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Love Lies Bleeding

Posted on May 4, 2024 by Samara Husbands

Blood, sweat and tears

DOP Ben Fordesman on capturing eighties excess, Americana and the world of bodybuilding in A24’s Love Lies Bleeding 

Revenge gets ripped in director Rose Glass’s second feature film, which sees her reunite with cinematographer Ben Fordesman.

Exploring the tumultuous relationship between Lou (Kristen Stewart), a reclusive gym manager, and Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a bodybuilder passing through town on her way to a competition, Love Lies Bleeding is a steroid-steeped depiction of eighties Americana. As the two grow closer, they are dragged into the violent underworld of Lou’s criminal family. 

Fordesman began his career as a technician, initially working on a feature in 2007 as a trainee electrician. “At first, I was mostly interested in lighting,” he begins. “I found working in the lighting department a useful way to learn on the front line next to some talented gaffers and cinematographers. Thanks to low-budget music video productions, I became a young gaffer myself. It was music videos where I also started to shoot my own work as a cinematographer with up-and-coming directors who saw something in me.” 

Fordesman’s debut feature film as cinematographer came in 2019 with the psychological horror Saint Maud, which also marked his first collaboration with Glass.

The film was a turning point for both director and cinematographer, and saw Glass nominated for outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer at the 2021 BAFTA Film Awards.

Meanwhile, Fordesman nabbed best cinematography at the British Independent Film Awards for his work on the film. “It was a great debut for Rose, backed up by A24 in the US. Love Lies Bleeding was next and lucky for me she brought me back on,” shares Fordesman. 

When it came to initial conversations about the look of Love Lies Bleeding, Fordesman was given a long list of film references by Glass. “Show Girls (1995), Paris, Texas (1984) and To Live and Die in LA (1985) were just some of the films we looked at,” he recalls. “We were embracing the eighties’ excess. Compositionally, we approached the film much the same way as Saint Maud for people talking in rooms, but the larger set pieces were new and proved to be a head-scratcher to work out.”  

Fordesman opted to shoot the film with the ARRI ALEXA Mini, accompanied with Panavision PVintage lenses. “Newer, larger format sensor cameras were available, but I’ve always felt this look is so contemporary and more towards a familiar digital look with its reduced depth-of-field,” notes Fordesman. “We originally wanted to shoot on film, but couldn’t for budget reasons. The ALEXA Mini was closer to Super 35 and more digital noise in given ISO, which was embraced. Also, the camera weight is lighter with the ALEXA Mini, meaning longer handheld takes and movement becomes less inhibited.”  

One of the most challenging sequences to realise for Fordesman was the surreal climatic scene, which sees Jackie transform into a giant, god-like figure. “The scene proved to be particularly time-consuming as well as difficult to capture,” he shares. “It changed so much from the original idea that we had to adjust the plan while already shooting: plate scenes for the wide shots and closer coverage of Katy in a studio to composite her as a giant in our location plates, which consisted a lot of maths and crossed fingers.”

There were around eight weeks of prep during the initial stages of pre-production. The duration of the shoot lasted seven weeks in New Mexico – beginning in June 2022 – with an additional week of pickups a few months later.

Fordesman relied on production designer Katie Hickman and costume designer Olga Mill, plus the makeup department, to help capture the visual aesthetic of the eighties. “Of course, the wigs helped too!” he adds. “I was also inspired by the sodium vapour street lighting, which was around in the eighties and had a green tint; they can mostly be seen in Paris, Texas.”

Initial tests were shot in prep and a LUT was created with Rob Pizzey from Goldcrest in London, who did the grade. “Our post schedule was delayed, so I ended up colour grading with Vanessa Taylor instead who did an incredible job. I also have to give a massive shout out to our onset DIT Tim Gregoire, who was doing live grading. He was balancing our images throughout, and in tune with how I liked things. I didn’t even need to keep checking in his tent; I had full trust in his abilities and sense of what to do.”

Discussing his approach to lighting the film, Fordesman notes the daylight interior scenes had a little help from extra-large HMI sources. “HMI sources bounced in usually, but not to overpower since the quality of natural sunlight is hard to replicate,” says Fordesman. “Night interior scenes made use of practical light sources with Astera NYX bulbs controlled from a desk for full control over colour. LED sources like Creamsource Vortex and ARRI SkyPanels are part of everyone’s lighting lists these days just for ease of use. They can drive light through diffusion or bounce with a light source, which can quickly be controlled remotely and access almost any colour. I’m still very old-school when it comes to tungsten. I like to use Lowel Rifa lights still for close-ups on skin, also 2K spring balls dimmed down. There is something about a bulb dimmed down with its warmth that I find hard to replicate.”

“I have always wanted to shoot a film in the US; American cinema has shaped my understanding of film culture since I can remember,” Fordesman concludes. “Particularly this film, being so drenched in Americana references and shot in New Mexico. Every day of production was exciting – my crew were incredible, and so fun and kind to work with too.”

Co-produced by A24 and Film4, Love Lies Bleeding premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and is released in the UK on 3 May. The film is currently showing in theatres throughout the US.

This feature was first published in the May 2024 issue of Definition.

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