If Dom Hemingway is crass, loud, lyrical, hell-raising, hilarious and mesmerizingly
catastrophic, Richard Shepard wanted the imagery of his story to be equally so. He envisioned the
look of the film to be almost anti-British gangster movie -- not gritty and grey, but wildly free,
popping with lusty colors, primal energy and flashes of the coiled anger that fuels Dom.
To go for this Dom-style look, he collaborated with director of photography Giles Nuttgens
(MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN, WATER) and production designer Laurence Dorman (ME AND
ORSON WELLES), both of whom previously worked with Jeremy Thomas on YOUNG ADAM.
Nuttgens was instantly taken with Shepard's vision. "Richard had written a completely
unique script and he was utterly in command of what he wanted," the cinematographer observes. "It
was immediately clear to me that he had a very big, creative brain working in very, very different
ways from anyone else's. When I meet for the first time with a director, I'm less interested in talking
about how the film is going to look than in how it is going to feel. What is the emotional tone? And
Richard knew that more deeply than anyone I've encountered."
The challenge was to splash that emotional tone onto the screen. "It was quite clear that
while the plot of DOM is about a criminal trying to get his reward, at heart, what you're experiencing
is a guy going off the deep end and expressing that in his own very strong way to the audience,"
Nuttgens continues. "Dom is completely out-of-his-head and totally destructive, to himself and
others, so we wanted the look to get at that energy. The last thing we wanted was a stylishly de-
saturated, flat looking film. So the idea was that even in the most banal situations, even when we
were shooting in London in November, we were always pushing the edge in terms of color and
texture. Anywhere that we could add another level of color, we did. I think we all felt the film's
colors could serve as a continuous counterpoint to how dark and extreme Dom can be."
This effect begins instantaneously as the film opens with Law, naked in a jail scene unlike
any other. "It's a long monologue and it's all one take," notes Nuttgens, "when the audience is right
away invited into the extremely shocking head of Dom Hemingway. Even in that scene, we wanted
the prison to look different from what you're used to and Richard, Laurence and I talked a lot about
how we could attack the senses from the get-go. We wanted to set the tone that this was going to be
colorful, strong and hit you in the face, and let people know that there's a rich level of humor to it."
Dom heads to France after his release to get what he has coming from his boss, Mr. Fontaine.
Shepard, Nuttgens and Dorman crafted Fontaine's lavish, high-living villa in a dizzying brightness, as
if seeing the world fresh again after 12 years staring at prison walls. "We lit the villa in pinks and
greens, stuff you would never usually see," Nuttgens explains. "The whole idea was to imagine how
overwhelming the world is to Dom just out of prison, and how much pleasure Fontaine has been
enjoying while he's been away."
For one of the film's most high-wire sequences, when Dom makes a wildly threatening
speech in Fontaine's living room, Dorman lined the walls with a series of monkey portraits by the
artist/photographer Jill Greenberg. The hyper-real, manipulated photos -- at once eerie, comic and
primal -- only add to the visual frisson. "Those photos were a stroke of genius by Laurence," says
Nuttgens. "That scene, which is so much about ego and envy, becomes not just a scene between three
men, but a scene between three men and three monkeys."
France was also the scene of a spectacular car crash, which involved some of the most
technical challenges of the shoot, including rain, lighting, flying automobiles and mud pits.
Returning to London's moodily industrial East End, the team maintained its focus
nonetheless on color and quirks. "The beautiful thing was that Richard didn't want to imitate
anything else. He just wanted to show this world as Dom sees it," sums up Nuttgens. "It was really
incredible the degree to which Richard drove this film from the first lines he wrote in Dom's
inimitable voice to every detail of the shoot and post-production. No matter the technical challenges,
he inspired everyone to stick to our guns, to stay in Dom's POV, and that made the whole film an
excitingly intellectual, creative process."
Adding to the film's fluid moods is the score by Rolfe Kent, who has composed for many of
Shepard's films, was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on Alexander Payne's SIDEWAYS
and is know to many for his Emmy-nominated theme to the "Dexter" television series.
Kent notes that the music went through several twists and turns as he and Shepard looked for
the right counterpoint to Dom's wild behavior. "I began writing for a full brass ensemble," he recalls.
"And one example of that approach survives in the moment when Dom gets his money. But at some
point I showed Richard a rough idea I had using strange atmospheric tones in a rhythmic way, and he
encouraged me to keep going down that road. It gives the film a serious but unusual edge, which
really comes out in the train sequence. Richard felt the film would work best if the music avoided
being comedic and instead took Dom and his life seriously. So that is the path we took."
Despite his long-lived collaboration with Shepard, Kent says this project was unlike any
other. "I've worked on at least 6 films with Richard, and each one takes a completely different
approach and invents something new. The score to DOM HEMINGWAY evolved slowly and
eventually found its sweet-spot between the lost-childhood theme for Dom's daughter Evelyn and the
slightly melancholy, slightly cocky theme for Dom, which is full of momentum and apprehension."
One of the most challenging moments for Kent is one of the story's most moving moments
for Dom, when he goes to the cemetery to finally have a chat with the wife he left behind. "It's a
scene requiring a delicate and changing balance between Dom's remorse and his hope," the composer
explains. "Richard had me re-write this cue several times as we tried to find the right way to allow
the performance to unfold, and navigate the raw and despairing emotions Jude brought out. By the
end there is just a hint of Evelyn's theme coming back, a glint of hope and warmth returning after all."
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