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Roger Lanser has been in the Australian Film and Television industry for 40 years. He started with Australia’s national television broadcaster ABC-TV in their Drama department in the seventies as a Clapper Loader and moved into the freelance film world as an operator in the late 80’s. He has won numerous ACS Awards for his photography including “Cinematographer of the Year” and “The Golden Tripod.”

Some of Rogers’ credits as a Director of Photography include comedies with Jack Lemmon, Joanna Lumley, Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson. He became a friend and collaborator with multi award winning actor/director Sir Kenneth Branagh when they were both young and they have since worked on 8 feature films together.

Rogers’ credits include photographing some of the most respected actors in the film industry, including Helena Bonham Carter and Robert De Niro. Roger has photographed Oscar nominated short films, big screen opera’s, award winning comedies, high box office grossing feature films and many television dramas, including 3 series of the highly successful Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, for which he won another Gold Award for Cinematography in the 2012 ACS awards and for television. He has also photographed the tele movies Dangerous Remedy and Cliffy. In 2015 he photographed a new production for Opera Australia called “The Divorce”. A recently released contemporary operetta/musical comedy. 

Roger’s Bio

Director of Photography – Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The Divorce

I had been in the camera department for 16 years before earning the right to be called a Director Of Photography. I attended a film & TV course in 1975 along with my late cinematographer friend Andrew Lesnie ASC, ACS. After the film course I went on to serve a long apprenticeship on TV and film productions as film loader, focus puller, operator and then 2nd unit DOP.

During that time, as a camera operator on a TV co-production, I became friends with a young, unknown, very driven, English actor named Kenneth Branagh, and later in his career he asked me to be Director of Photography on his 3rd film, ‘Peter’s Friends’. We have collaborated on 9 films together so far.

But…be ready. As a 2nd AC on a day I didn’t know was coming, we were to shoot way out at sea on a naval battleship with all the actors, and the DOP got very sea sick and couldn’t work, so I had to take over lighting, operating, focus and reloading the cameras with film. “The readiness is all.”

1.  How did you get your start as a Director of Photography?

It can be the best day ever. Working with close friends in a collaborative, artistic environment and usually in an odd and interesting location. For me, there are many responsibilities and a stream of questions to answer during the day. The DOP must be the driving force on a set and many people rely on that energy.

I get to collaborate with a good director, think up great shots and coverage of a scene. I love light, so I have many conversations with the Gaffer and lighting crew, I talk to make up artists about their work, the art department about upcoming scenes and at lunch talk with production about forward planning of scenes yet to be shot. Chatting with actors and directors, talking about the show and other people’s work is fun for me, and I love it.

The end of the day can be a wrap-up conversation with the camera crew about how we pulled off another great day and how brilliant we all are as well as talking about tomorrow and any bits of special gear we may need like macro lenses, extra cameras and special rigs. Beer, light banter and deprecating remarks are sometimes included at this event.

2.  Can you describe a regular ‘day at the office’ for you?

This problem doesn’t exist in this form anymore.

In the beginning of the early 90’s it was difficult pre- the internet to validate the quality of my work. Some of my overseas art house films did not enjoy long runs in the cinemas in Australia (Much Ado, Bleak Midwinter, Swan Song, Peter’s Friends), and it was hard to get producers to screenings at a cinema in Sydney. Print reviews in Variety and other trade journals were the only way to validate the quality and sell myself.

Movies could take a year after their cinema release before they were released commercially in stores, so I couldn’t give them a copy to see my photography for a long time after it’s release. I had VHS showreel tapes and a printed CV and I would ride my motorcycle to the producers’ offices and go in and deliver by hand. Also, remember working in television was not a highly considered option back then, as TV productions were very low quality and had no production value, and were usually shot on video tape or 16mm film.

3.  What’s the biggest thing you had to overcome to get where you

     are now?

Remember, it’s never the camera department’s fault! I’ll categorize some of them.

Funny moment:

I was the camera operator on the Mission: Impossible TV series shot here in Australia. A famous actor who was very, very drunk was handed a large calibre handgun for use in the scene by the armourer, and told it was loaded and to not put his finger on the trigger. This actor had come on set and not seen the actress lying, eyes closed, acting dead with blood all over her head behind him. We cleared the set, and before the slate went on, he accidently fired the 45 Magnum. BANG! He nearly jumped out of his skin. He then turned to see the actress on the sofa, acting dead with blood everywhere, and he thought he had seriously shot her. He fell on his knees in shock and started weeping, saying, “Oh my god, I’ve killed her.”

Embarrassing moment:

I was the focus puller on a show filming in Greece. The scene required the beautiful German actress to come up to the male actor and slap him across the face. It was an over-shoulder shot to the actress. She was clearly not smacking him hard enough, so the male lead said to her “come on really hit me, I mean it!”

