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The second season of British comedy drama, Trying, premiered on Apple TV + on Friday 21st May. The series, created by Andy Wolton and directed by Jim O’Hanlon, follows the chaotic lives of Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall) as they navigate infertility and a challenging adoption process. We had the opportunity to speak with DOP Arthur Mulhern and find out how he created the look of this fantastic series.
Hi Arthur, please could you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the industry? What made you want to become a cinematographer?
Hello! I studied Film Production at art college in Dublin, and it was there that I first discovered the role of the DoP. We shot a lot on 16mm at the time, and I just really fell in love with that whole process. After college, I worked in the industry as a camera assistant and then as a spark, before making the move to London, where I attended the NFTS. My two years at the NFTS really cemented my love for cinematography and filmmaking in general, and I’ve done my best to kick on from there.
You have worked on both series of Trying so far, how did you come to be involved in the project?
I had shot a pilot with director Jim O’Hanlon (that unfortunately never got picked up!) just as he was about to begin prep on the first season. We worked really well together on the pilot, and he was keen for me to shoot Trying with him. He put my name forward to the producers, and very happily I was asked to do it.
What did you set out to achieve when creating the look for Trying Season 1? Did you do anything differently for Season 2?
The brief from Apple was that the show needed to be bright and glossy, with a slightly idealised version of London, while still feeling real, rich and textured. We also knew that so much of the humour and pathos of the show would hinge on the cast, so I needed to make sure that they not only looked great, but were allowed the space and freedom to perform.
Our approach for the second season was much the same, while allowing ourselves to build on what we had done previously. The Covid situation made that slightly trickier at times, obviously, but we definitely aimed for a more sophisticated and ambitious look for season two.
Which equipment did you choose to create the desired look of the show? Are there certain camera and lens brands you usually to stick to, or do you test multiple combinations before each series?
I did extensive tests when I was prepping for the first season. We knew we had to deliver in 4k, so that was the first box I had to tick with the choice of camera. So, I looked at the ARRI Alexa LF and the Sony Venice, with a variety of lens combinations - large format, 35mm spherical, and anamorphic. Ultimately, both myself and the director felt that shooting anamorphic gave us the texture and depth we were looking for, while allowing us to find some interesting compositions with our two leads.
We ended up shooting on the Sony Venice, with beautiful sets of Hawk V-Plus and V-Lite anamorphics. I didn’t use any filters, as the lenses had all the colour, quality and softness that I needed, and we finished it with a DolbyVision grade at The Farm.
We used the same package on Season Two.
If any, what challenges did you encounter while filming Trying, and how did you overcome them?
Covid notwithstanding, by far our biggest challenge was the sheer volume of locations in the show. We were rarely in the same place for more than two days, until we got to the studio, and so we needed to be very prepared as a production to face that. I think we had something like 50 locations in Season One, and around 60 in Season Two. All credit to our first AD’s (Tim Mannion and Sam Smith) and the location department for minimising the amount of unit moves we had to do in the schedule.
My teams had to be really prepared to keep all that location work manageable, and my gaffer Greg King and Best Boy Antti Janhunen did fantastically to keep all the lighting and rigging ahead of the main unit. Likewise, the camera and grip teams (Key Grip Dave Broomhead, and focus pullers Catharine Brown, Lami Okrekson and Ran Geffen) were brilliantly organised and efficient. We would have really struggled to keep to our very ambitious schedule without their herculean efforts.
It’s incredibly important as a DoP to have the support and expertise of their camera, lighting and grip crews, and I was really lucky to have such a fantastic team with me on both seasons.
How was your experience working with Procam Take 2?
It was great to work with Procam Take 2 on both seasons of Trying. Well apart from the excellent range of kit and lenses available, I always felt very supported and looked after there. In particular when shooting Season Two and we had various Covid protocols and structures to take into account, Procam Take 2 really stepped up and helped us out immeasurably.
What do you have lined up next?
I’m currently shooting a new prison drama for Channel 4 and STV, up in Glasgow. I wrap that in the next few weeks, and then hopefully I’ll have a bit of a break before the next one!
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring cinematographers, what would it be?
Just keep going! It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and if you keep shooting, keep learning, keep honing your craft, you’ll make it eventually. Also take as many photographs in different lighting situations as possible. You’ll slowly build up a really interesting reference library that can be used on any project you go onto. Finally, and this is probably the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received, make sure to set aside a certain amount of every paycheck to pay your taxes. If you do that, it will never be an issue come January!