/Setting the atmosphere: Top of the Lake China Girl

October 6 2017

Top of Lake: China Girl is the second installment in the mystery drama series created and written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee.

The six-part series sees Nicole Kidman join a cast led by Elisabeth Moss, who returns as detective Robin Griffin. Set four years after the original series, China Girl sees Griffin back in her hometown, Sydney, where she has been tasked with investigating the death of an unidentified Asian girl whose body is discovered in a suitcase.

The British-Australian co-production premiered at the Cannes Film Festival – the second television show to ever premiere at the festival – where it received a standing ovation and has since gone on to break viewing records on BBC First.

Both series of Top of the Lake mark success for Australian international co-productions. The show was the first television program produced by Australian/UK production company See-Saw Films, who teamed with BBC Two and post-production studio, Cutting Edge.

Filmed on location, both production and post-production for China Girl were completed in Sydney. In contrast to the original New Zealand-based series, which showcased an idyllic natural beauty, the latest production captured a moody and grungy urban setting.

Helping set the atmosphere was Adrian Hauser, head of colour at Cutting Edge.

“Everything about China Girl from script and performances, to the cinematic visual storytelling and editorial timing, exuded a unique and gorgeous magical realism that underlined the onscreen imagery. It is very rare in Australian drama to see such a resolute development of ‘world’ and character”

Adrian Hauser / Senior Colourist, Cutting Edge

“The main challenge from a colourist’s point-of-view was creating and maintaining a ‘look’ for urban central Sydney that complimented the gorgeous natural locations of countryside New Zealand where the first series was set.

“Being involved during pre-production meant we could set up monitoring and rushes LUTs that helped reduce the perceived harshness of the Australian light and provided a gentler filmic colour palette to the editorial rushes.”

Hauser says it was a fantastic opportunity to get to work with directors Campion and Ariel Kleiman, as well as DOP Germain McMicking.

McMicking managed to be present for more than half of the grading process.

“I was lucky enough to sit in for two weeks, working with Jane, Ariel and Adrian”

Germain McMicking / Director of Photography, Top Of The Lake China Girl

“This was probably eight months after finishing up, but as Adrian had been involved from the start of the production, I had set the looks set up prior and during shooting, and I had had conversations with Adrian about what we did each day.”

Hauser says having senior creatives like colourists on staff and available to the directors and DOPs of a production whenever they require feedback, is something unique about Cutting Edge.

“As a colourist it allows me to be intimately involved with the colour journey from the start to end, not just coming in at the end. For us it’s all part of the service.”

Cutting Edge’s head of features and television Marcus Bolton says it was a privilege for me to work across both series of Top of the Lake.

China Girl upped the ante on complexity of finish and delivery of a television series. In my career it is unprecedented to deliver more than 50 unique individual masters, to seven broadcasters across five continents for both feature and television deliveries.”

“We treated the whole workflow like a feature film to ensure all the theatrical festivals and screenings were seeing quality to the feature film level. This quality of finish permeated all the way through the production, from shoot to delivery. It really has us and the whole industry performing at a global level.”

Libby Sharpe head of production at See-Saw Films says: “Marcus, Adrian, Jo and the whole team at Cutting Edge were always there for us on Top Of The Lake: China Girl. They went above and beyond with their post-supervision and technical expertise.”

Top of the Lake: China Girl is currently screening on Foxtel’s BBC First.

Originally published for IF Magazine.