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Trevor Forrest Helps Tell a Noble Story

  • January 23, 2015

Noble is based on the true story of Christina Noble who overcomes a harsh childhood in Ireland, to discover her destiny on the streets of Saigon, where she has since saved over 200,000 homeless and sick children from a life of poverty and pain. The film – written and directed by Stephen Bradley – spans four decades and two countries.

“I had not done a period film before,” says cinematographer Trevor Forrest, who won best cinematography at the Tribeca Film Festival for Una Noche (2012). “A friend wanted me to meet Stephen for this project and I’d asked why. ‘You work in far off places and you’re great with children,’ he told me. That got me thinking.”

Forrest found himself pulled into the story, and started wondering what Vietnam in the 1980s looked like, or Ireland in the ‘50s and Paris in the ‘60s. Most projects looking to film in Vietnam end up shooting in Thailand, due to the lack of a filmmaking infrastructure. But Forrest and Bradley pushed hard for Saigon and ended up finding where Noble had actually helped change lives.

To capture this story, Forrest chose a variety of film stocks, including FUJI film for the 1950s time period, KODAK VISION 500T Color Negative Film 5279 for Liverpool in the 1960s, and KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 for Vietnam in the 1980s.

“When I'm in the beginning stages of picking stocks, filters and lenses,” Forrest explains, “I approach it as if I’m making a soup – gathering all the ingredients and making sure their flavors play off each other well.”

Where the 1950s were a bit darker and more chaotic for Noble, the 1960s revealed a softer visual approach for Forrest to portray her life. “I chose PANAVISION PRIMO Zoom lenses for this period and used the traditional approach. This gave us a softer edge with a slightly more saturated stock on the 5279 Film, and that worked beautifully. In Vietnam, we were dealing with really harsh light and hard contrast, and I wanted a stock that worked well with those conditions yet could also emulate the textures and tones of the 1980s.”

The camera movement also varied for each time period. In the 1950s, they used a lot of TECHNOCRANE and STEADICAM Systems and big mechanical movements to “chase after Noble in her world,” Forrest describes. “For the 1960s we had a much more traditional approach – no STEADICAM, just a track and a traditional, still photographic approach to it all. The 1980s were handheld, with lots of improvised camera movements to incorporate the chaos of the time in that city. It was very lively, attaching and capturing all the moments.”

For those scenes, Forrest utilized authentic lenses from the early 1970s – PANAVISION Lightweight Zooms. He also created a filter that they used to make in India to pair with the Zooms: “You take two bits of glass and put a water color in between them, squish that between two pieces of NIKON glass, and place it all in a ceramic kiln to bake.”

Other photographic tricks were employed for Noble as well. There’s a scene where close to 200 people gathered to watch the filming and the filmmakers needed to blur them out, so they put cellophane around the edges of the lenses. And for some of the ‘80s scenes they wanted to make Noble feel like she was in her own world – in a bubble – so they crafted a “bubble” effect on the lens.

“We put some cling film over the lens, and made a hole in the middle of it,” notes Forrest. “So you had one part that was a clear rendition of the image, and then on the edges we were basically shooting through three layers of plastic. You can do this with (petroleum jelly) as well, but this method seemed like the most controlled and accurate way for us to do it.”

The digital intermediate, along with dailies, were done at Technicolor in London where colorist Paul Ensby performed the grade.

“It (film) gave us the look this story needed,” Forrest says. “It's something everyone has responded to – the look and feel of it. And that is the most important thing for me, of course. If the look of the film doesn’t carry you backwards and forwards, to different periods, then the story doesn’t work. I mean, you have the actors, costumes and changes of scenery – those are one component – but really, the look of the film is what helps age all those things. That is why I knew I had to choose film.”