The Canadian film I Saw You is about the unexpected results when one is thrown suddenly into a situation and doesn’t know how to handle things. Specifically, the story is about a young man (know in the film simply as “boy”) who falls in love at first sight. He makes a plan, somewhat spontaneously and proceeds forward, determined to create something wonderful from his passion from his new found feelings of love. The circumstances may be different but the spontaneous nature of the film’s message resonates with its cinematographer Peter Hadfield. The independent film organization Cineworks paired up artists to create collaborative visual art pieces. The lead actor, Ashley Andel, and Mina Shum (director, writer, and producer) were paired up to make a film. One of the curators at Cineworks suggested Peter to Mina as an accomplished cinematographer who worked well in high pressure situations. Without ever having met or worked together, the two began building the visual schematic that would present the film’s storyline.
Peter Hadfield is a Canadian cinematographer who is more accustomed to working with projects that have a larger than life appearance. Projects like Harrison x and Clairmont the Second’s “It’s Okay, I Promise” with its fast movement, or the heavy adrenaline infused TV series Ice Pilots NWT (on which he worked as an editor) are more indicative of some of Hadfield’s fast movement work but Peter is always looking for a challenge as well as a way to expand his palette as a cinematographer; which made him eager to work with Mina Shum on I Saw You. Mina Shum is a highly respected and award-winning director, writer, and producer whose credits include (among others) Double Happiness (for which she was awarded the Wolfgang Staudte Award at the Berlin Film Festival, Best Feature Film at the Torino Festival of Young Cinema, Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as multiple nominations for other films) who quickly signed on Hadfield as the cinematographer for I Saw You after meeting with him. The film called for a much more intimate feel than much of Peter’s prior work but his vision for the shots persuaded Shum; a decision she is happy to confirm was the correct one. Shum comments, “Peter’s personality is strongly displayed in his work. He is intelligent, conscientious, caring, and talented! Peter brought a unique sensitivity to the film. He has a great eye, and a strong work ethic, and most importantly for all artists: vision. His experience was a major asset to the production. When I needed advice, his perspective was always sound. His work was so strong that I was happy to include him on another production, Ninth Floor which is a feature documentary.”
I Saw You was an Official Selection of the Vancouver Film Festival, an achievement that was especially meaningful to Hadfield as the film was such a deviation from his usual large scale work. The boy, who falls in love at first sight with a girl, places an ad in the local paper stating “I saw you.” The action continues over seven days as the boy waits for a call from the girl. He unexpectedly becomes part of a community with three Chinese women who frequent the park near him. Hadfield wanted to capture the emotion and heartache of the boy by the way the shots were framed. He explains, “Most of the film takes place inside an apartment. The use of walls, doorways, and the ceiling became instrumental for metaphor in the frame. I would fill half the frame with a wall to make Boy feel claustrophobic, or frame him in the kitchen through the doorway to make him feel stuck in his situation. I used unconventional and awkward framing, excluding parts of the boy’s face from the frame to make his discomfort more apparent. Towards the end of the film the framing becomes more conventional as Boy’s experience becomes brighter, until we see a full shot of the boy when he bumps into the girl again.” Lighting is a part of cinematography that Peter is especially interested in and recognized for his mastery. Director Scott Cudmore (who used Hadfield as his cinematographer on the “It’s Okay, I promise” seven minute opus music video by Harrison x and Clairmont the Second) notes that, “I am always thrilled with Peter’s understanding of composition and light. It inspires me as a director and always makes me want to work with him again.” Hadfield confirms his preoccupation with this aspect of his job noting, “One of the largest challenges for I Saw You was shooting in a cramped apartment without much space for lights, not to mention the camera. Using practical lights in the frame as well as sculpting available light became essential to light Boy (the film’s main character). A fun challenge! Mina Shum was very flexible and collaborative. When I made bolder suggestions she was totally game to use them. My favorite part was shooting inside the apartment at night. It made for so many opportunities to light the apartment in interesting ways and create interesting frames. Since ninety percent of the film took place in one small apartment, we had to get very creative in finding new angles.”
Peter is continually searching out new ways of approaching his craft and challenging himself. Utilizing his availability to other filmmakers and even investigating things as mundane as podcasts to increase his awareness of all emerging approaches, Hadfield is constantly improving himself. The aforementioned director Scott Cudmore recognizes this attribute in Peter and is currently making use of him again on the upcoming video “Needs” for the band Odonis. Peter reveals, “The music video has a very loose narrative of a corporation developing Artificial Intelligence, the AI becoming out of control and the corporation reacting to the problems than ensue. Long camera zooms and intense color, inspired by Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Francis Ford Coppola’s One From The Heart are present throughout the video. The vivid color palette and ominous, constantly zooming lens makes for a very dark and dramatic video. I was stepping out of my comfort zone on this one. I usually prefer to light naturally, or use available light. I poured over different images from both photographers and cinematographers, trying to discern how the artists I respect achieve a look similar to what I was going for. I love being forced to grow as a cinematographer; both myself and those I work with end up with a better product if I am stretched beyond my current limits.”