Shelly Johnson interview: ‘Greyhound’ cinematographer
“Greyhound” cinematographer Shelly Johnson vividly recalls those anxious days before filming began when he was still waiting on the arrival of the Sphero 65 lenses. Johnson was part of Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts panel, conducted virtually by this writer (watch the exclusive video above). “I wanted the Sphero 65 because they are old and they are a marvelous pairing with this modern camera. The camera separates the colors and the lenses meld them back together. That combination is a lot of giving the movie the presence that it has.”
“Greyhound” is set against the backdrop of the Battle of the Atlantic, with American ships filled with troops and supplies, playing a game of cat and mouse to avoid the German U-boats. Tom Hanks adapted C.S. Forester’s novel “The Good Shepherd” and plays the captain of a fleet of three dozen ships.
Johnson welcomed working with the Apple TV+ film’s director Aaron Schneider for the first time. Schneider, who’d started as a cinematographer, won an Oscar for his first film as a helmer, the live-action short “Two Soldiers” in 2005. “Greyhound” is his second feature as a director and comes 11 years after winning an Indie Spirit award for his first, “Get Low.”
For Johnson, the challenges of shooting exteriors on the USS Kidd, a decommissioned WWII-era Fletcher-class destroyer that now serves as a museum on the Mississippi River, were exceed by the realism. Almost all of the interior scenes were shot on a soundstage on two main sets: the pilothouse and the combat information center (CIC). Johnson spoke in detail about working in confines of the pilothouse, a room that measured 10×18 and was filled with upwards of a dozen people. “We shot the whole movie hand-held. Seventy-five percent of the movie is on that set. we all just squeezed in together. It was a lot of working who were so accommodating to help us get the camera where it was needed. It was all about collaboration.”
To give the effect of the rise and fall of the waves and the ship breaking through them, the filmmakers employed a mix of practical effects — including a giant gimbal. Virtually all of the battle scenes and ocean vistas were created using visual effects. The filmmakers’ goal was to make everything created digitally look as though it had been captured during a real battle. Johnson explained his part in post working Double Negative’s Nathan McGuinness to meld the shot foreground with the VFX.
Johnson has shot over 80 full length projects including “Captain America: First Avenger,” “Jurassic Park III,” “The Wolfman,” “The Last Castle,” “Percy Jackson: The Sea of Monsters,” “Honest Thief” and “Hidalgo.” He is a four-time ASC Award nominee for Cinematography.