Tag Archives: cinematography

DP Chat: The Man in the High Castle’s Gonzalo Amat

By Randi Altman

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is based on the 1962 Phillip K. Dick novel, which asks the question: “What would it look like if the Germans and Japanese won World War II?” It takes a look at the Nazi and Japanese occupation of portions of the United States and the world. But it’s a Philip K. Dick story, so you know there is more to it than that… like an alternate reality.

The series will premiere its fourth and final season this fall on the streaming service. We recently reached out to cinematographer Gonzalo Amat, who was kind enough to talk to us about workflow and more.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
Since I was very young, I had a strong interest in photography and was shooting stills as long as I can remember. Then, when I was maybe 10 or 12 years old, I discovered that movies also had a photographic aspect. I didn’t think about doing it until I was already in college studying communications, and that is when I decided to make it my career.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology?
Artistically, I get inspiration from a lot of sources, such as photography, film, literature, painting or any visual medium. I try to curate what I consume, though. I believe that everything we feed our brain somehow shows up in the work we do, so I am very careful about consuming films, books and photography that feed the story that I will be working on. I think any creation is inspiration. It can be all the way from a film masterpiece to a picture drawn by a kid, music, performance art, historical photographs or testimonies, too.

About staying on top: I read trade magazines and stay educated through seminars and courses, but at some point, it’s also about using those tools. So I try to test the tools instead of reading about them. Almost any rental place or equipment company will let you try newer tools. If I’m shooting, we try to schedule a test for a particular piece of equipment we want to use, during a light day.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
The main new technology would be the migration of most projects to digital. That has changed the way we work on set and collaborate with the directors, since everyone can now see, on monitors, something closely resembling the final look of the project.

A lot of people think this is a bad thing that has happened, but for me, it actually allows more clear communication about the concrete aspects of a sometimes very personal vision. Terms like dark, bright, or colorful are very subjective, so having a reference is a good point to continue the conversation.

Also, digital technology has helped use more available light on interiors and use less light on exterior nights. Still, it hasn’t reached the latitude of film, where you could just let the windows burn. It’s trickier for exterior day shots, where I think you end up needing more control. I would also say that the evolution of visual effects as a more invisible tool has helped us achieve a lot more from a storytelling perspective and has affected the way we shoot scenes in general.

What are some of your best practices, or rules you try to follow on each job?
Each project is different, so I try to learn how that particular project will be. But there are some time-tested rules that I try to implement. The main line is to always go for the story; every answer is always in the script. Another main rule is communication. So being open about questions, even if they seem silly. It’s always good to ask.

Another rule is listening to ideas. People that end up being part of my team are very experienced and sometimes have solutions to problems that come up. If you are open to ideas, more ideas will come, and people will do their jobs with more intention and commitment. Gratitude, respect, collaboration, communication and being conscious about safety is important and part of my process.

Gonzalo Amat on set

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
Every director is different, so I look at each new project as an opportunity to learn. As a DP, you have to learn and adapt, since through your career you will be asked for different levels of involvement. Because of my interest in storytelling, I personally prefer a bit more of a hands-off approach from directors; talking more about story and concepts, where we collaborate setting up the shoots for covering a scene, and same with lighting: talking moods and concepts that get polished as we are on set. Some directors will be very specific, and that is a challenge because you have to deliver what is inside their heads and hopefully make it better. I still enjoy this challenge, because it also makes you work for someone’s vision.

Ideally, developing the look of a project comes from reading the script together and watching movies and references together. This is when you can say “dark like this” or “moody like this” because visual concepts are very subjective, and so is color. From then on, it’s all about breaking up the script and the visual tone and arc of the story, and subsequently all the equipment and tools for executing the ideas. Lots of meetings as well as walking the locations with just the director and DP are very useful.

How would you describe the overarching look of the show?
Basically, the main visual concept of this project is based in film noir, and our main references were The Conformist and Blade Runner. As we went along, we added some more character-based visual ideas inspired by projects like In the Mood for Love and The Insider for framing.

The main idea is to visually portray the worlds of the characters through framing and lighting. Sometimes, we play it the way the script tells us; sometimes we counterpoint visually what it says, so we can make the audience respond in an emotional way. I see cinematography as the visual music that makes people respond emotionally to different moods. Sometimes it’s more subtle and sometimes more obvious. We prefer to not be very intrusive, even though it’s not a “realist” project.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I start four or five weeks before the season. Even if I’m not doing the first episode, I will still be there to prepare new sets and do some tests for new equipment or characters. Preparation is key in a project like this, because once we start with the production the time is very limited.

Did you start out on the pilot? Did the look change from season to season at all?
James Hawkinson did the pilot, and I came in when the series got picked up. He set up the main visual concepts, and when it came to series I adapted some of the requirements from the studio and the notes from Ridley Scott into the style we see now.

The look has been evolving from season to season, as we feel we can be bolder with the visual language of the show. If you look at the pilot all the way to the end of Season 3, or Season 4, which is filming, you can definitely see a change, even though it still feels like the same project — the language has been polished and distilled. I think we have reached the sweet spot.

Does the look change at all when the timelines shift?
Yes, all of the timelines require a different look and approach with lighting and camera use. Also, the art design and wardrobe changes, so we combine all those subtle changes to give each world, place and timeline a different feel. We have lots of conceptual meetings, and we develop the look and feel of each timeline and place. Once these concepts are established, the team gets to work constructing the sets and needed visual elements, and then we go from there.

This is a period piece. How did that affect the look, if at all?
We have tried to give it a specific and unique look that still feels tied to the time period so, yes, the fact that this happens in our own version of the ‘60s has determined the look, feeling and language of the series. We base our aesthetics in what the real world was in 1945, which our story diverges from to form this alternate world.

The 1960s of the story are not the real 1960s because there is no USA and no free Europe, so that means most of the music and wardrobe doesn’t look like the 1960s we know. There are many Nazi and Japanese visual elements on the visuals that distinguish us from a regular 1960s look, but it still feels period.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
Because we had a studio mandate to finish in 4K, the Red One with Zeiss Master Prime lenses was chosen in the pilot, so when I came on we inherited that tech. We stuck with all this for the first season, but after a few months of shooting we adapted the list and filters and lighting. On Season 2, we pushed to change to an ARRI Alexa camera, so we ended up adjusting all the equipment around this new camera and it’s characteristics — such as needing less light, so we ended up with less lighting equipment.

We also added classic Mitchell Diffusion Filters and some zooms. Lighting and grip equipment have been evolving toward less and less equipment since we light less and less. It’s a constant evolution. We also looked at some different lens options in the season breaks, but we haven’t added them because we don’t want to change our budget too much from season to season, and we use them as required.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of in Season 3?
I think the most challenging scene was the one in the Nebenwelt tunnel set. We had to have numerous meetings about what this tunnel was as a concept and then, based on the concept, find a way to execute it in a visual way. We wanted to make sure that the look of the scene matched the concepts of quantum physics within the story.

I wanted to achieve lighting that felt almost like plasma. We decided to put a mirror at the end of the tunnel with circle lighting right above it. We then created the effect of the space travel by using a blast of light — using lighting strikes with an elaborate setup that collectively used more than a million watts. It was a complex setup, but fortunately we had a lot of very talented people come together to execute it.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories) — things you can’t live without?
On this project, I’d say it’s the 40mm lens. I don’t think this project would have the same vibe without this lens. Then, of course, I love the Technocrane, but we don’t use it every day, for budgetary and logistical reasons.

For other projects, I would say the ARRI Alexa camera and the 40mm and handheld accessories. You can do a whole movie with just those two; I have done it, and it’s liberating. But if I had an unlimited budget, I would love to use a Technocrane every day with a stabilized remote head.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

NAB 2019: A cinematographer’s perspective

By Barbie Leung

As an emerging cinematographer, I always wanted to attend an NAB show, and this year I had my chance. I found that no amount of research can prepare you for the sheer size of the show floor, not to mention the backrooms, panels and after-hours parties. As a camera operator as well as a cinematographer who is invested in the post production and exhibition end of the spectrum, I found it absolutely impossible to see everything I wanted to or catch up with all the colleagues and vendors I wanted to. This show is a massive and draining ride.

