Lenny Abrahamson’s guide to shooting in a confined space

The Room director reveals the logistical tricks that made filming in a claustrophobic setting possible.

As told to

Adam Woodward

Room is the beautiful and intimate new film from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Frank). It tells the story of a young mother who, owing to the extreme circumstances into which she has been forced, raises her son in complete isolation from the outside world.

Adapted from Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel of the same name, the film raises some tough but vital questions about the human condition, specifically the extent to which our worldview is shaped by our immediate surroundings.

From a storytelling point of view, what’s perhaps most interesting about Room is that it initially unfolds in a windowless 11×11 ft garden shed – a setting which presented both cast and crew with numerous challenges. Here, Abrahamson offers an indispensable five-point plan to getting the most of out of a tight interior setting.

1. Plan ahead

“The room was finished three weeks before we started shooting, so Brie and Jacob were able to spend the full rehearsal period in the room. They spent a lot of time just getting familiar with the space and even did things like making the mobiles and homemade toys that decorate it. It was a really good way to get them to bond.”

2. Get logistical

“The biggest technical challenge was getting everyone we needed in the room at the same time. It was like a game of Tetris. Each day we would work out the logistics for stuff like where the focus puller would stand, where the camera operator would stand, and always try to make sure the actors felt as comfortable as possible.”

3. Know your limitations

“On any given day there’d be a minimum of five people in the room – sometimes as many as seven or eight – in a space you’d feel claustrophobic in if there were two of you. We had to pull focus from monitors quite a lot, which is something I really don’t like doing, although sadly audiences are used to nowadays. We never cheated by removing walls, but occasionally we’d take out a panel from the ceiling and have a boom operator come in from a ladder outside.”

4. Think outside the box

“Initially, we worried about how we were going to keep the space interesting, but what happened was we started to divide the room into sub-locations. When you’re a kid, your average living room might contain multiple worlds, so we started to look at the room through the boy’s eyes. Ultimately that allowed us to mirror the way he sees the world.”

5. Put yourself in your characters’ shoes

“Another challenge was: how do we tell the story from these two contrasting emotional perspectives – for Brie’s character, we tended to use wider lenses to remind the audience of the oppressive physical dimensions; with Jack we tended to shoot in close-up and cut from his face to whatever it was he might be looking at. By working in that way we were able to use the limited negative space to convey Jack’s position of innocence and wonder.”

Room is release 15 January.

Published 14 Jan 2016

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