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The Visual Style of 'Blood'
12 Nov 2018 :
Adrian Dunbar in 'Blood'
Award winning Cinematographer Kate McCullough and Screen Scene's Colourist Donal O'Kane talk about their visual approach on Virgin Media's critically acclaimed television series 'Blood', which finishes tonight on Virgin Media One.

Over the last fifteen years, Kate McCullough has worked on a variety of features and shorts and has picked up awards for 'His and Hers' and 'Nuala - A Life & Death' among others.

'Blood', her first work on a television series, has received a lot of critical praise for its acting, writing and direction, yet unusually for an Irish series on a limited budget, there has been a lot of admiration for its cinematography.

With its wide shots, rich palette and characters lurking in, or emerging from, the literal shadows, McCullough has, from an aesthetic perspective, brought a cinematic style to the smaller screen.

A psychological thriller in a whodunit vein, it's far from having a flat realistic style and closer to what audiences would expect to see in the cinema.

'Before I spoke to the directors Lisa Mulcahy and Hannah Quinn, I read the script and while doing so, images and ideas come to mind which, in part, influenced the look of the show. For example, I like Sean Bobbitt's work on 'The Place Beyond the Pines', and while 'A Handmaid's Tale was not a reference point for me initially, it did come up during the project, in particular how that series uses wide shots,' explains McCullough.

The series was shot during the summer months, mainly in the Larchill Arcadian Gardens, Co. Meath.

Due to the heatwave, it was highly unusual for an Irish production to take for granted that the sun, and its available light, would be usable every day. With the lush gardens and surroundings fields at Larchill, shooting outside was considerably easier compared to indoors. However, shooting indoors was challenging.

'Inside the house was initially daunting. There were small rooms, winding passages and small windows. While it was not a listed building, we were not in a position to alter anything. In one room, due to its compromised floorboards, we could not bring in the regular grip equipment, and we had to simplify the dolly we could use.'

While adapting to the internal conditions of the house, along with working with two directors over the course of six episodes, it was McCullough's overall aim to keep the aesthetic continuity and maintaining the integrity of the image throughout the series.

'While we shot in high summer, I wanted 'Blood' to have a darkness to it which is reflective of its theme, and so when shooting, I was always aware of being able to grade it in post-production,' says McCullough.

Post-production was done in Screen Scene and Kate worked with Senior Colourist Donal O'Kane. O'Kane joined the company four years ago after returning from a stint in Australia. During his time at Screen Scene Donal has worked with Yaron Orbach on John Carney's 'Sing Street', Ekkehart Pollack on John Moore's 'I.T.' and most recently with Cathal Watters on Paddy Breathnach's 'Rosie'.

'Grading is a collaborate process and we worked very well together. Donal is efficient, creative and a very gentle person, which is nice as, he was not trying to force 'his way' on the project. Overall, we came up with a very nice look for the series,' explains McCullough.

O'Kane agrees that collaboration is vital to achieving the desired result.

'The first part of any grade session is the most important. Setting the look for 'Blood' was a process of learning Kate's vocabulary for colour and light and exploring several filmic style manipulations and LUTs to achieve the base look for this project.

'From there we were able to work together to keep the scenes and locations consistent with that look,' says O'Kane.

When it comes to grading, what is wrong with the image is not always obvious and therefore, having an experienced colourist is essential.

'Donal helped me tease out issues throughout the project and brought a filmic sensibility to the series with some of his touches, for example, rounding out the harshness of the sun. Also, we didn't want the fields to be too green, and we addressed the greens in the grade,' says McCullough.

While 'Blood' has been sold to the UK and US markets, it has yet to be confirmed if there is a series two in the pipeline.

As for future projects, McCullough has just finished a documentary about the Irish famine, and she has started working on a documentary about Phil Lynott with Emer Reynolds, a director she previously worked with on the Emmy award winning documentary, 'The Farthest'.

The final reveal all episode of 'Blood' will be broadcast on Virgin Media One tonight, Monday Nov 12th, at 9pm.

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