Category Archives: DP Chat

DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

For German DP Markus Förderer, BVK, quickly developed an impressive resume of visually unique and critically acclaimed feature films. His feature film debut, Hell, earned Förderer a number of awards. He went on to shoot Mike Cahill‘s sci-fi drama, I Origins, which was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. He followed that with I Remember, which premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and won the 2016 German Camera Award for Best Cinematography.

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

His early work got him earmarked as one of Variety’s 2015 Up Next cinematographers. Most recently, Förderer collaborated with director Roland Emmerich on Stonewall and Independence Day: Resurgence and shot the pilot for Rise. He also recently shot the pilot for the highly anticipated sci-fi series Nightflyers by Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, setting the look for the show’s DPs Gavin Struthers and Peter Robertson.

We reached out to him about his work…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
I was always fascinated by cinema and visual storytelling, watching movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Alien. David Fincher’s early films had a big influence on me. When I learned how to use Photoshop during my time in high school in Germany, a new world of possibilities opened up. I experimented with how to manipulate the mood of images by adjusting colors, brightness and contrast.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and access to digital images online was quite limited then. There were simply not many images in decent resolution and quality on the web for me to play with. This is why I started taking my own stills with an early digital camera. It was a Fujifilm camera that had a 1.3-megapixel sensor. Hard to believe from today’s perspective, but this camera opened my eyes to the world of photography, lighting and composition.

Nightflyers

I felt limited, though, by still images and became determined to become a filmmaker to tell visual stories. Before going to film school, I started reading about filmmaking techniques and interviews with famous DPs and directors and realized that it was the DP’s role that interested me the most — the creation of a certain mood and tone that helps to tell the story and puts the audience in the character’s shoes.

What inspires you artistically?
I am most inspired by reading the scripts and talking to the director. I think each project has to have its own visual identity, and for me it all comes from the script and the director’s initial ideas. Sometimes they come with crazy ambitious ideas, and I see it as the DP’s responsibility to figure out a way to make it work. I believe in naturalism; using single sources and available light whenever possible to create cinematic images that don’t feel overly stylized. New technologies sometimes spark ideas for new or more efficient ways to create interesting shots.

You’ve shot Meridian for Netflix as a test film for 4K and Megan as a concept film for 8K. What new technology has had the most impact on the way you work?
Shooting for HDR with high dynamic range sensors has a big impact on the way I light a scene. I think you can be more extreme and explore low-light photography with very rich detail in the blacks, for example. It is tricky, though, to shoot for SDR and HDR distribution at the same time. The viewing experience is vastly different, especially in extreme lighting scenarios, like very low light or very bright scenes.

Nightflyers

Exploring larger, high-resolution sensors, gives me more freedom when capturing extreme lighting conditions and preserving natural detail the way my eyes see it. Shooting with the right combination of low-contrast lenses with a high-resolution sensor gives me very natural detail in actors’ eyes. It is amazing how much of the performance can be seen in the eyes, when projected properly in 4K.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I think it is most important to create an environment of respectful and polite collaboration between all departments and crewmembers. Filmmaking is a team discipline and it shows if you listen to your crew’s input. I always try to listen closely to the director’s vision and find the right cinematic techniques to realize that vision.

However, following a storyboard or preplanned ideas step by step leads to a sterile movie, in my opinion. It is important to be prepared, but it is crucial to watch the actors carefully on the day and react to the rehearsal. The best days are the ones on which I was surprised by the performance of the actors in a way that inspired me to change the planned blocking and get to the core of the scene in a simple and elegant way.

I like to be surprised (in a good way) by the end results. There’s nothing more boring to me than watching dailies and having the images turn out exactly the way I imagined it beforehand. There is a richness in life that is hard to create in front of the camera, but it is always my goal to strive for that.

Nightflyers

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is great to get involved early on and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the director. Each collaboration is different, and it’s great to work with a director who trusts you and values your input, but I also love working with directors who have a very strong vision and have developed their own visual style over the years.