Panasonic EV1

There was a lot of buzz in the ether about 5G technology. Fast and accurate, the consensus seems to be that 5G will be the tipping point in implementing a lot of the tech that’s been talked about for years but hasn’t quite taken off yet, including the feasibility of autonomous vehicles and 8K streaming stateside.

It’s hard to deny the arrival of 8K technology while staring at the detail and textures on an 80-inch Sharp 8K professional display. Every roof tile, every wave in the ocean is rendered in rich, stunning detail.

In response to the resolution race, on the image capture end of things, Arri had already announced and started taking orders for the Alexa Mini LF — its long-awaited entry into the large format game — in the week before NAB.

Predictably, at NAB we saw many lens manufacturers highlighting full-frame coverage. Canon introduced its Sumire Prime lenses, while Fujinon announced the Premista 28-100mm T2.9 full-format zoom.

Sumire Prime lenses

Camera folks, including many ASC members, are embracing large format capture for sure, but some insist the appeal lies not so much in the increased resolution, but rather in the depth and overall image quality.

Meanwhile, back in 35mm sensor land, Panasonic continues its energetic push of the EVA1 camera. Aside from presentations at their booth emphasizing “cinematic” images from this compact 5.7K camera, they’ve done a subtle but not-to-subtle job of disseminating the EVA1 throughout the trade show floor. If you’re at the Atomos booth, you’ll find director/cinematographers like Elle Schneider presenting work shot with Atomos with the EVA1 balanced on a Ronin-S, and if you stop by Tiffen you’ll find an EVA1 being flown next to the Alexa Mini.

I found a ton of motion control at the show. From Shotover’s new compact B1 gyro stabilized camera system to the affable folks at Arizona-based Defy, who showed off their Dactylcam Pro, an addictively smooth-to-operate cable-suspension rig. The Bolt high-speed Cinebot had high-speed robotic arms complete with a spinning hologram.

Garret Brown at the Tiffen booth.

All this new gimbal technology is an ever-evolving game changer. Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown was on hand at the Tiffen booth to show the new M2 sled, which has motors elegantly built into the base. He enthusiastically heralded that camera operators can go faster and more “dangerously” than ever. There was so much motion control that it vied for attention alongside all the talk of 5G, 8K and LED lighting.

Some veterans of the show have expressed that this year’s show felt “less exciting” than shows of the past eight to 10 years. There were fewer big product launch announcements, perhaps due to past years where companies have been unable to fulfill the rush of post-NAB orders for new products for 12 or even 18 months. Vendors have been more conservative with what to hype, more careful with what to promise.

For a new attendee like me, there was more than enough new tech to explore. Above all else, NAB is really about the people you meet. The tech will be new next year, but the relationships you start and build at NAB are meant to last a career.

Main Image: ARRI’s Alexa Mini LF.


Barbie Leung is a New York-based cinematographer and camera operator working in independent film and branded content. Her work has played Sundance, the Tribeca Film Festival and Outfest. You can follow her on Instagram at @barbieleungdp.

DP Tom Curran on Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

By Iain Blair

Forget all the trendy shows about updating your home décor or renovating your house. What you really need to do is declutter. And the guru of decluttering is Marie Kondo, the Japanese star of the hot Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

The organizational expert became a global star when her first book, 2014’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” was translated into English, becoming a New York Times bestseller. Her follow-up was 2016’s “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.”

Tom Curran

Clearly, people everywhere need to declutter, and Kondo’s KonMari Method is the answer for those who have too much stuff. As she herself puts it, “My mission is to organize the world and spark joy in people’s lives. Through this partnership with Netflix, I am excited to spread the KonMari Method to as many people as possible.”

