ABC’s Riot shot on Panasonic VariCam

Shot on Panasonic VariCam, the highly anticipated Australian telemovie Riot is now available to watch on ABC iview. Starring an outstanding line up of Australian talent, headlined by Damon Herriman, Kate Box, Xavier Samuel and Jessica de Gouw, Riot shines a spotlight on Australia’s 1970s gay rights movement and the passionate individuals who were unwavering in their fight for decriminalisation, recognition and equality.

Riot’s Director of Photography, Martin McGrath ACS is a renowned cinematographer with a career that spans more than three decades. His credit list comprises an enviable mix of memorable films like the hugely successful Muriel’s Wedding, Swimming Upstream (which earned him the ACS Award), and Dance Academy: The Movie, which recently won McGrath the ACS Gold Award for Best Feature – Cinema. McGrath’s television credits include the locally produced Packed to the Rafters for the Seven Network; Dance Academy for ABC3; My Place for the ABC; TV1 real crime drama series Killing Time; ABC courtroom drama Rake; and telemoviesJack Irish and The Broken Shore with Essential Media.

Riot came to McGrath through his association with Joanna Werner (Producer) and the legendary Jeffrey Walker (Director). The trio worked together on Dance Academy: The Movie and Riot marked McGrath’s 10th project with Walker. McGrath had high praise for the strong work ethic and calm efficiency of both producer and director, particularly given the telemovie’s twenty-day shooting schedule!

“After seeing the schedule for Riot I guess anyone would have been forgiven for heading for the exit. Given the trust that existed amongst the core group I knew that anything was possible even if it seemed impossible. Jeff is a reasonable man, he has high standards but he knows when to move on as well. Each day is assessed for its achievability and then the blow torch was applied to make the day gettable.”
– Martin McGrath, Cinematographer, Riot

Riot was shot in Sydney, using Panasonic VariCam cinema cameras with anamorphic prime lenses supplied by Lemac. Having recently used VariCam on Dance Academy: The Movie, McGrath was excited by the colour and low-light performance features he knew he could utilise.

“The VariCam ‘take’ on colour is new and a bit exciting. I’m always looking for something different and for me this camera has a broader colour space and greater ability to resolve a great range of mixed colour. The dynamic range is massive and low light capabilities unequalled.

“On Dance Academy we lit a scene with a gas heater and a projector lamp utilising the 5000 ISO capabilities. On Riot I was able to shoot in tight alleys with precious little light and using its high speed to get us out of trouble. Every minute counts on this low a budget and to be able to look at a dimly lit city alleyway and know you can offer the director any angle because you already have something on the chip is a great freedom.”
– Martin McGrath, Cinematographer, Riot

Based on real people and real events, Riot is a powerful reflection of an important chapter in Australia’s LGBTQI history. It explores the origins of the activism that led to Australia’s most famous street parade, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and doesn’t shy away from the confronting realities of the violence and oppression that defined those years of struggle. McGrath’s filmmaking finesse and skilful use of colour and light is never more apparent than during these vividly dramatic scenes.

“A great deal of discussion about the look centred on what we expected could be achieved from the huge night scenes at the Cross. The Riot begins at the Cross and then seamlessly matches up with the mock up shop fronts filmed at Fox Studios. Pete Baxter (Prod Designer) and his team worked miracles making this happen. Colour and direction of light was a big part of making that blend better as a sequence.

“As influences for our visual style I want to acknowledge Haskell Wexler’s ‘Medium Cool’ and his work generally, docs from the 70’s like ‘the Maysles Brothers’ ‘Gimme Shelter’. These are filmmakers that used their cameras in a fluid style, responded to the action and embraced the rich colours their stocks offered them. The VariCam to me feels like another ‘filmstock’; another set of colours on the pallette I can turn to.”
– Martin McGrath, Cinematographer, Riot

A key focus for this film are the confronting depictions of police brutality on June 24, 1978 when a legal protest and street party in recognition of Gay Solidarity Day descended into a terrifying battle that saw gay activists beaten, arrested and thrown into gaol. McGrath manages to bring these harrowing events to this screen with a commendable degree of nuance and a keen eye for action.

“I was a news cameraman in that era, in fact you will often see a cameraman in the fight sequences with his CP 16 and battery light, that would have been me in the day – though in reality I was Melbourne based and nowhere near this conflict.

“Jeffrey has a great eye for a spectacle and made these scenes happen in front of me and I just went for it in the old-fashioned way where it’s just you and the ‘happening’, now or never, wow now I’m even using language from the 70’s!”
– Martin McGrath, Cinematographer, Riot

It could never be more relevant than now to tell this story of identity, courage and love as a marginalised community finds its voice and rises up to fight oppression and injustice. Screening just in time for the 40th anniversary of the birth of Mardi Gras, Riot has been hailed as a stirring, landmark television event. McGrath was quick to emphasise the level of trust required for filmmaking of this intensity.

“You need a great deal of trust across the board; individuals looking at each other and giving them space to do what they do well. The joy of knowing I am completely supported by Jeff and Jo gives me enormous confidence, and equally, knowing they have done their job to a world-class standard every time is a wonderful feeling. I’d like to acknowledge a wonderful crew and my focus puller Juntra Santitharakan and my Gaffer Ben Dugard.”
– Martin McGrath, Cinematographer, Riot

WATCH Riot on ABC iview until 27 Mar 2018

A Werner Film Productions made for the ABC, with major production investment from ABC Television and Screen Australia, in association with Create NSW. Produced by Joanna Werner and Louise Smith. Executive Producer Joanna Werner. Directed by Jeffrey Walker. Cinematography by Martin McGrath. Story by Carrie Anderson. Written by Greg Waters. ABC Executive Producers Brett Sleigh and Alastair McKinnon. ABC Head of Scripted Production Sally Riley.

Panasonic VariCam Cinema Camera Range


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