Tell us about Nightflyers. How would you describe the overarching look of the series pilot? Is there an example of a scene in the pilot that emphasizes this?
Nightflyers is a story about a spaceship and its crew on a very exciting mission to the edge of the solar system. The ship has very dark secrets that are revealed bit by bit. Director Mike Cahill and I focused on creating a specific atmosphere that is scary and leaves room for the audience’s imagination. It was important to us to avoid sci-fi clichés and rather focus on the characters and the way they experience the events on the ship.

The memory suite is an interesting example. It is a room that allows the crew to relive memories in a very visual way. The room by its design looks almost hostile. The first memory we experience, however, is very emotional, portraying the main character’s daughter. Mike was very specific with composition of these shots to create a sense of visual déjà vu, something we explored on a previous feature.

The framing of D’Branin’s character inside the memory suite and inside his memory is exactly the same. We replicated camera moves and used the same focal lengths. Every movement of the actors in the memory was staged, so we could recreate the same shots inside the spherical memory suite. At some point, the barrier between memory and reality starts to dissolve, and the contrast of the cold ship and the content of the memory start to collide in an interesting and scary way.

Nightflyers

How early did you get involved in the production?
Mike Cahill brought up the project quite early, and we flew to Ireland for an initial scout. The team there was fantastic, and everyone from the producers and network’s side wanted to create something really special. Production designer David Sandefur and his team designed amazing sets that gave us great flexibility to come up with interesting shots. This collaboration early on was crucial, as we integrated all the lighting into the ship. It had to be versatile enough to allow for different lighting scenarios for multiple episodes. My gaffer James McGuire did a fantastic job integrating miles of LED light strips. In the end, we could control it from his iPad, which would allow for last-minute tweaks without slowing down the shooting day for the actors and director.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Nightflyers?
For me, it usually starts with the lens. Mike and I love the claustrophobic look you can achieve with anamorphic lenses in small contained spaces, like a spaceship. We tested a small number of lenses that would give us the desired qualities, and we decided that Panavision’s C-Series lenses would be the right choice for this. Also, I have shot many projects on Red cameras over the years, starting back on the Red-MX sensor. I had tested the Monstro 8K VV sensor from Red and felt it would open up many opportunities with its larger sensor size and incredible sensitivity.

Panavision’s Michael Cioni showed me the latest advances in the DXL camera, and I was sold when I saw how well it sits on your shoulder. We shot a lot of handheld on the pilot and contrasted it with some smooth Steadicam and gimbal shots. The ability to shoot large format and capture amazing images in low light were key for us. We employed Panavision’s DXL and a Red DSMC2 camera with the Monstro 8K VV sensor for tight spaces and lightweight rigs.

Nightflyers

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Shooting the scenes in the biodome was quite challenging. The spaceship is carrying several cargo domes — one of them is a biodome with living trees and a small forest inside. The domes are spinning around the ship’s center to create artificial gravity. We shot the majority in a nearby forest and some shots on stage. To connect the biodome structure with the forest, our art department built an elevator exit and airlock in the forest. The scenes in the dome take place during the day close to earth. We tested many options for lighting, but I found it most interesting to shoot the scenes at night and light them with strong daylight sources to convey the illusion of being in space during the day.

The little atmosphere in the biodome would make the sky outside the windows appear black, yet the inside would be flooded with light. In order to convey the spinning motion of the domes, we mounted a 9K HMI on a telescopic crane and moved it constantly in a circular pattern. This caused the shadows in the forest to move around. It was quite an astonishing experience to be in that forest at night and hear all the birds chirping because they must have thought it was day all of the sudden.

What’s your go-to gear that you can’t live without?
I try to be open to new gear, and I like to mix things up quite a bit from project to project. I find it hard though to go back to shooting Super 35-sized sensors, after working with the Red DSMC2 Monstro; it hits quite a sweet spot between sensor size, resolution and compact size.

