Despite being an Emmy winner, cinematographer Ben Smithard readily admits to being nervous about lensing the “Downton Abbey” film. “The producers wanted to make the movie as epic as we could. When it came to choosing the new camera system and lighting, I was always thinking of how to make it look like bigger like a film.”
While he hadn’t worked on the long-running TV series, Smithard says in the exclusive video above that he was comfortable with shooting period pieces. Indeed, he earned his Emmy for “Cranford,” which was set almost a century before the action in “Downton Abbey.” The show’s creator Julian Fellowes crafted a continuation of the Crawley family saga using a 1927 royal visit as a backdrop. While much of the story takes place at the family home, key moments take place at an even grander house, and in the local village.
Smithard relished the challenge of opening up the television show. “I had total backup from the producers and the cast to produce the images that I thought were right to make it feel like a film. He is particularly proud of a action sequence that unspools at a pivotal point in the plot. He spoke at length of the logistics of filming several of the key characters in a prolonged chase through the streets. “It is a big scene, with 100 horses, 100 soldiers, 300 extras, 4 cameras all on a National Trust property. It was a 4-day shoot and there was a lot of money being spent. Everything was done in-camera, so if you don’t get it you could be in big trouble. But I relish shooting these big scenes – they are so well-planned out.”
The restrictions on filming in historical homes forced Smithard to be inventive when it came to lighting. An intimate scene between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and her beloved Granny (Maggie Smith) was shot on location at Harewood House, which is even grander than the show’s “home” of Highclere Castle. “The furnishings are priceless and that made it difficult. For that scene, there were so many mirrors we had to put the lighting in the fireplace.”
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