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Cinematographer Matt Wicks selected Cooke Panchro/i Classic Full Frame lenses for series 2 of Emmy-winning TV Series Vigil.

Header image 2 vigil s2
By: The Cooke Team  |   1 min de lectura

Both seasons of Vigil follow a British police procedural structure with conflict as the overarching theme. The first series revolves around dealing with the Navy following a death on a Trident nuclear submarine whilst the second is land-based and focuses on a military weapons demonstration. 

In both series, the lead character Amy Silva (portrayed by Suranne Jones) needs to solve a complicated murder case while circumnavigating the world of geopolitics and the military. 

Cinematographer Matt Wicks became involved in the project through Director Andy DeEmony. They first worked together in the Summer of 2022 on the second series of The Larkins, also shot on Cooke Panchro/i Classic lenses. They got on great and found they shared the same sensibilities about filmmaking and developed a nice shorthand. 

Vigil was shot in Scotland, mainly Glasgow, and Morocco which doubled for the fictional Middle Eastern country of Wudyan. 

Matt told us: ‘I love working with Andy. It’s a very collaborative process. He knows exactly what he wants to achieve but is still totally open to suggestions. We talked a lot about our approach, Andy felt the key characteristic would be the pace. He wanted the show the rocket along. One of the main appeals of Amy Silva is that she’s unrelentingly efficient and manages to piece key information together rapidly. We wanted this to be reflected in how the series was shot and edited.  

Still from Vigil S2
Vigil DoP Matt Wicks
BTS with DoP Matt Wicks

Matt liked the idea of shooting his episodes like a 90s action film, referencing ‘The Rock’ and ‘Con Air’, albeit slightly toned down. In those films the camera does a great job of giving the characters scale. Matt talked to Andy about always being below the eyeline, looking up in awe of the characters. Andy had an idea of locking the characters in position in the frame by never panning the camera but instead tracking with them using the dolly or drones. It was something subtle that they implemented to link the story with the drones which are a prominent presence. Because the story cuts back and forth between the two settings, it was important to create two distinct looks so the audience is immediately clear where they are. The simple things Matt introduced to create that distinction: the light in Scotland is always softer and cooler, while in Wudyan it is harder and warmer.  

Working with very talented colourist Colin Brown, 3 LUTs were devised. One for Scotland, with a lot of contrast and blue colour in it, one for Wudyan – Morocco shot scenes – with lower contrast and pushed yellow and warmth, and a third LUT that pushed the greens very heavily. The latter was only used in the Armoury, as the warm fluorescent tubes at the location could not be changed, so this green look had to be produced in camera.  

“Once we entered the grade, Colin had an idea to push red into the image and blues into the shadows, and to increase contrast, especially for the scenes in Wudyan. This created a 16mm aesthetic which I fell in love with. We’d used a lot of atmos in the Wudyan interiors which, combined with the low contrast LUT, had flattened the image quite a bit so I lit those scenes with a lot of contrast. When we added contrast in the grade – it gave the image a real richness and created something that really stands out.”, Matt continues. 

“We shot on ARRI ALEXA 35 and ARRI ALEXA Mini LF. Neither Andy nor I shot on the ALEXA 35 yet, so we tested it and loved the images. As it was a relatively new camera on the market at a time, we felt it could help add a distinct look to the show. We shot on two cameras throughout. I operated A camera, and Martin Newstead returned to the series and operated B camera and Steadicam. We could not source three ALEXA 35s in Morocco, so ended up shooting on the LF there, and I considered that when selecting the lenses, it was one of the reason for selecting Cooke Panchro/i Classic Full Frame’s. 

We came up against all sorts of different lighting conditions as you can imagine shooting in Scotland and Morocco, and one of the key requirements of the job was to recreate Morocco – Wudyan – light in Scotland; as 90% of Wudyan interiors were shot in Scotland. We used a warehouse location in Glasgow for the main building of the Airbase, which included living quarters, the rec room, offices and the ops room. The Art Department did an amazing job with this space, and the moving from exterior to interior is seamless.” 

“This location was on two floors, with huge warehouse-style windows on one side,” Matt tells us. “This required a lot of light to make it look like the Middle East. And of course we could not see out of the windows, as audience should see an airfield instead of a Glasgow industrial estate. It was also important to be able to move from ground floor to first floor quickly – we obviously had to use machinery to get the lamps in the right places but also to hide them. It became clear that we would need a bank of HMIs going down the length of the building, so we used 6 x 18ks and 4 x 6ks. The 18s would play coming in square onto the windows, while the 6’s would be used to put shape as and when needed. With so many lamps it didn’t seem feasible to use cherry pickers, so we opted for three massive scissor lifts. Using this type of machinery meant we could clad the scissor lifts with ultra bounces, so if we saw out of the windows it would give the appearance of “blowing out”. Inside we used blue vertical drapes which would help mask the outside but also shape and direct the light, so we didn’t have to move the lamps that much.” 

A mixture of spherical and anamorphic lenses were used to shoot the first season. For the second season, Matt decided to use a single set alongside some zooms, to help with complications of shooting abroad. 

On choice of lenses, Matt said: “We did test other lenses, but if I am to be honest that was just a formality. I’d always intended to use the Full Frame Cooke Panchro/i Classic’s from the moment I got the job. The original S35 Panchro/i Classics have been my favourite lenses for the past couple of years. The first long job I used them on was ‘Funny Woman’ for Sky, and since then they’d been my go-to lenses until I looked at the Full Frame Panchros at the BSC Expo last year.  


Still from Vigil S2
BTS from Vigil S2

When it comes to lenses of this level of quality, I think the choices come down to a mixture of subjective taste and the practical requirements of the lenses. For me, I love how the Cooke Panchros fall away at the edges, how the drop off in focus is quite painterly, and how beautifully they render skin tones. These are subjective likes, because a lot of lenses have these characteristics, but all in different ways. The practical requirements of this job were to service a two-camera shoot, so the number of lenses in the set is important. Having twelve lenses at your disposal makes shooting with two cameras a lot easier than, say, five or six. Then you may have to get in a second set, which has cost implications, or use a zoom which will have aesthetic differences.” 

“A few people questioned the choice of Full Frame lenses for an ALEXA 35 shoot, but at that point I already knew we will shoot on LF in Morocco. Then when we tested the Full Frame Panchros on ALEXA 35 and we saw how they still had all the characteristics I loved, even when using the sweet spot of the lens as it were, so it just made sense. Thinking back, I would say the 40mm was a key lens for us, especially when shooting on the ALEXA 35, as well as the 65mm macro for both cameras. The 65mm is a stunning lens. I’d use it for singles and long lens wides. It’s so versatile, especially when used with the LF, because you can push in so close to your subject. It is such a great storytelling lens.” 

“Obviously, the heat and sunlight is so much more intense in Wudyan, and we really wanted the audience to feel that. So we shot into the sun a lot, and I wouldn’t diffuse the harsh sunlight when shooting exteriors. The wonderful thing about these lenses is that we could allow hard light to hit the characters, but it never looked ugly, the shadows were deep but still complementary. Even lighting interiors: we would keep the lamps pretty much clean, only using Hampshire diffusion which is really subtle, it just takes the edge off the sharpness of the light. The lenses also flare beautifully so shooting into the sun felt “hot” but also looked ace.  Overall, I feel we managed to create a show that stands out visually and the Cooke Panchro/i Classics played a major part in that.” 

The second season of Vigil was released in December 2023 and is available to stream on iPlayer, Sky and Amazon VoD.