“I love any shot, painting, photograph that can capture the spirit of a feeling, and as loneliness was a central theme, along with insomnia for One Sleepless Night, I wanted to equally capture their loneliness, their insomnia.” Johnny Lennox is the writer and director of the recent award-winning film One Sleepless Night. The film follows Rory and Katherine, two insomniacs that have both suffered through tragic incidents. The short revolves around the two strangers meeting unexpectedly while they are both trying to walk away from their thoughts in the dead of night. Both Rory and Katherine find solace and comfort from their loneliness by walking through the night together.
Loneliness is a tonal canopy that covers the film. Lennox wanted to make sure that came across as naturally as possible and portray it through every aspect of the film; score, performance and most noticeably the visuals. “The core understanding between myself and the DoP, Jack Hayter was always that it needed to look natural, and not like we were shining 2K Arri’s into the character’s faces.”
Creating a natural look to a film that is predominantly set in the night needs tactual lighting techniques. Lennox and Hayter found many different ways to overcome these on-set hurdles, by using the light that was already available. “I always had a very strong idea of what I wanted to achieve, and that was to make it seem as natural as possible. And so we lit the actors in a way that matched the streetlamps, the city lights, the neon signs, and whatever other lights sources are found at night, as there are many.” Lighting the talent like this provides a look that an audience is familiar with, as it is something that resembles what they are more likely to see in day-to-day life. “The result produced yellow skin tones, which although arguably not the most aesthetically pleasing, it helped to provide the mood of the night, and immerse the viewers into the character’s worlds.”
“Nicolas Winding Refn was most definitely an inspiration, his moody and amazing film Drive helped to inspire the film tonally, from the cinematography to the music.” But then Lennox didn’t just take inspiration from one place. He gathered it together and not only from film. “I believe my obsession of utilizing city lights and night-time hang outs, derived from directors such as Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders or Wong Kai War, photographers such as Gregory Crewsdon or William Eggleston and painters like Edward Hopper and even Rembrandt.”
Taking inspiration from photographers and painters helped Lennox to create visually appealing stand-out shots that show more than just what’s happening. They give another texture to the character and where they stand in the world they are in, for instance this shot of Rory lighting up a cigarette outside the petrol station. Centring Rory in the frame and surrounding him with darkness, which seems to be consuming the little light he has behind him, makes it look like the darkness is overwhelming his life and his surroundings.[caption id="attachment_1237" align="aligncentre" width="300"] © Johnny Lennox[/caption]
The choice of using a petrol station and a late night coffee shop were not just random locations. Lennox used locations that would all enhance the feel of the story: “using the petrol garage, the coffee shop, the river walk, I believe they are spaces that naturally attract the dazed, tired, midnight walkers.” This acute detail in the reasoning for each location gives the location its own character, something that closely resembles Steve McQueen's film Shame.
Including montages of the surroundings gives the audience a wider understanding of the characters' whereabouts and how they see it. “This was always a very important element for film and an artistic decision that I stuck with throughout the writing and production stages. The montage scenes were pre-determined and I continually scouted out locations across Bristol, noting down a spot I felt interesting and tonally correct for the film. They were vital in helping to drench the audience in the tone and mood of the film, and so each montage shot was carefully planned out.”[caption id="attachment_1238" align="aligncentre" width="300"] © Johnny Lennox[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1236" align="aligncentre" width="300"] © Johnny Lennox[/caption]
Lennox clearly has a keen visual eye: his Instagram is stacked full of photos using 35mm film. When you cannot instantly see your captured photo, it makes the photographer think more about what they are shooting. This discipline of thinking more about shots must have helped Lennox with the visuals for One Sleepless Night. “It influences my film work a lot, it allows me to think more in depth about a shot’s purpose, and so it goes without saying really, but yes, I would definitely love to shoot a short on film.” Lennox is now living in Dublin working on various music videos and writing screenplays that he is currently interested in developing into short films. Let's hope he gets to shoot them on film.