Choosing the right camera technology to capture a new series of one of Britain’s best-loved dramas requires careful planning and consideration. That’s why DOP, Si Bell, and director, Anthony Byrne, started testing kit with Picture Canning months before the fifth series of “Peaky Blinders” was scheduled to start shooting. But when a change in the delivery specifications meant that the chosen camera wasn’t fit for purpose, the technical team were left with just two weeks to select a whole new kit.
The original intention was to shoot on the Alexa Mini with Cooke anamorphic lenses, which was already a departure from the norm. “Being a series that was already successful, there’s a lot of pressure to do Peaky as Peaky,” Si explains. “It took a while for me to be convinced to go down the anamorphic route because I hadn’t shot that way before and I didn’t feel like we should be changing anything.” But, after testing various anamorphic options with the Picture Canning team, Si was convinced, “It’s a subtle change but one that reflects the different time period and story while staying true to the overall look and feel of Peaky.”
Although the team also tested different camera systems at the outset, the selection of the Alexa Mini was almost inevitable as the camera has become the de facto choice for shooting drama. But Netflix’s decision that the series needed to be delivered in true 4K meant the team would need to return to testing to choose between RED Monstro 8K VV, Helium 8K S35 or Gemini 5K S35 and the Sony 6K Venice.
Si’s longstanding relationship with Picture Canning MD, Jamie Hutchinson, proved valuable in securing the new kit. Years ago, when Si was learning the trade and working as a camera trainee and clapper loader in the North East, he built his showreel using discounted or borrowed kit from Jamie at Picture Canning’s Newcastle branch, and the pair have continued to support each other since.
“We ended up using the RED Monstro camera which, I think, is the best 4K camera on the market at the moment. It’s quite a new camera system, so purchasing the Monstro really makes Picture Canning stand out and gives them an edge over other rental companies,” continues Si. “But we had to go back to school a bit to test the camera and lenses to be confident in our decision.”
The fifth series of “Peaky Blinders” was shot over a gruelling 77 days between September 2018 and January 2019. The Monstro used on the shoot was fitted with a customised EVF dioptre developed by Picture Canning in collaboration with RED, and production support was provided on-site by a level 3 RED technician and off-site by Picture Canning’s RED-certified warehouse team.
Si concludes saying “We all love Peaky and we never thought we needed to change the style, but we wanted to do Peaky in our own way, to elevate the series to the next level. The feedback from everyone involved is that it’s the best Peaky yet.”