"I would shoot anything with Denis Villeneuve." DoP Greig Fraser on Dune: Part Two

“I would shoot anything with Denis Villeneuve.” DoP Greig Fraser on Dune: Part Two

With cinematography that could burn your retinas (in a good way) we sat down with Dune: Part One and Two’s Director of Photography, Greig Fraser, to speak about sandworms, why he hasn’t read the books and whether he’d return for another Dune movie.

After the massive success of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune back in 2022 (winning an impressive six Oscars), we headed back to Arrakis this year for Dune: Part Two, which explored the mythic journey of Paul Atreides as he unites with Chani and the Fremen while on a warpath of revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family.

Dune: Part Two is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K and to celebrate, we sat down with its Director of Photography Greig Fraser (pictured above, right, with director Denis Villeneuve), who won an Oscar for Dune: Part One, to speak about that sandworm scene and whether he’d return for another Dune movie…

First of all, congratulations on winning an Oscar!

It was pretty cool, wasn’t it?! It was a bit of a surprise. I was sitting there having a glass of wine and I almost spat my wine all over my wife when they announced my name!

What did it feel like coming back for Part Two? Was there some pressure to keep up the good momentum from Part One?

It’s funny because with Part One it felt like a lot of the heavy lifting had been done. When I say heavy lifting, not story-wise because that is the heavy lifting that Denis was talking about, but we’d worked out how we were going to shoot it, the cameras, and all the stuff that is actually kind of geeky and fun, but takes up a lot of time.

We’d figured out what equipment we were using, who the crew were, how that worked, and how our best working method was. We spent Part One effectively doing a massive dress rehearsal for Part Two. So when Part Two was announced, we had a lot of the technical problems solved already.

That was liberating because it meant that we came into a movie and we started from a place where we were off to the races!

Literally when the Oscars finished – in fact, I think it was the day after the Oscars – I was in preparation to go away for six months [to shoot Part Two]. It was literally that quick. I think we were out of there a couple of days after the Oscars into Budapest.

We had a good response and people seemed to enjoy the first movie. So that empowered us to be able to make decisions that perhaps we may not have made before that. Because we had to push it to a new place. We knew that. We had to for the sake of the audience.

Frank Herbert wrote the first Dune book back in 1965 and since then there have been many adaptations from his stories. What do you think it is about this world that keeps audiences coming back for more?

I think everybody sees themselves in some of the characters. There are elements of those characters that people see in themselves. You don’t have to be born into royalty or to the House Harkonnen, but there are certain elements of Feyd that I see in myself – I relate to that guy as I relate to Paul. I feel like there’s part of me that’s a bit of Paul. That slightly distrusting but wide-eyed kind of kid who goes to a new land, who travels a lot. I remember being that, travelling from Australia to around the world, to Asia for the first time. Being that kind of guileless boy who just wants to explore other lands and meet other people who they’ve only read about.

So there are elements of me in those characters and I’m sure it’s the same with the audiences where there are elements of those characters that they see in themselves.

Director of Photography Greig Fraser sees a little of himself in Paul Atreides.

What’s your favourite new place or sequence in Dune: Part Two?

I love the fact that we rode a sandworm for the first time in Part Two.

When we were filming Part One, I hadn’t read the books, and I still haven’t read the books. So I was building my visual world to Denis’ visual world. That was a very deliberate choice that I made. But I didn’t really know that he rode a sandworm.

We were talking about sandworms one day [while shooting Part One], and Denis is like ‘on the horizon there, there’s a guy riding a sandworm’ and I went, ‘oh, a guy rides a sandworm?’ and he goes, ‘yeah! Don’t you know?’ and I’m like: ‘I didn’t know…  they ride sandworms? Okay, cool!’.

It was in the script, but it didn’t really touch upon that and I thought, well, cool. I’m glad we don’t have to film that because that’s going to be hard to film and Denis is like ‘Well, if you come back for Part Two, we’re gonna have to film sandworm riding’.

So when Part Two was announced, it was a combination of ‘awesome it’s gonna be really fun’ and then ‘okay, now I’ve really got to put my camera where my mouth was, and try and figure out a way to film this thing!’. I’m proud of the way we shot the sandworms.

