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Brendan McGinty and the ‘Secrets of the Neanderthals’

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Secrets of the Neanderthals was produced by BBC Studios for Netflix and directed by Ashley Gething. Brendan was brought in specifically to shoot the Drama sequences for the film, of which there are many, and in which the Neanderthals are brought to life. These vignettes weave throughout the film and allow for a more poetic glimpse into a sub-species society whose DNA we all share and about whom we have previously known so little.

The film, narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart, moves from the most recent scientific discoveries at numerous archaeological sites to an exploration of our new understandings of Neanderthal behaviours, bonds, rituals. In the film’s dramatic sequences these scientific theories and discoveries are brought to lyrical life. At its heart is the scientific mystery surrounding the pre-human species and what their fossil records now tells us about their lives. This bringing to life of Mystery is of course at the heart of the Drama tradition and the film’s narrative is both underpinned and driven by these bursts into live action of the Neanderthals.

Why were the TLS rehoused Canon Rangefinder lenses chosen for this particular production?

From my very first discussions with the film’s creative team, I referenced my desire to use the TLS Canon Dreams on a Full Frame sensor for the production. I hoped to bring as much organic optical accident, flare, curved field focus and soft vignette to these scenes as we could manage. We wanted these scenes to feel real, ‘human’ and verite in their style, using a ‘breathy' handheld on all but the wider following shots (where we used a gimbal.) What we hoped to achieve was the sense that a cinematographer was standing alongside the Neanderthals, observing them at breath-on-the lens close quarters as their lives unfolded.

We used a rehoused vintage set of 1960s Canon Rangefinder glass. This was a TLS rehoused set built around the legendary 50mm f0.95 Canon ‘Dream’ lens. At 16oz Films we have a set of 9 TLS rehoused Canon Dream lenses, from 19mm to 200mm. These were sourced and developed together with lens maestro Michael Lindsay, and we are fortunate enough to use them whenever the script calls for this level of full frame, spherical, vintage beauty. 

The Canon Rangefinder lenses were originally built to work on rangefinder cameras and so sit far closer to the film plane than any of the later reflex lenses. This allowed for a far simpler telecentric lens design and the lenses have warm minimal coatings without any flare suppression at all. The results are soft, vignetted, curved focused, flarey lenses with the Large Format depth of field character. We tested extensively before shooting and were all overwhelmed by the results which fitted perfectly with our world. Ashley was huge fan from the first moment of our tests, we had found just the right note of soft, veiled seeing and an altogether more human point of view. With both our firelight and sunlight sequences we leaned into flare. These light elements were so decisive for our Neanderthals that we wanted to feel them in our frames whenever we could.

For the right project, creative or script there is nothing that I dislike about these lenses. But make no mistake, they are optically transformative, extremely vintage and incredibly funky, so if you want modern sharp, flat photographic imagery you may want to look elsewhere!

The ‘Secrets of the Neanderthals’ is already out on Netflix.

If you would like to read more about Brendan and other productions he has worked on, you can go to his website or find him on social media @brendan_mcginty.

The story also appears in the Definition Magazine 

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'To inspire through innovation, passion and quality'