This story about Greig Fraser and “Dune” first appeared in the Below-the-Line issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
As the cinematographer on “Rogue One,” “Snow White and the Huntsman” and the upcoming “The Batman,” Greig Fraser knows big. That’s why he was so impressed when he first spoke to Denis Villeneuve about “Dune” and the director didn’t even talk about the size of the movie.
“There’s a lot of people and a lot of studios making films of scale — the world’s exploding, buildings falling, the world’s going to die,” he said. “And, you know, I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that world, and I’ve loved every minute of it. But what drew me to this story and appealed to me about Denis’ take is that he didn’t talk about scale. There’s world-building, but it’s something that happens in the background — what’s leading the charge are the characters, so Denis first talked to me about the people he was thinking of casting.”
They did, of course, discuss Villeneuve’s vision for the look of the film, which he’d been thinking about for many years. “I needed to hear how he saw the film because I didn’t have that same history with the material,” he said. “So for the first few meetings, I just let Denis talk about what he felt about the story, how he saw the world, how he saw the colors.”
Photographing that world brought a particular set of challenges, among them the fact that the vast desert landscapes of the planet Arrakis (filmed in Jordan, with interiors on a stage in Budapest) baked under a searing sun in the daylight hours and were immersed in darkness when the sun set.
“It was very important that it didn’t feel like it was artificially illuminated,” he said. “So we tried to use natural light where possible, and that even extended to the night scenes.”
Indoors, meanwhile, the action often took place in enormous, dimly lit rooms. “The spaces needed to be beyond big, and that meant I needed to light beyond big as well,” he said. “It was a huge conundrum because (production designer) Patrice (Vermette) and Denis had decided there were no direct windows. That was the whole point of the building: It was a bunker, and you wouldn’t put big windows in a bunker. They designed slits of light, which pushed us out on the limb to create some interesting solutions to the problems.”
Only recently, Fraser was reminded again of the “Dune” experience. “When you go to the desert, sand gets into every single thing you own,” he said. “I went to do a commercial in Spain four or five months ago, and they asked me to open my bag as I was coming into the country. I opened it and out poured sand. I knew it was from the Jordanian desert where we shot, but I don’t know where it was in my bag and why it hadn’t appeared for the last two years.”
Read more from TheWrap’s “Dune” package here: