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I was born in 1975 and raised in Bergen. It’s Norway’s second city but a tiny town by world standards, with all of 300.000 people.

I didn’t have a particularly artistic background. My mother was a tutor and my father was in shipping. 

I always thought I was going to go to music school, then I didn’t. I don’t know why. Going to film school in London sounded interesting. Anything to get away from Norway sounded good, to be honest. 

Aged 20, I went to The London Film School in Covent Garden. There I discovered that other people have been making movies apart from just Americans. That was a real revelation.

Going to film school in London sounded interesting. Anything to get away from Norway sounded good, to be honest. 

I didn’t exactly have the goal of becoming a cinematographer. When I was at film school I got interested in how the cameras worked. I liked the technicality. You realise that the artistic aspect can come later. It wasn’t a specific course in being a DP. I think that was a good thing about that film school. It was just a general course and then you specialised. I think it’s great to learn all the bits first. 

I tried editing. Horrible. You have so many options. It was all on film back then, with tape. You cut it, then splice it; you’ve got to hang it up in a certain way. You have to remember that that bit and this bit have to go together, and then it’s, ‘Oh no, we cut a bit too soon. We must find the other bit and splice it.’ and then it’s out of sync with the sound. Why would anyone want to do that?

I met a guy there called Colin Teague who became a TV director. After graduating I worked with him on shows like Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Holby City. Then I met a producer called Diarmid Scrimshaw, who introduced me to Warp Films [an offshoot of the legendary record label].

Warp Films did unusual stuff. Through them I met Julian Barrett, we did this short film called Curtains, which was bonkers, absolutely brilliant. And I also met Richard Ayoade. I did some concert films and music videos with him [Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and Kasabian], then we did Submarine

Submarine – Submarine Trailer

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Richard has a very strong understanding of visuals. With Submarine we made rules about what was going to be our toolkit and stuck to them, like no crane, lots of tripod, as simple as possible, if there’s a bit of track we’ll allow that. 

We were creating this heightened reality, the way the central character would imagine his life. Part of his thing is that he imagines a documentary film crew following him around. So everything had to be within the parameters of how those kinds of films were made at that time. Even down to the cameras and the lenses. 

[With Submarine] we were creating this heightened reality, the way the central character would imagine his life.

For the little film within the film in Submarine [titled Two Weeks of Lovemaking], I had a Super 8 camera, and so, to the horror of our lovely producer, we said we wanted to use it. I basically set it up and gave the camera to Richard and off he went. I think he shot almost all of that, in between things, on lunchbreaks, etc. 

Submarine – Two Weeks of Lovemaking

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I like it when you’re trying to get a different look or feel to the film and you get someone else to shoot it. I really notice when I operate the camera, versus someone else operating it. I have a certain way of doing things, though I don’t really have a formula. I just go with what seems right at the moment.

I don’t need ownership or control of every image. I’m very happy to send someone off to shoot stuff. When it comes back, it’ll feel completely different. 

When I realised commercials could be unconventional like that I thought, ‘OK, this is my kind of thing.’

I never thought I was going to work on commercials. I imagined you had to do everything in a certain ‘proper’ way, that it would be quite rigid and precise. 

Then I discovered that there is no kind of formula for anything in advertising. Of course, it’s specific, but it’s not done clinically by any means. 

My first proper experience in commercials was Wi-fi Dogs. When I realised commercials could be unconventional like that I thought, ‘OK, this is my kind of thing.’

Telekom – Jose´s Wi-Fi Dogs

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Because the main focus of my career is film and TV, I’m usually asked to make things look like a feature film. And I usually do comedy or drama spots. I did some BT ads, with celebrities like Willem Dafoe and Ewan McGregor, a kind of mock behind the scenes at the making of commercials. I enjoyed those. 

What I like about shooting comedy is that it’s instantly very rewarding. You can see on set if things are working or not. And when you’ve been working for some years you come to realise that having a good time on set is quite important.

I’m usually asked to make things look like feature film.

You hear stories of people in advertising being difficult. Maybe it's due to the stress of having to answer to clients. But, so far, I have never encountered anyone being ‘tantrummy’.  My experience of working in commercials is that I have worked with very nice people. 

I think the last ad I did was the Christmas one for Tesco. That was fun. 

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BT – Big TV. Tiny Prices

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Tesco – This Christmas, Nothing’s Stopping Us

I’ve noticed with filming ads you spend longer doing certain things. Something I would normally do in a morning, I get to spend two days on it. I quite like that attention to detail; to the minutiae.

At first I thought it was people being pedantic, but it’s actually because you have to cram so many ideas into a very short time. It’s highly efficient storytelling. It’s amazing. 

I think it takes about ten years to settle in and start doing proper work. To get to the point where you’re not worrying about getting work. Along the way, of course, you gather information. For example, there is a particular stage at Pinewood Studios where the rafters in the ceiling go a certain way. So I know, when I look at a set plan, that I can’t do a particular kind of lighting because I’d have to fly it in over the set, and that would be too expensive. I think this kind of practical knowledge can sometimes be creatively useless. Basically you’re stopping yourself inventing some new solution. You think, “Ah no, that’s going to be a problem.” I think this is one of the main things that kind of gets shaved off you as you get a bit older. You tend to avoid battles. 