I recently spoke with Tom Curran, the cinematographer of the Kondo show. His extensive credits include Ugly Delicious for Netflix, Fish My City for National Geographic and 9 Months for Facebook, which is hosted by Courteney Cox. Curran has an Emmy on his mantle for ABC Sports’ Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Let’s start with the really important stuff. Do you have too much clutter? Has Marie’s philosophy helped you?
(Laughs). It has! I think we all have too much stuff. To be honest, I was a little skeptical at first about all this. But as I spent time with her and educated myself, I began to realize just how much there is to it. I think that it particularly applies to the US, where we all have so much and move so quickly.

In her world, you come to a pause and evaluate all of that, and it’s really quite powerful. And if you follow all of her steps, you can’t do it quickly. It forces you to slow down and take stock. My wife is an editor, and we’re both always so busy, but now we take little pockets of time to attack different parts of the house and the clutter we have. It’s been really powerful and helpful to us.

Why do you think her method and this show have resonated so much with people everywhere?
Americans tend to get so busy and locked into routines, and Japan’s culture is very different. I’ve worked there quite a bit, and she brings this whole other quality to the show. She’s very thoughtful and kind. I think the show does a good job of showing that, and you really feel it. An awful lot of current TV can be a little sharp and mean, and there’s something old-fashioned about this, and audiences really respond. She doesn’t pass judgment on people’s messy houses — she just wants to help.

You’re well-known for shooting in extreme conditions and locations all over the world. How did this compare?
It was radically different in some ways. Instead of vast and bleak landscapes, like Antarctica, you’re shooting the interiors of people’s homes in LA. Working with EP Hend Baghdady and showrunner Bianca Barnes-Williams, we set out to redefine how to showcase these homes. We used some of the same principles, like how to incorporate these characters into their environment and weave the house into the storyline. That was our main goal.

What were the challenges of shooting this show?
A big one was keeping ourselves out of the shot, which isn’t so easy in a small space. Also, keeping Marie central to all the storytelling. I’ve done several series before, shooting in people’s homes, like Little People, Big World, where we stayed in one family’s home for many years. With this show the crew was walking into their homes for a far shorter time, and none of them were actors. The were baring their souls.

Cleaning up all their clutter before we arrived was contrary to what the show’s all about, so you’re seeing all the ugly. My background’s in cinéma vérité, and a lot of this was stripping back the way these types of unscripted shows are usually done — with multiple cameras. We did use multiple cameras, but often it was just one, as you’re in a tiny room, where there’s no space for another, and we’re shooting wide since the main character in most stories was the home.

As well as being a DP you’re also the owner of Curran Camera, Inc. Did you supply all the camera gear for this through your company?
Sometimes I supply equipment for a series, sometimes not. It all depends on what the project needs. On this, when Hend, Bianca and I began discussing different camera options, I felt it wasn’t a series we could shoot on prime lenses, but we wanted the look that primes would bring. We ended up working with Fujinon Cabrio Cine Zooms and Canon cameras, which gave us a really filmic look, and we got most of our gear from T-stop Camera Rentals in LA. In fact, the Fujinon Cabrio 14-35mm became the centerpiece of the storytelling in the homes because of its wide lens capture — which was crucial for scenes with closets and small rooms and so on.

I assume all the lighting was a big challenge?
You’re right. It was a massive undertaking because we wanted to follow all the progress in each home. And we didn’t want it to be a dingy, rough-looking show, especially since Marie represented this bright light that’d come into people’s homes and then it would get brighter and brighter. We ended up bringing in all the lighting from the east coast, which was the only place I could source what I needed.

For Marie’s Zen house we had a different lighting package with dozens of small fresnels because it was so calm and stood still. For the homes and all the movement, we used about 80 Flex lights — paper-thin LED lights that are easily dimmable and quick to install and take down. Even though we had a pretty small crew, we were able to achieve a pretty consistent look.

How did the workflow operate? How did you deal with dailies?
Our post supervisor Joe Eckardt was pretty terrific, and I’d spend a lot of time going through all the dailies and then give a big download to the crew once a week. We had six to eight camera operators and three crews with two cameras and additional people some days. We had so much footage, and what ended up on screen is just a fraction of what we shot. We had a lot of cards at the end of every day, and they’d be loaded into the post system, and then a team of 16 editors would start going through it all.  Since this was the first season, we were kind of doing it on the fly and trying different techniques to see what worked best.