On take 3, she stepped into shot and hit him very hard. Her expression changed radically at the shock of being so brutal. She frightened herself and her bladder let go.

Tragic moment:

I was the camera operator on an Australian ‘pioneer’ type series in the 80’s that required water dump tanks to flood a large exterior area and trap our actors down their mineshaft. 2 horses were tied up near by, and the rest of the crew were on a small patch of high ground out of the way. The shot could not be rehearsed, so when they called action the floodwaters were released from the dump tanks. BANG! Water flooded down into our valley and into the underground mine, the horses took fright at all the noise and water, panicked and tore free from their ropes and bolted to the high ground, straight into the waiting people. In the confusion the horses trampled 4 crewmembers who didn’t see them coming.

Mozart’s The Magic Flute was sort of a large-scale, big budget, ‘arthouse’ opera/film. It was filmed like a musical. I got to film in the sound stages where Kubrick filmed 2001 in the 60’s. The opera singers were from all over the globe, the singing was in English and very beautiful. All the cast were first timers in front of cameras. The director Ken Branagh included me in every aspect of the production, set design, special effects, digital animation design, I got to go to the recording studios where The Beatles had recorded nearly all of their music. We had cut rushes on a Friday night with cast and crew in a cinema on the studio lot with wine and food. The camera crew were all the best in England, and some days I cried because it was so beautiful to hear Mozart sung so passionately and with such heart. I was asked to take it to the Toronto Film Festival and got up on stage to introduce it to a huge, crowded cinema. The ACS awarded me ‘Cinematographer of the Year’ for my photography on the film.

Years later it screened at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne as part of a ‘music on film’ festival and I got to see it up on the big screen again with people applauding it.

5.  You’ve worked on many large-scale productions, is there one in

     particular that sticks out?

A little bit of unemployment and no prospects of work can be very humbling. That keeps you passionate! Haha.

It’s good to have a hobby or another distraction.  I love films and the process and protocols of filmmaking, so I go to the movies a lot at the cinema and try and catch up with ones I’ve missed. I certainly watch films for the cinematography.

A short holiday straight at the end of shooting can be a shot of morphine if it was a tough shoot. I hate working with people who are jaded and ‘over it’ and burned out, they are terrible to be around. Every day on set should be fun and exciting.

6.  Filmmaking is an all-consuming career. What do you do to avoid

     burnout and stay passionate?

At the moment Film and Digital still sit side by side as a capture medium in the feature film industry outside of Australia. I find digital capture has affected my work greatly in the positive.  It has introduced me to greater possibilities and opportunities, and digital grading is where the magic happens. The way the light falls on an actor’s face, the shape of sunlight pouring into a room, the level of fire flicker in a scene is still controlled by me on set, but digital capture and post production are such an advantage now to any cinematographer. I hate watching movies or TV where the cinematographers have been lazy, because digital photography can be so easy if you let it to be.

7.   How does changing technology affect your work?

If you wish to be an adult DOP, raise children, pay off a house and not rely on any other income stream, here we go:

In your career path, giving it as much time as possible as an assistant/focus/operator is a good thing. Learning how to be a fantastic camera assistant will get you work in television and film with great filmmakers and Cinematographers. From this point on you hone your craft with professionals, you learn to deal with pressure, responsibilities and teamwork.

In your free time, shoot, edit and screen your own films to family and friends and try to get them into short film festivals.

8.  What’s the most important piece of advice you could give a

     filmmaker who’s starting out?

I don’t know how you would get a job in this industry without some kind of professional, face-to-face, hands on training. Film schools give you good grounding and ease you into a tough industry that can be dangerous, sexist and soul destroying, but is still the most brilliant work place ever.

I think the best things my film school taught me were history and appreciation. How to watch films, absorb the work of the cinematographer, see the work of the director and the actors, and to also go and see foreign films. Don’t expect to come away from a film school and be a ‘for hire’ DOP though, you still need to spend hours at the workplace to fully understand the roll. Owning a fancy camera doesn’t make you a great photographer either. For me, it’s all a learning curve till you’re the BOSS.

9.  Is film school essential, or can you get there without it and why?

I would have loved to be the camera operator on Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

The young directors 3rd film, the brilliant lighting by Jordan Cronenweth, the ground breaking production design, bold sets and seamless model shots. Working in a Frank Lloyd Wright House and The Bradbury Building with a leading actor who had just been Indiana Jones, Han Solo and was in Apocalypse Now.

Blade Runner was a flop when released, and was only discovered as the masterpiece it is years later.  I would have loved to have been part of that film.

10.  What one film in cinema history would you have loved to have

       worked on and why?

4.  They say whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. What’s the most

     ridiculous thing that’s gone awry while you were on a job?

Roger Lanser ACS

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