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24th November 2011
Toohey’s stag party
Title of film: Toohey Nocturnal
Director: Garth Davis
Production Company: Exit Films
Exit Film’s Garth Davis talks about shooting deer

We thought there was a lot of extraordinary post work in Toohey’s Nocturnal Migration but it turns out that you actually worked with a herd of deer.  How challenging was THAT?

Deers are very difficult, so it was an enormous challenge… and I am not a huge fan of trained animals. They lose their spirit. So the real challenge in this case, was to get everyone in a head space of keeping them as natural as possible…. imagining what environments and situations we could create, to get an unplanned, natural, but relevant performance. We used five hand reared deer, and then 120 farm deers.
The deer are very beautiful looking creatures – did you think this by the end of the shoot?

This might sound strange, but by the end, I bonded quite closely with two of the hand-reared deers. They have such unique personalities, and are quite intimate animals. I grew respect for their endurance, adaptability and spirit. I also loved seeing them explore a world that no deer has ever been to… like taking Tarzan to New York, we took deer to the pub.

What was the original brief and how did you develop it in your treatment?

I had an early brief from the agency. It was really about whether it was viable, and did I like it. I thought, if it was handled correctly and we set the tone right, it would be extremely memorable. My treatment was all about making it as real as possible; ensuring we invented scenes that allowed the animal to be itself, and then structure production to get as much in camera as possible. All that mattered is that we saw ‘us’ in them, and we felt their personalities, instinct and drive… so we too feel our own primality.

Were there some ideas that had to be dropped by the final edit?

There might be one or two, but in the end we used it all.

Was every frame storyboarded?

A storyboard is a big guess at how it might edit; meaning you have already decided how something is going to be on the day and for me that’s the death of film, the death of a moment.

I like to see how the animals inspire me, how the locations inspire me, and then when my time is up, I combine these inspirations into scenes and a shooting board. So I carefully and painstakingly plan the scenes, the broader moments and how they bring the story to life … that’s what I focus on. These have to feel great, have an energy about them, which in turn creates lots of possibilities for the day of filming. But like all directors, you get forced to do a storyboard and I always say, ‘This is just a guess at the edit’.
Your work always features stunning lighting. What is your favourite time of day or night to shoot and why?

Whatever is best for the story I am telling, it always changes. I know dusk and dawn give you a beautiful image immediately, but there is something I don’t trust in that, it can make you lazy. So I don’t have a general preference. I can enjoy the bleak sun on a car chase, to the subtle warmth of a lamp. But overall, I love to feel the light as natural as possible. I hate to feel us in the images, and I hate fashion. So that means you have to pick locations with feeling, and favourable light. It always looks better.

What cameras were used?

The Arri Alexa

Great perspectives, were choppers involved?

Yes, I always use helicopters if I can. I just love the ‘being out of body’, and seeing our world smaller, it becomes something else; reminds us to see ourselves differently.

Aside from Toohey’s what are the other pieces of work that you are most proud of and why?

I like a lot of it for different reasons. But Herringbone ‘Henri’ I like, Herringbone:

because I love the real to life characters, their moments… even though it’s a completely ridiculous story line.

Schweppes Burst, for its focused craft, but retaining a metaphorical feeling. Xbox and Coke Burn for its sheer adventure, atmosphere, and underlying subtext. And all of them avoid fashion, try to be original, and that I am most proud of.

What’s the best piece of advice about film making anyone’s ever given you?

Always be a beginner.

The world is your oyster – who in the creative film making world would you most like to have a conversation with?

I don’t have a hero really… but I have such respect for so many film makers and actors. But very recently I have re-discovered Gene Hackman, and I think he would be an amazing person to have a beer with.

Before and Afters in post: