little prep, you have to see locations, do equipment lists, get a crew who you have to convince to be on the shoot yourself.”


Anyone who’s worked in film will know – things rarely ever go quite as planned. Tom explained “There is a gulf of understanding between what I like and being able to achieve that myself… A really successful day’s shooting is when I feel like what I shot matched what I wanted it to look like in my imagination before it started”.


Annika shared some of her process: “I do have a built-in preference: lenses that are not so clean, things that are imperfect. I like old lenses. But I tend to also swap… on each project.”

She also talked about changing up camera and lighting lists: “Someone said you should take a job either because you get to try something new, or to meet someone brilliant, or to make money…I think it’s very important to keep trying something new, even if its a new head or a new light. And who better to ask than your gaffer or grip: what are the cool things that can make my life easier?”

Likewise, Annika highlighted “There’s a lot of things that have made things easier for shooting. Even if you can’t afford something now,, in a few years time you probably can, or you can convince production that you can.


Turning to the relationship between the DP and actors, Annika described this as “…it’s a little bit of a hostage situation – they’ve got their looks in your hands… There are lots of actors that want to help you and they really want to make a good product. I like the chemistry you can get from certain actors you get along with, especially when you’re operating handheld… it’s an amazing feeling. Then, there are actors that have no idea of cameras – then you just have to be patient.”

Tom then added “There is a huge range of technical understanding and people can be anywhere on the spectrum and it’s not necessarily commensurate with experience. Some people can be really intuitive, some are really ‘easy’, they always look great.”

He went on to share about his experience working on You Were Never Really Here: “Joaquin Phoenix was someone that for the first time ever I came on with an element of reverence… he was very good at expunging cliche at a script level…. And then when we came to shoot he was given incredibly free reign to the point where it felt like we were shooting a documentary. I went with it… ultimately his were the right decisions”


There’s so many departments involved when choosing locations – primarily directors and art departments, but inherently different locations can prove more difficult for cinematographers.

Annika explained how she supports location choice as a DP: “if the location is too small – in London flats for example,  as long as you explain your reasons, it can be ok. You have to go in and explain why you can’t get a wide shot, or it’s too high up. You have to put your reasoning behind why and then people will understand.”

Tom elaborated “You have to pick your battles and weigh up whether it’s worth making the case for or against a location… it can be heartbreaking… you have to couch your argument [as], this will take away money, this will take away time.”


Annika suprised us all when she shed light on the fact she rarely uses storyboards: “Now I tend to only storyboard action and VFX scenes so all of the department knows what’s going to happen. All the other scenes we work out either the night before or on the day. Specialist shots, I have to have a shortlist for so I can plan my equipment, but I very rarely shotlist a whole film beforehand.”

Tom on the other hand is strongly committed to storyboards and shortlists: “[Having a storyboard] – it’s really good, not only creatively but also for everyone to understand that it is being achieved, that you are moving at the correct pace.” He went on to explain “I like to have a shortlist tucked in my back pocket. Something I will have gone through the night before with the director… when I worked with Lynne [Ramsay] we would shortlist the night before and have a giggle about what would be a cool approach…”


Tom and Annika share a preference for single-camera shoots, Tom went on to say “I tend to think editorially – what is going to be the sequence of shots? I don’t like the idea you’re going to hose everything down… with two-hundred cameras. But when you shotlist, you think there will be an opportunity for a B camera. I hate shooting cross coverage – I think there’s more creative ways to use a B or C camera. In terms of using lighting, things look best if you can shoot from one angle”

Annika chimed in to say “it takes a while to get used to… you can’t do a wide then a tight [because of sound]… all these things I had to learn on the spot. It was quite stressful but in TV, unless you’re doing a very specific style that you fight for, then they would want you to have two cameras so you can shoot dialogue quickly”

Ultimately, Tom explained “you can utilise two or maybe three cams all at same time if you’ve committed to “meat and potato” coverage. But if you want to create more elegant blocking where camera movement is telling the story along with people in the space, more often than not, that neuters the need for a second camera. I like single cameras”


We know that many of you come to New Shoots for solid career advice, and our cinematography event did not disappoint. Tom said: “Your allies as a cinematographer, the people who will be instrumental in stuff that looks great, are people like the 1st AD or the line producer. When you meet people who are real pros, then you can have a frank discussion with them about the schedule and what’s essential’


Our thanks to Annika and Tom for sharing their perspectives and experiences on camerawork and lighting – the experience you both shared was invaluable and the support is truly appreciated from the community.

If you’re looking to get involved with a production why not become a SP member or subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date about future NEW SHOOTS events.

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