I suppose the main thing I’ve learned is: work with the best possible people.

Recently, I’ve been going through lots of films and TV series and stuff as I’m judging for the BSC [British Society of Cinematographers, who nominated him for an award for his work on TV series Landscapers]. You see all these different visual styles and people not being stopped by those kind of crappy limitations, they’re just going all out.

There were about five films that have torches-and-moonlight-in-the-forest scenes; variations on Game of Thrones or Britannia, that historical fantasy genre. It’s great, they all have the same tools, but they do completely different things. It’s good to see how other people do things. 

I suppose the main thing I’ve learned is: work with the best possible people. Like Richard Ayoade, and also now with Will Sharpe [Landscapers, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain]. I know it’s going to be good work, that decisions are going to be based on emotion rather than some kind of aesthetic goal for the sake of it.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

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How much you pre-plan a look for a film really varies according to each director. For example with Tyrannosaur, I had quite a few meetings with Paddy [Considine, director] in the beginning and we were trying to come up with the look. But we never found out anything we actually liked, we only came up with things we didn’t like. It was very odd. On most other projects, at least you have some references. But that was completely different, and there was no reference. The reference was that we knew what we didn’t want it to be. 

[Music] creates a kind of cocoon.

I always listen to music when reading a script. It used to be the ethereal music of [Estonian composer] Arvo Pärt. Now I listen to a lot of Jonny Greenwood [Radiohead]. Maybe, if there’s no singing, some Nick Cave. It creates a kind of cocoon. Of course, if there’s music mentioned in the script, I’ll make a playlist from it then listen to that as I go in.

The music in Landscapers was amazing. A lot of it was created before we started filming as it was Will’s brother Arthur who did the music. 

The RBS ad, Couple, has great music. Usually you shoot first then add the sound afterwards but in The Double there were a few sequences where we were playing music on set and the movement was done in time to the rhythm. 

Royal Bank of Scotland – Couple

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In The Double there was some motion control, and obviously a lot of doubling. We didn’t have a big budget at all, but we had static shots with doubling, and the music and sound was incredibly important to get the rhythm of dialogue right when you have someone talking to themselves. 

Music and sound [is] incredibly important to get the rhythm of dialogue right when you have someone talking to themselves. 

The sound was driving a lot of the shoot. We would push play on the sound recording device and that would then trigger the motion control rig and the lighting. It had to be a proper rig with wheels on it and a little track, and a motorised element that operated the camera. It’s a little robot really. It’s a time-consuming device that basically that takes over the set. It is used a lot in commercials – they have time for this kind of tech. 

Above: Wilson on set with Richard Ayoade and Jesse Eisenberg for The Double.


It was fascinating working on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, to see the amount of planning and the imagination that went into great work, like the skateboarding scene. I was 2nd unit DP, on location in Iceland, and that was one of our sequences.   

They had developed this special rig in New York, a van with a long kind of truss tube, with wires on it. Then you have Ben Stiller skating, but in case he falls, he’s held up by wires. He can’t get hurt, because then it’s film over, but the ‘safety’ was just these two little wires. He had a stunt double [Brian Holden] for some of the wide shots.   

[Ben Stiller] can’t get hurt, because then it’s film over.

We were filming him skating down the hill and we were on this motorbike with a sidecar made into a platform. We have the driver and me filming with a camera low down. When we turned around those hairpin bends the bike wanted to kind of flip up, so we had to have a stunt guy hanging off a pole as a kind of counterweight. Like in sailing.

Apparently, there were a couple of hairy times when we were about to crash off into a ravine. I was so focused on filming, I didn’t notice. 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (clip)

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The best thing is sharing excitement and passion for the work. That’s when you get truly creative relationships. If you’re working with people who allow you to be free and have input, even if you put something out there that might not get used or be quite the right thing, at least you’ve put it out there. Those are good days. Those are the good people to work with.

Amongst my favourite films is The Incredibles. I often say to my kids, “maybe you want to watch The Incredibles?”. I love Brad Bird’s work. 

Cinematographers can hide from the limelight. 

I have three daughters aged seven, 10 and 19. The 19-year-old is off to uni soon to study forensic science. When I asked her why she wants to study that, she says it’s due to watching a lot of Dexter. The power of TV. It’s an amazing medium. 

I quite like the way cinematographers can sort of hide from the limelight. You can do wonderful work, you can be the best DP in the world, but absolutely no one will know who you are. It’s great. It doesn’t make me feel undervalued. 

Above: On location with Benedict Cumberbatch for The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.

My next project is a biopic about the singer Robbie Williams. The director is Michael Gracey, I did a Sky Glass commercial with him recently. I like Michael a lot. That’s going to be a nice shoot, because he’s a lovely person. 

My biggest fear is stagnation; not caring; kind of becoming blasé. 

What is the worst day of my career? Easy: just one day, I was ill and couldn’t go to work. I turned up on set and was vomiting. I was like, “Oh, I’ll be fine,” but they sent me home. That was the worst. 

The best day? All the rest. There have been quite a lot of good days. 


Header image: Erik Wilson, on the set of The Double. Photo by Dean Rogers.

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