Corruption and Beauty #1 - "Pig Farm"
A few years ago, I had the great good fortune of working with four-time nominated and Academy Award winning documentary film maker Malcolm Clarke. He is currently nominated for his latest film "The Lady in Room #6", and after working with him on a film called "Pig Farm" , I understand the reasons why he is praised by critics and peers.
I was hired by Malcolm as Cinematographer on "Pig Farm" despite the studio's protests over hiring me, due to my shortage of credits at that point. Malcolm fought to bring me in and succeeded based on my film "Call It Karma", which I directed and shot on location in Tibet. Now you're probably wondering what the hell "Pig Farm " was about. OK...get ready and I hope you haven't eaten yet. The film was based on the true story of a mass murderer in Vancouver, who over the years murdered 49 prostitutes, then chopped up their bodies and fed them to his pigs - which he then chopped up and sold as meat to the people of Vancouver.
To achieve the right setting and feel for this grisly scenario, we shot on some of the vilest, seediest and disgusting locations imaginable on the East side of Vancouver. This being a network of dank, dark streets and urine-soaked back alleys populated by a swollen, festering hive of more drug addicts and desperate individuals than anywhere in the world. It is literally a city sector of zombies, ragged, torn beat-up, mangled souls somehow existing on the barest survival level. I watched young women with witch's skin so crusted and infected it would peel off if they scratched too hard. I could hear rats squealing as they fought for the blood- soaked tie-off rag from an addict sprawled behind the dumpster. Malcolm, however, pushed on through this decrepit wasteland searching for the perfect settings for our tale, his eyes soaking up the squalor that together we would magically transform into art.
At one point we were in this prostitute's apartment. I would have covered my mouth and nose with my scarf, like some NATO grunt discovering a mass grave, but somehow in my polite Canadian way I didn't want to insult her. The windows hadn't been opened in years, which further sealed in the cigarette smoke, along with mold and mildew from the constantly damp Vancouver air. Malcolm turned to me as I cought my breakfast in my throat. "So, Geoff - what do you think?" I sprang into action as he put his sandwich down on her pill strewn coffee table.
Fortunately, I was able to quickly adapt. I knew that if I could light this a certain way, it would actually enhance the essence of what I previously saw as frightening, vomit-inducing and ugly. Not just enhance it, but embrace it while visually extracting the prana, or life force out of it. And I knew that if I could succeed at this, it would help Malcolm capture the pain, and ultimately the empirical truth of the situation. With this in mind during the course of the shoot, I was able to set a mood and tone that the producers would later refer to as "hauntingly beautiful". This may not have happened the way it did if Malcolm had not given me my "mantra" - Geoff, make every frame a Rembrandt. Every frame a Rembrandt. Every frame....