Joe Anderson Helps Resurrect Top Boy with Cooke S7/i Prime Lenses

Netflix gives 2011/2013 mini-series new life with third season and 10 episodes

When the original two mini-series of Top Boy ended on the UK’s Channel 4 in 2013, few people thought the critically-acclaimed drama about two London street gangs would ever come back.

Enter the Canadian rapper Drake (Aubrey “Drake” Graham), who discovered the series on YouTube and was so enamoured that he purchased the rights in 2017. Now Netflix will premiere the third season this year with 10 episodes shot using CookeS7/i prime lenses.

The series creator and writer Ronan Bennett returned to write the show, and is also an executive producer alongside Drake, whose passion for the human element of the show drove its resurrection. Six years have passed, and the third series picks up as original characters reunite and try to reclaim their ‘Top Boy’ status. 

Cinematographer Joe Anderson immediately fell in love with the series. “It’s almost Shakespearean in how the story is written and unfolds,” he says. “Originally, the four episodes of each season were directed by a single director for each season. For this 10-episode series, the show was broken into four blocks with four directors. I love being able to create worlds — it’s the best part of the job — and this was a genre I had never worked in before, so I jumped at the chance.” Production ran for six months in London, starting in July 2018. 

But the challenge was how to update a show for a 2019 Netflix audience, while maintaining story continuity. From Anderson’s perspective, he had to deal with a show originally shot on Alexa using anamorphic lenses on a 16×9 sensor to create a 2:35 master. The requirement for a Netflix show is that it is shot in 4K.

“ARRI had just announced its new large format ALEXA LF larger sensor for 4K,” explained Anderson. “But the Cooke lenses I use for Super35 were not going to work — they can’t fill the sensor. And I also like a constant aperture.” 

Two things made the Cooke S7/i lenses the perfect choice for Anderson for Top Boy.

“First, the lenses are so fast at T2. Second, it had a look I was familiar with from using the Cooke S4s on The Old ManThe Gun. That ‘Cooke Look®’ carries between lens families. I knew that look so well, and it was appropriate for this story.”

In fact, since Top Boywould be shooting with multiple units, he convinced camera and lens supplier ARRI Rental UK to purchase an additional set of Cooke S7/i lenses. The set contained 25, 32, 40, 75, 100 and 135mm focal lengths.

Shooting UK/European style, Anderson operated the camera himself, finding the 75mm to be the lens of choice to tell the story. “This was an interesting shoot using a new format,” said Anderson. “It’s almost the same difference as shooting 16mm versus 35mm. The S7/i 75mm was my workhorse. It’s a bit more of a normal lens in that it’s the same as the eye’s field of view and I wanted that immersive look for the series. I did lots of handheld and worked hard to make it feel like the camera was a character in the show, so the viewer is in the streets of London. The 75mm was often the best to do that.”

When shooting some scenes in Jamaica, the Cooke S7/i lenses really stood out for Anderson. “We had lots of scenes in the mountains, and the Cooke lenses really photographed nicely, especially with characters in the foliage. The way Cooke lenses are designed means they’re not overly clinical, giving you more dimensionality in the image. That has a bigger impact in a larger format production.”

But back in London, most Americans like Anderson would think of the weather being foggy, overcast and flat. That was not the case. “In the summer of 2018, London was exceptionally hot and sunny, and we were not prepared for that. We had to change our lighting package to include brighter lights to compete with the sun. We shot in lots of flats and high-rise buildings, where lighting from outside is very challenging. That’s where my New York background came in handy — as I shoot the same way back home, using a lot with HMIs when we could, on lifts or really high up, supplemented with a few lights inside.”

One of the benefits of doing a Netflix production is that the final master is finished in HDR. “I had a lot of latitude to play with. I had to capture a variety of dark skin tones, while still getting detail outside in the bright sunlight. It was a challenge to see how much I could push it for skin tones and the rest of the information in the scene.”


A Few Kind Words...

Kapil Gadhire, Head of Marketing, Magnifi

From the word go, team Bubble was super detailed, efficient, and exhaustive in their approach. They are true partners and make an effort to understand the ideology and end goal to plan the perfect media pitch and strategy.

Lauren Myers, Director, Integrated Marketing – Ross Video

Working with Bubble during and after IBC 2022 for PR and press support was exceptional. Their professional approach, strategic communication, and extensive media network generated significant exposure for our brand. Bubble's on-site support was outstanding, ensuring our story was accurately told to a global audience. Their post-IBC efforts further amplified our reach and provided valuable analytics. An experienced, professional team and a total joy to work with.

Andrew McKinlay, Marketing Director, Avolites

All amazing, just grateful I know I can rely on Bubble to get the job done brilliantly.

Tanya Rai, Marketing and Communications Manager, Pebble

Team Bubble are an extension of our own team. They are wonderful to work with, reliable, get the job done and gain great exposure for our business in key publications.

Mike Ward, Head of Marketing,

Since we first started working with them, our team at Bubble have acted very much like an extension of our team. They work with us to try and help us achieve our goals and we very much feel that they have our interests at heart as well as having our backs when we need it!

Gavin Bunker, AE Live

Bubble were fantastic throughout the whole process and helped us deliver a successful event to celebrate our 30th corporate anniversary with industry peers.

Robert Cloudt, Synchronized

Bubble has been tremendously helpful to bring our marketing communication to the next level, very responsive and thinking with us together on the rightful messaging and timing across different media’s. Definitely a recommendation in case you need a well balanced media agency to help you out.

Carla Molina Whyte, Farmerswife

Working with Bubble Agency for a tradeshow has been truly amazing. The bubble team is incredibly helpful and talented. We are very happy with the results and with all the coverage we got prior and during the tradeshow!

Silvia Candido, Ateme

As usual, we were super busy before and during a tradeshow this year. What a luxury to have Bubble take care of our media relations and our social media accounts! We saw a surge of followers on LinkedIn and got good coverage in a number of publications.

Meg Travis, Iron Mountain Entertainment Services, Director, Global Head of Marketing & Communications, Entertainment Services

The Bubble team made everything easy at MPTS! From advising before the show, to facilitating client and press conversations during the show, to making recommendations on how to make the most of the connections we made there - we rely on Bubble as a key strategic partner for our sales and marketing teams.