DP Chat: No Activity cinematographer Judd Overton

By Randi Altman

Judd Overton, who grew up in the Australian Outback, knew he wanted to be a DP before he even knew exactly what that was, spending a lot of his time watching and re-watching movies on VHS tapes. When he was young, a documentary film crew came to his town. “I watched as the camera operator was hanging off the side of my motorbike filming as we charged over sand dunes. I thought that was a pretty cool job!”

No Activity

The rest, as they say, is history. Overton’s recent work includes the Netflix comedy series The Letdown and No Activity, which is a remake of the Australian comedy series of the same name. It stars Patrick Brammall and Tim Meadows and is produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Funny or Die, Jungle and Gary Sanchez Productions. It streams on CBS All Access.

We recently reached out to Overton, who also just completed the documentary Lessons from Joan, about one of the first female British theater directors, Joan Littlewood.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
What I love about what I do is being able to see things, and show the world to audiences in a way people haven’t seen before. I always keep abreast of technology, but for me the technology really needs to service the story. I choose particular equipment in order to capture the emotion of the piece.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years?
The greatest change in my world is the high-quality, high-ISO cameras now on the market. This has meant being able to shoot in a much less obtrusive way, shooting and lighting to create footage that is far closer to reality.

The use of great-quality LED lighting is something I’m really enjoying. The ability to create and capture any color and control it from your iPhone opens the floodgates for some really creative lighting.

 

Judd Overton

Can you describe your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
Every director is different, it’s a role and relationship I fill as required. Some directors like to operate the camera themselves. In that case, I oversee the lighting. Some directors just want to work with the actors, so my job then involves more responsibilities for coverage, camera movement and selecting locations.

I try to be open to each new experience and make creative guidelines for a project in collaboration with the director and producers, trying to preempt obstacles before they strike.

Tell us about the CBS All Access show No Activity. Can you describe the overall look of the show and what you and the director/producers wanted to achieve?
I shot the pilot for the original No Activity five years ago. Trent O’Donnell (writer/director, co-creator) wanted to make a series out of simple two hander (two actor) scenes.

We decided to use the police procedural drama genre because we knew the audience would fill in gaps with their own knowledge. In a show where very little happens, the mood and style become far more important.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’ve been involved since the show was conceptualized. We shot the pilot in a parking lot in one of Sydney’s seedier areas. We fought off a lot of rats.

No Activity

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
I had to shoot three cameras, as the show is heavily improvised. Other than my main cameras with zoom lenses, I chose the best cameras for each sequence. We used Blackmagic cameras Ursa Pro and Micro for a lot of our rigged positions. I also used Panasonic cameras for our available light work, and even an Arri 65 for some projection plates.

Were there any scenes that you are particularly proud of?
The scene I had the most fun with was the siege, which plays over the last two episodes of Season 2. We dusted off and fired up two 1930s Arc lights. Carbon Arc lights are what all the old Hollywood films used before HMIs. They are a true 5600 Kelvin, daylight source.

My gaffer’s father actually made these units, and they were refurbished for Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We used them as searchlights for our nighttime siege, and the bright beams and plumes of smoke rising really gave the scene an epic scale.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
Communication is everything, and the latest toy in my toy box is HME headsets. They allow me to have constant communications with my camera operators, grips and electrics, essential when you’re running five cameras across multiple units.

DigitalGlue 1.10

DP Chat: Green Book’s Sean Porter

Sean Porter has worked as a cinematographer on features, documentaries, short films and commercials. He was nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography for his work on It Felt Like Love, and his credits include 20th Century Women, Green Room, Rough Night and Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.

His most recent collaboration was with director Peter Farrelly on Green Book, which is currently in theaters. Set in 1962, the film follows Italian-American bouncer/bodyguard Tony Lip (Academy Award-nominee Viggo Mortensen) and world-class black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. They must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism and danger — as well as unexpected humanity and humor — they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Green Book director Peter Farrelly (blue windbreaker) with DP Sean Porter (right, brown jacket).

Porter chose the Alexa Mini mounted with Leica Summilux-C lenses to devise the look for “Green Book.” End-to-end post services were provided by FotoKem, from dailies at their New Orleans site to final color and deliverables at Burbank.

We spoke to him recently about his rise to director of photography and his work on Green Book:

How did you become interested in cinematography?
My relationship with cinematography, and really filmmaking, developed over many years during my childhood. I didn’t study fine art or photography in school, but discovered it later as many others do. I went in through the front door when I was probably 12 or so, and it’s been a long road.

I’m the oldest of four — two brothers and a sister. We grew up in a small town about an hour outside of Seattle, we had a modest yard that butted up to the “back woods.” It was an event when the neighborhood kids got on bikes and road a half mile or so to the only small convenience store around. There wasn’t much to do there, so we naturally had to be pretty inventive in our play. We’d come home from school, put on the TV and at the time Movie Magic was airing on The Discovery Channel. I think that show honestly was a huge inspiration, not only to me but to my brothers as well, who are also visual artists. It was right before Jurassic Park changed the SFX landscape — it was a time when everything was still done photographically, by hand. There were episodes showing how these films achieved all sorts of amazing images using rather practical tools and old school artistry.

My dad was always keen on technology and he had various camcorders throughout the years, beginning with the VHS back when the recorder had to be carried separately. As the cameras became more compact and easier to use, my brothers and I would make all kinds of films, trying to emulate what we had seen on the show. We were experimenting with high-level concepts at a very young age, like forced perspective, matte paintings, miniatures (with our “giant” cat as the monster) and stop motion.

I picked up the technology bug and by the time I was in middle school I was using our family’s first PC to render chromakeys — well before I had access to NLEs. I was conning my teachers into letting me produce “video” essays instead of writing them. Later we moved closer to Seattle and I was able to take vocational programs in media production and went on to do film theory and experimental video at the University of Washington, where I think I started distilling my focus as a cinematographer.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t discover film via fine art or photography, so I didn’t have that foundation of image making and color theory. I learned it all just by doing and paying attention to what I responded to. I didn’t have famous artists to lean on. You could say it was much more grassroots. My family was a lover of popular films, especially American comedies and action adventure. We watched things like Spies like Us, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and The Princess Bride. It was all pure entertainment, of course. I wasn’t introduced to Bergman or Fellini until much, much later. As we got older, my film language expanded and I started watching films by Lynch and Fincher. I will say that those popular ‘90s films had a great combination of efficient storytelling and technical craft that I still resonate with to this day. It’s very much a sort of “blue-collar” film language.

Staying on top of the technology oscillates between an uncontrollable obsession and an unbearable chore. I’ve noticed over the years that I’m becoming less and less invigorated by the tech — many of the new tools are invaluable, but I love relying on my team to filter out the good from the hype so I can focus on how best to tell the story. Some developments you simply can’t ignore; I remember the day I saw footage in class from a Panasonic DVX100. It changed everything!

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years)?
I feel like the digital cameras, while continuing to get better, have slowed down a bit. There was such a huge jump between the early 2000s and the late 2000s. There’s no question digital acquisition has changed the way we make images — and it’s up for debate if it’s been a wholly positive shift. But generally, it’s been very empowering for filmmakers, especially on smaller budgets. It’s given me and my peers the chance to create cinema-quality images on projects that couldn’t afford to shoot on 16mm or 35mm. And over the last five years, the gap between digital and film has diminished, even vanished for many of us.

But if I had to single out one development it’s probably been LEDs over the last two or three years. Literally, five years ago it was all HMI and Kino Flos, and now I don’t remember the last time I touched a Kino. Sometimes we go entire jobs without firing up an HMI. The LEDs have gotten much better recently, and the control we have on set is unprecedented. It makes you wonder how we did it before!

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Every time I start a new project, I say to myself, “This time I’m going to get my shit together.” I think I’m going to get organized, develop systems, databases, Filemaker apps, whatever, and streamline the process so I can be more efficient. I’ll have a method for combining scouting photos with storyboards and my script notes so everything is in one place and I can disseminate information to relevant departments. Then I show up at prep and realize the same thing I realize every movie: They are all so, so different.

It’s an effort in futility to think you can adopt a “one-size-fits-all” mentality to preproduction. It just doesn’t work. Some directors storyboard every shot. Some don’t even make shot lists. Some want to previs every scene during the scouting process using stand-ins, others won’t even consider blocking until the actors are there, on the day. So I’ve learned that the efficiency is found in adaptation. My job is to figure out how to get inside my director’s head, see things the way they are seeing them and help them get those ideas into actions and decisions. There’s no app for that, unfortunately! I suppose I try to really listen, and not just to the words my director uses to describe things, but to the subtext and what is between the lines. I try to understand what’s really important to them so I can protect those things and fight for them when the pressure to compromise starts mounting.

Linda Cardellini as Dolores Vallelonga and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga in “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly.

On a more practical note, I read many years ago about a DP who would stand on the actor’s mark and look back toward the camera — just to be aware of what sort of environment they were putting the talent in. Addressing a stray glare or a distracting stand might make a big difference to the actor’s experience. I try to do that as often as I can.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It’s hard to reduce such an array of possible experiences down to an “ideal,” as an ideal situation for one film might not be ideal for another depending on the experience the director wants to create on set. I’ve had many different, even conflicting, “processes” with my directors because it suited that specific collaboration. Again, it’s about adapting, being a chameleon to their process. It’s not about coming in and saying, “This is the best way to do this.”

I remember with one director we basically locked ourselves in her apartment for three days and just watched films. We’d pause them now and then and discuss a shot or a scene, but a lot of the time it was just about being together experiencing this curated body of work and creating a visual foundation for us to work from. With another director, we didn’t really watch any films at all, but we did lots and lots of testing. Camera tests, lens tests, lighting tests, filter tests, makeup and SFX tests. And we’d go into a DI suite and look at everything and talk about what was working and what wasn’t. He was also a DP so I think that technical, hands-on approach made sense to him. I think I tested every commercially available fluorescent tube that was on the market to find the right color for that film. I’ll admit as convenient as it would be to have a core strategy to work from, I think I would tire of it. I love walking onto a film and saying, “Ok, how are we going do this?”

Tell us about Green Book. How would you describe the overarching look of the film that you and Peter Farrelly wanted to achieve?
I think, maybe more than I want to admit, that the look of my films is a culmination of the restraints that are imparted by either myself or by production. You’re only going to have a certain amount of time and money for each scene, so calculations and compromises must be made there. You have to work with the given location, time of day and how it’s going be art decorated, so that adds a critical layer. Peter wanted to work a certain way with his actors and have lots of flexibility, so you adapt your process to make that work. Then you give yourself certain creative constraints, and somewhere in between all those things pushing on each other, the look of the film emerges.

That sounds a little arbitrary and Pete and I had some discussions about how it should look, but they were broad conversations. Honesty and authenticity were very important to Pete. He didn’t want things to ever look or feel disingenuous. My very first conversation with him after I was hired was about the car work. He was getting pressure to shoot it all on stage with LED screens. I was honest with him. I told him he’d probably get more time with his actors, and more predictable results on stage, but he’d get more realism from the look and from the performances dragging the entire company out onto the open road and battling the elements.

So we shot all the car work practically, save for a few specific night scenes. I took his words to heart and tried to shape the look out of what was authentic to the time. My gaffer and I researched what lighting fixtures were used then — it wasn’t like it is now with hundreds of different light sources. Back then it was basically tungsten, fluorescent, neon mercury and sodium. We limited our palette to those colors and tuned all our fixtures accordingly. I also avoided stylistic choices that would have made the film feel dated or “affected” — the production design, wardrobe and MCU departments did all of that. Pete and I wanted the story to feel just as relevant now as it did then, so I kept the images clean and largely unadulterated.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I came on about five weeks before shooting. I prepped for one week and then we were all sent home! Some negotiations had stalled production and for several weeks I didn’t know if we would start up again. I’m very grateful everyone made it work so we could make the film.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Green Book?
While 35mm would have been a great choice aesthetically for the film, there were some real production advantages to shooting digitally. As we were shooting all the car work practically, it was my prerogative to get as much of the coverage inside the car accomplished at a go. Changing lighting conditions, road conditions and tight schedules prohibited me from shooting an angle, then pulling over and re-rigging the camera. We had up to three Alexa Mini cameras inside the car at once, and many times that was all the coverage planned for the scene, save for a couple cutaways. This allowed us to get multi-page scenes done very efficiently while maintaining light continuity, keeping the realism of the landscapes and capturing those happy (and sometimes sad) accidents.

I chose some very clean, very fast, and very portable lenses: the Leica Summilux-Cs. I used to shoot stills with various Leica film cameras and developed an affinity for the way the lenses rendered. They are always sharp, but there’s some character to the fall off and the micro-contrast that always make faces look great. I had shot many of my previous films with vintage lenses with lots of character and could have easily gone that route, but as I mentioned, I was more interested in removing abstractions — finding something more modern yet still classic and utilitarian.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Not so much a particular scene, but a spanning visual idea. Many times, when you start a film, you’ll have some cool visual arc you want to try to employ, and along the way various time, location or schedule constraints eventually break it all down. Then you’re left with a few disparate elements that don’t connect the way you wanted them to. Knowing I would face those same challenges but having a bit more resources than some of my other films, I aimed low but held my ground: I wanted the color of the streetlights to work on a spectrum, shifting between safety and danger deepening on the scene or where things were heading in the story.

I broke the film down by location and worked with my gaffer to decide where the environment would be majority sodium (safe/familiar/hopeful) and where it would be mercury (danger/fear/despair). It sounds very rudimentary but when you try to actually pull it off with so many different locations, it can get out of hand pretty quickly. And, of course, many scenes had varying ratios of those colors. I was pleased that I was able to hold onto the idea and not have it totally disintegrate during the shoot.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories) — things you can’t live without?
Go-to tools change from job to job, but the one I rely on more than any is my crew. Their ideas, support and positive energy keep me going in the darkest of hours! As for the nuts and bolts — lately I rarely do a job without SkyPanels and LiteMats. For my process on set, I’ve managed to get rid of just about everything except my light meter and my digital still camera. The still camera is a very fast way to line up shots, and I can send images to my iPad and immediately communicate framing ideas to all departments. It saves a lot of time and guess work!

Main Image: Sean Porter (checkered shirt) on set of Green Book, pictured with director Peter Farrelly.


DP Chat: Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC

Cinematographer Polly Morgan, who became an active member of the ASC in July, had always been fascinated with films, but she got the bug for filmmaking as a teenager growing up in Great Britain. A film crew shot at her family’s farmhouse.

“I was fixated by the camera and cranes that were being used, and my journey toward becoming a cinematographer began.”

We reached out to Morgan recently to talk about her process and about working on the FX show Legion.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
I am inspired by the world around me. As a cinematographer you learn to look at life in a unique way, noticing elements that you might not have been aware of before. Reflections, bouncing light, colors, atmosphere and so many more. When I have time off, I love to travel and experience different cultures and environments.

I spend my free time reading various periodicals to stay of top of the latest developments in technology. Various publications, such as the ASC’s magazine, help to not only highlight new tools but also people’s experiences with them. The filmmaking community is united by this exploration, and there are many events where we are able to get together and share our thoughts on a new piece of equipment. I also try to visit different vendors to see demos of new advances in technology.

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
Live on-set grading has given me more control over the final image when I am not available for the final DI. Over the last two years, I have worked more on episodic television, and I am often unable to go and sit with the colorist to do the final grade, as I am working on another project. Live grading enables me to get specific with adjustments on the set, and I feel confident that with good communication, these adjustments will be part of the final look of the project.

How do you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the right look for a story?
I like to vary my choice of camera and lenses depending on what story I am telling.
When it comes to cameras, resolution is an important factor depending on how the project is going to be broadcast and if there are specific requirements to be met from the distributor, or if we are planning to do any unique framing that might require a crop into the sensor.

Also, ergonomics play a part. Am I doing a handheld show, or mainly one in studio mode? Or are there any specifications that make the camera unique that will be useful for that particular project? For example, I used the Panasonic VariCam when I needed an extremely sensitive sensor for night driving around downtown Los Angeles. Lenses are chosen for contrast and resolution and speed. Also, sometimes size and weight play a part, especially if we are working in tight locations or doing lots of handheld.

What are some best practices, or rules, you try to follow on each job?
Every job is different, but I always try to root my work in naturalism to keep it grounded. I feel like a relatable story can have the most impact on its viewer, so I want to make images that the audience can connect with and be drawn into emotionally. As a cinematographer, we want our work to be invisible but yet always support and enhance the narrative.

On set, I always ensure a calm and pleasant working environment. We work long and bizarre hours, and the work is demanding so I always strive to make it an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone,

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is always my aim to get a clear idea of what the director is imagining when they describe a certain approach. As we are all so different, it is really about establishing a language that can be a shorthand on set and help me to deliver exactly what they want. It is invaluable to look at references together, whether that is art, movies, photography or whatever.

As well as the “look,” I feel it is important to talk about pace and rhythm and how we will choose to represent that visually. The ebb and flow of the narrative needs to be photographed, and sometimes directors want to do that in the edit, or sometimes we express it through camera movement and length of shots. Ideally, I will always aim to have a strong collaboration with a director during prep and build a solid relationship before production begins.

How do you typically work with a colorist?
This really varies from project to project, depending if I am available to sit in during the final DI. Ideally, I would work with the colorist from pre-production to establish and build the look of the show. I would take my camera tests to the post house and work on building a LUT together that would be the base look that we work off while shooting.

I like to have an open dialogue with them during the production stage so they are aware and involved in the evolution of the images.

During post, this dialogue continues as VFX work starts to come in and we start to bounce the work between the colorist and the VFX house. Then in the final grade, I would ideally be in the room with both the colorist and the director so we can implement and adjust the look we have established from the start of the show.

Tell us about FX’s Legion. How would you describe the general look of the show?
Legion is a love letter to art. It is inspired by anything from modernist pop art to old Renaissance masters. The material is very cerebral, and there are many mental planes or periods of time to express visually, so it is a very imaginative show. It is a true exploration of color and light and is a very exciting show to be a part of.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I got involved with Legion starting in Season 2. I work alongside Dana Gonzales, ASC, who established the look of the show in Season one with creator Noah Hawley. My work begins during the production stage when I worked with various directors both prepping and shooting their individual episodes.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of how it turned out?
Most of the scenes in Legion take a lot of thought to figure out… contextually as well as practically. In Season 2, Episode 2, a lot of the action takes place out in the desert. After a full day, we still had a night shoot to complete with very little time. Instead of taking time to try to light the whole desert, I used one big soft overhead and then lit the scene with flashlights on the character’s guns and headlights of the trucks. I added blue streak filters to create multiple horizontal blue flares from each on-camera source (headlights and flashlights) that provided a very striking lighting approach.

FX’s Legion, Season 2, Episode 2

With the limited hours available, we didn’t have enough time to complete all the coverage we had planned so, instead, we created one very dynamic camera move that started overhead looking down at the trucks and then swooped down as the characters ran out to approach the mysterious object in the scene. We followed the characters in the one move, ending in a wide group shot. With this one master, we only ended up needing a quick reverse POV to complete the scene. The finished product was an inventive and exciting scene that was a product of limitations.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories you can’t live without)?
I don’t really have any go-to gear except a light meter. I vary the equipment I use depending on what story I am telling. LED lights are becoming more and more useful, especially when they are color- and intensity-controllable and battery-operated. When you need just a little more light, these lights are quick to throw in and often save the day!