SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: For a limited time, the National Theatre’s original stage production of the multi-award-winning War Horse screens nationwide at Cinema Nouveau digital screens nationwide and at Ster-Kinekor Blue Route in Tokai, Cape Town.
Camera director of the live broadcast of War Horse, Tim van Someren, has decades of experience in directing television for live music events, live coverage from the red carpet at ceremonies such as the Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globes, and has been at the helm of the National Theatre’s Live productions for three years.
Van Someren was in charge of the live broadcast of War Horse from London’s West End to cinemas around the world on 27 February during which South Africa’s “Handspring Puppet Company brings breathing, galloping horses to life on stage with their flanks, hides and sinews built of steel, leather and aircraft cables.’
Apart from working on many different projects, some of the shows which Van Someren has directed for the National Theatre Live include Frankenstein, A Comedy of Errors, This House, The Magistrate, Coriolanus and Macbeth, among others.
“I loved being involved with War Horse,’ says Van Someren, who has always directed multi-camera.
“We were presented with three challenges while filming War Horse live, the technical aspect being that the production was shot in 4K, a world first. From a theatrical aspect it was demanding as the play is mostly led by puppets. And it was exhilarating from a commercial aspect because War Horse is such a successful play. There was a sense of occasion to it.’
He adds, “We knew there would be a lot more interest, a bigger audience to watch it, as it is a world-famous production. That meant there was a lot more invested from everybody who had a stake in it, from the original theatrical directors to the design team, the projection team, the movement coaches, the puppet makers, everybody had ownership of the play and wanted it presented in the way they felt best represented it.’
Van Someren says the purest part of his job was choosing what shot the viewer in the cinema would see at any point in the play. For research purposes and in preparation of his live productions, Van Someren goes and sees the play in the theatre, and gets a video recording of the production – which is usually a wide shot – and a copy of the script. “Then I play the video on my computer and decide which cameras to use, on which characters to focus and which shots to utilise.’
“It is quite a personal process,’ he continues. “It is essentially like storyboarding a movie. After the first rehearsal, the script changes as I know what every camera can capture, and what the actors are going to do. Then I have a good quality recording rather than a wide, dark shot. More than half of the original script is thrown out after that step.’
With War Horse, a lot of things changed after the first rehearsal. “I had to decide how to “treat’ the puppeteers and the horses. With live theatre you can choose where you’re going to look, but with the cinema experience we got to the point where we realised that when the audience see the horse, they should be seeing the whole horse, the head and all four legs.’
“The average viewer doesn’t have the complete theatre experience so my argument was that we needed to add something to make for more interesting viewing,’ Van Someren says. “A lot of the action isn’t dialogue-based but is physical movement. Therefore, you have to pick moments to capture that. We only had two rehearsals to choose the best shots and although there was a lot to consider I enjoyed the process.’
Van Someren says the success of War Horse is rooted in its great storyline but largely attributes the production’s appeal to the magic the puppets bring to the show. “War Horse is a universal, emotional and original story, but the puppets give it the X factor – that must-see factor that made the show really take off, resulting in an incredibly imaginative production on stage.’
The director concludes, “At its core, War Horse has a great story, but does not rely on big-name stars. It’s famous because it is so good.’
War Horse screens on 17, 19, 23 and 24 April at 19h30 and on 20 April at 14h30 at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, and at Ster-Kinekor Blue Route Mall.
Watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyifzFZT7_Q.