I also think the exterior daytime Giedi Prime was really successful. We hadn’t seen Giedi Prime in the daytime up to then and I thought it was a really interesting, striking look for a foreign planet that houses such evil and such odd characters.

We visit Giedi Prime in the daytime in Dune: Part Two.

Sandworm riding isn’t overly described in the book (and you haven’t read the books) – how did you all decide how to execute those scenes?

Denis has been making this movie in his mind since he was a kid. This is why I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any other influence except for him.

For me, it was really important that I wasn’t telling anybody else’s version of this film. Because when everybody reads – and particularly this book from what I’ve been told – they have such a visceral reaction to its pages.

I’ve read seven or eight pages of it and had these visceral visual leanings with what it was describing to me, and I knew I couldn’t continue reading because I would have to be deprogrammed to be able to make this movie the way that I felt Denis wanted the film to be made.

Denis had effectively storyboarded the sandworm riding, because I didn’t understand how you get on and what you do and how you turn it and how you roll it. I didn’t understand any of that, of course. No one did. So Denis pretty much did the storyboards and the first time he took us all through the storyboards, we were all like ‘wow, this is cool. Okay, yeah, this is how you ride a sandworm’.

When we got off that call, we were all a bit like ‘Right, well, now we’re actually going to do it!’

This movie looks great on the big screen, and has been made for IMAX, do you approach your job knowing the film is going to be shown on the biggest screens in the world?

I do and I love it because I love watching an IMAX film. I do love it. I know it’s a little tricky because not everybody has access to IMAX. I know there are people that live a long way away from IMAX screens and I’ve got messages from people who have driven hours to see it in an IMAX cinema, which I really appreciate because the fact of the matter is, that’s how we made the movie. That’s for whom we made the movie.

It was really important though, that by doing that, we didn’t isolate people who could only really watch it in a normal cinema or ultimately at home. Some people can’t get out, which I get. So it was important that everybody was served in the process of making the film.

But I think, ultimately, when we were standing there in the desert at sunset watching Paul and Chani on a sand dune, we were hoping that people would be sitting there in the IMAX watching that at that size. It was really lovely seeing the fact that people were going to view that in the IMAX. It’s had a great run in IMAX.

You work a lot in sci-fi – we’re big fans of your work on The Creator too – what is it about this genre that appeals to you as a Director of Photography?

Playing in sci-fi is like being a kid in a candy store because you get to play with the coolest stuff!

If I could take my 10-year-old self onto a film set and put them in an X-Wing or something, I’d be like… I mean, with my kids, I do that with them – I try and take them on as many sets as I can for that reason. I feel like sci-fi is like being a grown-up kid. It’s about sitting there for two or three hours and losing yourself in a story.

Being able to make sci-fi like that has been really rewarding for me because it’s just honestly part of my inner child!

It’s so nice to talk to other sci-fi nerds as well. Sometimes I feel like I must be the only person that feels as passionate about this, but then you speak to other people who are as passionate and it’s very liberating to know that I’m not alone!

Grieg Fraser also worked on 2023’s The Creator and loves working in sci-fi.

Now Dune: Part Two is available to watch at home, are there any scenes that audiences may have missed on the big screen that you think we should pay particular attention to?

I love the scene where we are first introduced to Rabban’s character [played by Dave Bautista], when he’s standing with his advisers around a table with a map of Arrakis on it. I love the graphics of Arrakis, which I think you need to pause and look at.

There are no Easter Eggs from what I understand but I was able to freeze frame that and just watch the beautiful design that goes on in this 3D interactive map that they’ve got. I think that’s pretty cool.

I also love always looking at anything to do with the Fremen. All that Fremen stuff is super cool; the thumper and all their tools is always also fun.

That’s what I enjoyed when shooting it. I’d actually raid the standby props truck and just look through it and look at all their tools and their little shovels! So look out for that stuff. It’s all super interesting.

If you get the call from Denis to return for another Dune movie, would you be interested?

Of course! If the planets align, and if it’s right for me to shoot, and if Denis wants me to do it, I’m there. Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

I would shoot anything with Denis Villeneuve. If Denis rang me for anything, I would shoot with him. So, yes, is the short answer haha!

We’re very glad about that! Dune: Part Two is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K. Order your copy here.