The Rover begins a decade after the world’s ecomomy has collapsed. Australia is now a Third World country. Its great and rich natural resources are controlled off-shore and its mines are the site of a new ‘gold rush’. Its outer regions are savage and dangerous. When Eric (Guy Pearce) loses his car to a trio of violent thieves he pursues them ruthlessly. With Rey (Robert Pattinson) a witless bandit left behind by the gang as reluctant sidekick, Eric encounters a cast of sometimes dangerous, sometimes kind characters who have made a life for themselves in this blighted place.
In their own words, writer/director David Michôd and cinematographer Natasha Braier talk us through how they achieved the "dirty and earthy and real" look of The Rover.
"The world of the movie is one of profound neglect"
David Michôd: "For me pre-production and rehearsal is about gathering your key collaborators and making certain they are all speaking the language of the movie. I wanted the film to feel dirty and earthy and real. We’re in a world of economic collapse and environmental degradation. We’re not in complete collapse of a society we’re just talking about a social system and an infrastructure that’s struggling and struggling in an incredibly dangerous and violent world."
Natasha Braier: "We talked in a conceptual way about the characters and script before we started talking about shots."
Michôd: "We talked for about two weeks."
Braier: "We approached it in terms of feelings rather than an ideas. We went scene by scene and [determined] the point of each one."
Michôd: "We didn’t talk about visual style. What I loved about working with Natasha was her need and desire to understand the script as deeply and rigorously as she could."
Braier: "We didn’t use any visual references – like a certain photographer, or painter but we did talk about the Western and wanting to use the language of the Western in the design."
Michôd: "We shot in South Australia in the Southern Flinders Ranges. There is a certain colour palette that the land and the buildings have out there. We tried to put in a faded human vitality in the frame wherever we could… which is usually a splash of red."
Braier: "We used the colours of the desert. But the look isn’t just created by the cinematography. It’s a close collaboration with make-up artist Fiona Rees-Jones, costume designer Cappi Ireland and production designer Jo Ford."
Michôd: "Guy’s Eric is like a ghost man who barely exists anymore so the colour palette of his costumes disappear into the landscape. Whereas Rob, this young kid Rey, still has a reason to live he’s a much bolder colour."
Braier: "The sets were desert colours – browns, yellows, some greens like the colour of salt-bush. We also used blue. Blue is Hope. In almost every frame of the movie there is a drop of blue."
Michôd: "This isn’t like an asteroid has wiped everything out – this is where everything has been ‘let go’. The world of the movie is one of profound neglect."
Braier: "We used coffee in the sets – spraying it on walls and surfaces to get an aged, distressed worn look. I don’t know how many litres of coffee we used but we used a lot.
"We shot on Super 35mm and the look was captured ‘in-camera’ without any digital post-production effects to adjust the palette and colour temperature. We were over exposing the exteriors to wash them of colour and make it feel hotter and hostile.
"The interiors were all lit in a very dark key but there was still information in the shadows. A lot of the locations were existing and we dressed them. The bar at the beginning (above) was built especially because of the stunt - which was captured live."
Michôd: "There is something really powerful about doing stuff in-camera. Yes, there is so much you can do in the world of digital windows now but the closer you can get to a beautiful oil painting in camera, the richer the end result will be."
Braier: "I prefer film to digital. David and I are both in our 40s so you might say we’re ‘Old School’."
Inside a scene: Eric meets Grandma
Braier: "In the story Grandma runs the Opium Den. Its very dark but when we go to her room its much lighter; it’s a separate world and its like she is living in the past – her room is intact with all the memories of the past."
Michôd: "We wanted that to feel like Gillian has been sitting at that window in 1946 waiting for her husband to come home from the war."
Pictured: Stills from cinematographer Natasha Braier’s pre-production file. At left: Braier and Michôd stand in for actors Gillian Jones and Guy Pearce. At right: The completed scenes from the film.
Braier: "Everything I do feels natural and I don’t know how to light in any other way. I only light in a way that is believable to my eye that feels real but I am also looking for beauty so I guess I’m trying to find the best version of reality maybe?
"Throughout I used sidelight and back light and bounced light. We talked a lot about faces in pre-production; there is a progression that is very subtle in the way that the faces are lit in the movie – especially with Eric. In the beginning he is in profile and quite dark and as the movie develops we see more and more of his face until we see him full face."
Michôd: "Eric is moving through a world and encountering people clinging to each other but on some level he poisons those relationships; Grandma, in her own dark and twisted way acknowledges that he needs and wants is love."
As told to Peter Galvin.