The story of Stranger Things cinematographer Lachlan Milne
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5 things you need to know about ‘Stranger Things’ cinematographer Lachlan Milne

Stranger Things is known to be every child’s dream sequence with a concoction of kids on bicycles chasing monsters, dysfunctional families, a girl with psychokinetic abilities and other tropes that ascites the creative corners of both the young and the adult mind. Set in the 1980s Hawkins, Indiana, the show has successfully retained the nostalgic elements of the grunge palette and is known for the incredible and visually stunning shots which add to the magic in general. While we have a lot of praise for the creators and the actors, we often fail to acknowledge the ones who create the magic behind-the-scenes. The cinematographer and his team, the lighting crew and many more. Ever since Lachlan Milne took over the reins of cinematography on the show, it has produced brilliant results aesthetically. Who is Lachlan Milne you ask? Let us find out. 

The show-running cinematographer on the set of Stranger Things season four and the winner of a few well-known awards and accolades, namely the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award at 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Lachlan Milne and his unique vision is a trailblazer for indie cinematographers. Having worked with the New Zealand auteur on sets of his film Hunt for the Wilderpeople and then with Lee Isaac Chung in the Award-winning Minari, Milne has created a mark for himself in the industry. 

Produced by Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy, the show was in search of a new cinematographer for season three when they met the directing duo Jonathan and Josh Baker in Melbourne while Milne was shooting a commercial with them. The Baker brothers suggested Milne and it turned out that Cohen was a huge fan of Taika Watiti’s 2016 flick which earned Milne good credit. Milne, who had never inherited a project before spoke of how he managed to bag the project via a 21-minute Skype call, answering “mostly visual effects and logistical questions about working in television, which I had never done”. Milne, after meeting the Duffer brothers, stayed true to his principle and quickly forged a solid friendship with them, finding a common ground in chatting about “movies, influences on the show, how they like to work and what I could expect if I got the job”. 

While Milne has created visual magic with his unique film vision, he remains an unchartered mastermind on sets of the show. A brilliant and inspiring mind brimming with groundbreaking ideas, Lachlan Milne is a treasure trove of surprises. Here are five things about the cinematographer that you need to know if you are a fan of his style.  

5 things you need to know about Stranger Things cinematographer Lachlan Milne:

5. Growing up with cameras around him and advice to aspirants

While most of us struggle with our choice of careers not knowing what to do until the very end, Milne was fairly certain of the career he wanted to pursue. Having grown up in Adelaide, Australia, Milne grew up amidst cameras with a director father and an editor mother. He started out his journey as an assistant prop master but his heart lay with the camera department. He believed in maintaining a good connection and friendship with directors to understand what exactly they wanted out of a particular scene. 

On his journey, Milne has learned valuable lessons from where he has had only sound advice to offer to aspiring cinematographers. Driven and determined, Milne urges these young, fresh minds to never compare themselves with their colleagues; instead, they are to find their own way in this world of cinematography, trying to map out new ideas to make their work unique and different. He also emphasises the habit of maintaining good and close relationships with the crew, most notably the director and the gaffer, to make them understand the creative positioning of the camera good communication leads to brilliant finished products. 

4. He is a big name in the indie front

After recognising his innate interest in cinematography, Milne struggled with finding projects to his own liking. He worked on various short film and documentary projects, namely In Vitro, Family Happiness, The Away Game, Dog Save the Queen, The Sleep Study, The One Who Broke Your Heart, Octopus, Room 101, Suburbia and more, with his notable works in films like Uninhabited and Not Suitable for Children.

However, it was not until 2016 that he earned his big breakout in Taika Waitit’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople which established his prowess as an incredible cinematographer with a rejuvenating visual aesthetic and far-sightedness. His most distinguished work in the 2020 film by Lee isaac Chung, Minari, warned him two nominations for the wonderful cinematography. Milne also gained fame and recognition due to his brilliant vision while shooting Stranger Things which led to the addition of various unique elements to the film, heightening the suspense, nostalgia and grunge effect as desired by the Duffer brothers.     

3. His breakout work was in Hunt for the Wilderpeople 

Milne was working on other films before bagging his big breakout project in 2016 with Taika Watiti’s moving film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The film is about Ricky baker, a juvenile errant, who goes to live with his foster aunt and uncle Bella and Hec Faulkner. While the former is loving, the latter is distant. Ricky forges a connection with Bella but after her death, is convinced that welfare services will be taking him away, which leads him to stage his death. He subsequently runs away with his dog and, after being discovered by Hec, they realise that they are being pursued by authorities who think that Hec has been abusing Ricky which has ensued in an extensive manhunt. The two are forced to resort to the wilderness for shelter and revise unusual tactics to evade discovery while forming a heart-warming bond with one another. 

The film has been shot beautifully with a revelationary tone. The bond culminates with the vastness of nature at the backdrop and sees the wet and rugged wilderness as the sole witness to their saga of survival. Watiti’s incredible direction and Milne’s brilliant execution adds humour to the scenes; the character placement within the film is such that it is both audio and visually funny. Watiti’s brilliant vision leads to Milne manipulating the spatial arrangement as well as time by compressing certain scenes in a 360-degree shot, encapsulating the entire surroundings, leading the camera to make complete circles. This technique heightens the absurdity and quietude of the surroundings after emphasizing the humour residing within the characters. 

2. He created magic in the Award-winning film Minari

Minari is a moving South Korean film that provides an intimate and delicate insight into the life of a Korean family trying to assimilate into the 1980s American society and survive amidst all odds. With bickering parents and a child with a heart condition, the dysfunctional family is at loggerheads over whether they should reside on the farm as the father wants to grow Korean produce and sell it to Dallas vendors. In walks the grandmother with whom the grandson, David forges a beautiful and heartwarming friendship and thus begins their saga of trying to be each other’s support system amidst all odds. 

Lachlan Milne worked magic behind the cameras. He understood what the director Lee Isaac Chung wanted from the film and stuck to one camera, keeping the pace unhurried and delayed. The shots were fairly simple and Milne believed that keeping a low budget for the film worked to its advantage as it shifted the focus from the visuals to the outstanding performances in the film. He retained the simplicity by not using unwarranted close-ups, using them only while shooting an emotionally charged scene. He admitted that the most difficult part about shooting this indie film would be the sequences they shot inside the trailer as it was too crammed with almost no place for the cinematographer to focus on his camera angles amidst the claustrophobic warm atmosphere of the trailer.  

1. He has a unique style 

Milne is usually more focused on the editorial process of the film as he is usually taken aback by how editing can change the course of the film. As seen later in Minari, he finds it very pertinent to understand what the director wants, whether he wants the film to be a long-standing third-person commentary or a “snapshot of memories”. Milne likes “approaching shooting from an editorial angle”, exploring the natural connection between the cast which is indeed a very unique way of looking at things. 

When Milne was incorporated into the Stranger Things crew, he already had a palette to follow. However, he added his own twist to the scenes, making four episodes emerge as some of the groundbreaking episodes in the history of cinematography, earning him high praise. Using practical lighting, to resting the ‘80s Hawkins vibe in the show, Milne used the natural sunlight and sometimes artificial rain to emphasise the mood of the scene.

From asking David Harbour to use his flashlight as the only source of light while shooting their escape sequence in the dark underground to covering his Steadicam operator with white muslin to help reflect the light on the actor’s face, Milne went beyond the traditional to bring out what the directors were looking for. Relaying more importance on the editorial coverage allows him to have control over whatever he is filming which helps him deliver the best-finished result.  

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