THE NORTHMAN jarin blaschke
4179_D027_00159_C Actor Alexander Skarsgård along with cast and crew members on the set of his film, THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC

Early in The Northman, a team of elite warriors, which co-writer Sjón describes as “like a SEAL team,” raid a Slav village. The sequence is presented in a small number of “oners” or unbroken single shots. The camera tracks Amleth and the warriors as they scale the village’s protective walls, ruthlessly dispatching its defenders. The background choreography is filled with swinging axes, spears flying through the air, and horses collapsing. The Northman director of photography Jarin Blaschke has lensed all of director Robert Eggers’ features, and two of his shorts, and talks below about staging the sequence.

Where did the idea to have these long single-shot tracking sequences originate?

Jarin Blaschke: In general, we try to present our films in the most simple, streamlined and direct way possible. So for a film with a lot more to visually convey than before, our preferred straightforward shots had to be longer to hold the additional layers and dramatic beats.

How many days did you spend on this particular sequence?

Blaschke: I think it was four days to shoot the village raid, and two days for the aftermath shot. The village was drawn, then modeled, then staked out on-site, then adjusted and readjusted and adjusted again as we would continually revisit with a finder and the stunts were further honed.

There was one building I had moved, shrunk, expanded, turned and moved again five or six times to ensure an ideal camera path within the limits of our crane.

With something so layered and complex, it was easiest for we, the uninitiated, to imagine one primary angle. That also lets you maximize your set, shooting from one edge of it to the other. After that, the reality of stunts and the number of extras would inform how much we could achieve in one shot, and so we’d then have to get creative in where and how we’d hide the seams.

When it came time to finally shoot it, we shot one shot per day. Of course, those six shots were fused together into the three you see in the film.

Also read: With The Northman, Robert Eggers and Sjón Create ‘An Original Saga’

At the end of each day, we’d review the next day’s camera move and the primary action. In that walkthrough, I’d finalize the extremes of the camera positions through the finder and from that, the grips would position the crane the following morning, often before we got there. Before any moving rehearsal, I’d “set frames” with stand-ins, which is to compose key frames within the long take, and the grips and operator know that for each key frame when the actor is at their X, they need to be at their Y. It’s mapping out a series of still frames and conquering the variable of the compositions, before moving on to rhythm and energy.

I don’t like rehearsing two major variables at once. You chase your tail and never arrive at something truly synchronized and tight.

At least one third of each day was waiting for overcast weather within a certain lighting ratio — if it was mere heavy haze, it wouldn’t cut together. Having almost the entire raid face south helped us somewhat.

THE NORTHMAN jarin blaschke robert eggers

Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) raids the Slav village in Robert Eggers’ The Northman, lensed by Jarin Blaschke. Photos by Aidan Monaghan / Focus Features

Did Alexander Skarsgård perform all his stunts for that sequence?

Blaschke: Aside from jumping from the top of the palisade, he did all his own stunts in that scene.

How did you capture the shots while keeping everything timed perfectly and everyone safe around the various weapons and galloping horses?

Blaschke: Going from fixed positions to full speed, we did it over and over and over and over and over and….

Tech Box:

Camera: Panavision Millennium XL2, Panavised Arriflex 435ES, Arriflex 235

Lenses: Altered Northman lenses from Primo base lenses (21, 24, 27, 35, 40mm), 35mm and 58mm Petzval lenses. Special high-speed

Lighting: Video bit-mapped 500w bulb arrays (60 to 180- bulb units) for fire, Arrimax 18k into a custom curved mirror for moonlight, zero red-transmission gels and LEDs for moonlight

Color: Goldcrest in London

The Northman, directed by Robert Eggers and lensed by Jarin Blaschke, opens in theaters on Friday. 

Main image (above): Alexander Skarsgård performs his own stunts in the village raid sequence in The Northman