Lights, No Camera, Action: The Screenlife Shooting Process
Production began on Profile in 2016 and lasted 10 days. The production rented a house in London as its main headquarters, with Bekmambetov directing the shoot from the ground floor. The first floor was the set for Amy’s flat.
The Screenlife shooting process requires different tools, techniques and technology than traditional movies. Rather than filming the actors with cameras in three-dimensional space, the format calls for recording screens, be it that of a computer, iPhone or tablet. For Profile, GoPros were mounted on the back of a given device and fixed as close as possible to the device’s built-in camera to reproduce that camera’s angle. Some devices had a microphone mounted on the back as well.
Because the cast members were the ones using the devices, actors became their own cinematographers. Bekmambetov gave the cast directions about manipulating their devices, emphasizing naturalism. “I explained to the actors that they shouldn’t overthink the composition of the shot,” he remarks. “They needed to move computers and phones organically. Of course today we are all are very good cameramen because we know how to make Instagram photos, we know how to shoot ourselves. The actors could compose their shots because they do it in real life, too. We all do.”
Naturalism and cinematic expression were not mutually exclusive, he notes. He points to a scene in which Bilel and Amy talk about their childhoods and their mothers. It was daylight in London, and light was streaming through the window facing onto the street. “Because it was such an intimate conversation, I felt that the character shouldn’t be lit from the window. Valene changed how she was positioned. She was sitting on a chair, swiveling, and she turned specifically to be silhouetted against the bright window. It was so right for that conversation and was very interesting cinematically. And it was based on the real situation and how the character would behave.”
While traditional camera rigs weren’t necessary, a traditional, well-equipped sound station was a must for recording in Amy’s flat. A special microphone was attached to Kane’s laptop to record the interaction of fingers and keys, typing and clicks. A separate microphone recorded voices. “Val’s laptop had all these special attachments that made it very heavy,” Bekmambetov notes. “But she still had to interact with it like in real life – to grab it and move around the flat, or put it on the table and walk away.”
Kane had a host of activities to manage on her laptop: typing, Skyping, Facetiming, messaging, opening document files, Googling, watching videos, and more. “It took a little time to settle into the process.. It was a completely different way of working, typing something to the computer while you’re staying in character. You’re really watching videos, which does inform the work you’re doing, but you also have to do everything within a certain amount of time.”
Latif found the format extremely actor-friendly .“To film like this was very exciting. You can focus on your characters and what you need to say to each other,” he remarks. “Val and I bounced off each other very well. At any moment, Timur would be like, ‘add something here,’ and we both went for it, thousands of miles apart on Skype. Improv can be very intimidating and scary sometimes, but when you know the characters as well as Val and I did, it becomes very freeing and fun. You just want to play and explore.”
Kane agrees, adding, “Shazad, Timur and I were constantly feeding off each other. Every take was different. Timur was so collaborative and open. He’s an artist. He really wants to create beautiful, honest work. We were working long, crazy hours but Timur was never stressed. He creates a very warm atmosphere. It was one of the most exhilarating jobs I’ve ever had.”
Cover image: Bazelevs
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Profile is a gripping thriller inspired by the true story of an investigative journalist who risked her life to infiltrate a militant group and expose its online recruitment techniques. The film plays out entirely on its heroine’s computer screen as she becomes entangled in a treacherous game of cat and mouse with a terrorist recruiter.