Laura Bellingham came to cinematography via the world of literature and language. Her passion for narratives has influenced her approach to film, helping her to craft pieces with a dazzling visual structure.
“I’m really story driven,” says Laura, as we sit down to discuss her role as cinematographer for the Canon supported short film Stump, which premiered at the Camerimage festival in Poland this year. “For me, telling a story is all about showing different sides of the world.”
According to Laura, a good script is fundamental to being able to do this, and that's what attracted her to Stump. After reading it, she was desperate to know more about the characters. “As soon as I read it, I started to think about the protagonists and cinematic images started to come to me. It’s about figuring out what their world is like. There’s no point shooting something unless there’s some kind of narrative purpose. But not all DoPs are like this – a lot of times the impulse is to create an image first, but for me it has to derive from a story.”
Things are opening up and an awareness is growing… it’s a good time to be a female cinematographer.
Laura came to film via York University, where she studied English Literature. It was during her time there that her interest in filmmaking grew to the point that she decided to try to forge a career in it. “After York, I spent a year snowed in at the European Film College in Denmark, where I shot two dozen or so short films. I then went to the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. I shot my first feature last September (a horror comedy called Double Date, directed by Benjamin Barfoot) and it had a nationwide release this October.
“It’s an interesting time in the film business, because things are opening up and an awareness is growing. There are the beginnings of a hunger to see different sorts of people telling different stories in different ways – especially women. It’s a good time to be a female cinematographer.”
“With Stump, we only had three days to shoot,” says Laura. “When you’re writing a script, there’s a sense of having endless possibilities because you can change your mind and rewrite. But once you shoot something, you’re committed to it, and thoughts go through your mind about whether you’ve captured everything you need to in order to say all you can about a character. It’s my job to be on top of that.”
Most of Stump was filmed inside a small flat in South East London. “It had tiny windows and it was really challenging with the low light, but we had a strong storyboard and the director, Tommy Boulding, is also an excellent editor and was super visual. He knew how he wanted everything to fit together and had a strong sense of framing, which we talked about a lot. Things became organic as we worked together.”
New to Laura for this film was the Cinema EOS C700. It’s a camera designed for film and broadcast, as well as documentary productions. The EOS C700's 15 stops of dynamic range, cinematic Super 35mm sensor, and 4K ProRes, XF-AVC and Codex uncompressed RAW recording options made it the perfect camera for the crew.
“It was challenging in the tight space we had,” says Laura. “We wanted to shoot 4K RAW, so we had the Codex recorder on the back, which increased the camera’s length, but it was worth it for beautiful uncompressed footage. The C700 is a great piece of kit. The colour rendition was beautiful.” With the Codex CDX-36150 attached, the C700 could record 10-bit or 12-bit 4K RAW up to 120fps. “Its width was increased too – we wanted the assistance module on the side for the focus puller, so it ended up being quite a beast.
“I’ve used Canon all my life. I have an EOS 7D DSLR for shooting stills and have used the EOS C300 Mark II a lot for commercial work. The menu system is very familiar right across the Cinema EOS range, which is really good because you hit the ground running when you pick up a new model for the first time.”
On some levels, Laura finds the point at which she puts the camera down to be the most challenging part of filmmaking. When the footage goes to the editing suite, she no longer has as much creative control – whether it ties up with her vision is in someone else's hands. “Tommy’s done a beautiful job in the edit and has created a mood to the whole film where you get a real sense of the characters.”
When not shooting, Laura focuses on doing her bit to bring more gender equality to the world of filmmaking through her membership of the all-female cinematography group IIuminatrix, a collective dedicated to promoting the work of female cinematographers.
“It’s great to be a part of Illuminatrix,” says Laura. There are not enough women working in technical positions in the film industry and it needs to be addressed. Illuminatrix is wonderful for championing female cinematographers, and I am absolutely honouredd to be a part of it. But in terms of how I see myself, it’s not like I walk around and just think of my gender. I hope to get a job on the merit of my ability.
“As a team player, I’ve learned to listen to the people around me. Making a film is a collaborative endeavour, so nobody is bigger than the project. But you must always listen to your own gut, too, and never falter from your own vision, because that’s what’s going to help you through when times get tough.”
To find out more about the EOS C700, check out the product page.