DEFINITION February 2022 – Web


If You Know, You Know

DOP Andy McDonnell talks subtlety, staying natural and hiding in the shadows for the latest BBC One courtroom drama, You Don’t Know Me

WORDS. Emily Williamson IMAGES. BBC

Y ou Don’t Know Me is a narrative that begins where it ends. We meet our protagonist towards the conclusion of a lengthy court case. The prosecution is giving their closing arguments, summarising the compelling case against our leading man, Hero (Samuel Adewunmi), who stands accused of the murder of Jamil “JC” Issa (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva). The defendant has failed to provide evidence in the trial, but now uses the closing argument to tell his side of the story – adding valuable context that, he claims, will provide an alternative explanation. This becomes the viewer’s gateway into the story – we’re led by Hero’s recollection of events, as he describes them to the jury. The four-part BBC One series is based on Imran Mahmood’s novel of the same name. Via the trial of our car- salesman main character, we explore the gritty underworld of gangs and human trafficking – but also the strength of love and loyalty. Hero’s account begins when he meets Kyra (Sophie Wilde) and is immediately besotted, with their romance gradually flourishing. That is... until a stranger comes to her door. The next day, she is nowhere to be seen. His quest to locate her leads the straight-laced Hero down a treacherous path, one that ultimately leads to JC’s death. And the work of DOP Andy McDonnell, alongside director Sarmad Masud, helps bring Mahmood’s riveting pages to life, in a resolute and sober style. LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS Hero’s story mostly takes place in south London. “The show was to be as naturalistic as possible. We didn’t go for big lighting set-ups at night. I spent my time enhancing what was there,” McDonnell explains.

“We lit up the high-rise buildings more than they are naturally, but generally, we wanted to keep it dark.” This is how McDonnell prefers to work with dramas, as it is simple and effective – keeping with the filmic language that viewers understand. The plot leant itself to mysterious visuals. “It was never overlit, so these figures could be lurking in the shadows. It’s a story about drugs, gangs, trafficking and people interacting in those worlds – it should feel like there’s a shape in the darkness.” Part of the ethos of enhancing existing lighting on location meant making the best of street lights. This posed certain challenges for the production team: “We wanted to use them as much as possible, but they can be quite ugly. Nowadays, everything’s LED and they give off a green hue, so the set had a green tinge.” The team was tasked with counteracting this, while maintaining a naturalistic look. “For the ones that were close, but out of shot, we would frame with diffusion – not so much for colour tones, but just to soften the harsh lighting.” For long shots, McDonnell wrapped the lamps in silk. Of course, this could become problematic because they might be obvious and ruin the audience’s immersion in the piece. But it wasn’t a problem due to the shallow depth-of-field of the shots. “All you saw was the source, but it was so out of focus, you didn’t register that there was a cover.” The team didn’t have to worry about clever framing to keep props out of sight, while using a stylistic visual choice to their advantage. Working with existing external light can pose another problem – it’s difficult to exert the necessary control. The team enlisted the skills of someone with local knowledge to help orchestrate the perfect lighting scenarios for external


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