Color correction and the mix was handled by Margarita Mix. How involved were you in post and the look of the show?
I was very involved, especially early on. Even in the first month or so we started to work on the grade a bit to get some patterns in place; that helped carry us through. We set out to capture a really naturalistic look, and a lot of the homes were very cramped, so we had to keep the wrong lighting look looking wrong, so to speak. I’m pretty happy with what we were able to do. (Margarita Mix’s Troy Smith was the colorist.)

How important is post to you as a DP?
It’s hard to overstate. I’d say it’s not just a big piece of the process, it is the process. When we’re shooting, I only really think about three things; One, what is the story we’re trying to tell? Two, how can we best capture that, particularly with non-actors. How do you create an environment of complete trust where they basically just forget about you? How do we capture Marie doing her thing and not break the flow, since she’s this standup performer? Three, how do we give post what they need? If we’re not giving editorial the right coverage, we’re not doing our job. That last one is the most important to me — since I’m married to an editor, I’m always so aware of post.

The first eight shows aired in January. When is the next season?
We’ve had some light talks about it, and I assume since it’s so popular we’ll do more, but nothing’s finalized yet. I hope we do more.  I love this show.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

DP Petr Hlinomaz talks about the look of Marvel’s The Punisher

By Karen Moltenbrey

For antiheroes like Frank Castle, the lead character in the Netflix series Marvel’s The Punisher, morality comes in many shades of gray. A vigilante hell-bent on revenge, the Marine veteran used whatever lethal means possible — kidnapping, murder, extortion — to exact revenge on those responsible for the deaths of his family. However, Castle soon found that the criminal conspiracy that set him on this destructive path ran far deeper than initially imagined, and he had to decide whether to embrace his role as the Punisher and help save other victims, or retreat to a more solitude existence.

Alas, in the end, the decision to end the Punisher’s crusade was made not by Frank Castle nor by the criminal element he sought to exact justice upon. Rather, it was made by Netflix, which just recently announced it was cancelling all its live-action Marvel shows. This coming a mere month after Season 2 was released, as many fans are still watching the season’s action play out.

Petr Hlinomaz

The Punisher is dark and intense, as is the show itself. The overall aesthetic is dim and gritty to match the action, yet rich and beautiful at the same time. This is the world initially envisioned by Marvel and then brought to life on screen late in Season 1 by director of photography Petr Hlinomaz under the direction of showrunner Steve Lightfoot.

The Punisher is based on the Marvel Comics character by the same name, and the story is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning it shares DNA with the films and other TV shows in the franchise. There is a small family resemblance, but The Punisher is not considered a spin-off of Marvel’s Daredevil, despite the introduction of the Punisher (played by Jon Bernthal) on Season 2 of that series, for which Hlinomaz served as a camera operator and tandem DP. Therefore, there was no intent to match the shows’ cinematic styles.

“The Punisher does not have any special powers like other Marvel characters possess; therefore, I felt that the photographic style should be more realistic, with strong compositions and lighting resembling Marvel’s style,” Hlinomaz says. “It’s its own show. In the Marvel universe, it is not uncommon for characters to go from one show to another and then another after that.”

Establishing the Look
It seems that Hlinomaz followed somewhat in the characters’ footsteps himself, later joining The Punisher crew and taking on the role of DP after the first 10 episodes. He sussed out Lightfoot to find out what he liked as far as framing, look, camera movement and lighting were concerned, and built upon the look of those initial 10 episodes to finish out the last three episodes of Season 1. Then Hlinomaz enhanced that aesthetic on Season 2.

Hlinomaz was assisted by Francis Spieldenner, a Marvel veteran familiar with the property, who in Season 1 and again in Season 2 functioned as A camera/steadicam operator and who shot tandems in addition to serving as DP on two episodes (209 and 211) for Season 2.

“Steve and I had some discussions regarding the color of lighting for certain scenes in Season 2, but he pretty much gave me the freedom of devising the look and camera movement for the show on my own,” recalls Hlinomaz. “I call this look ‘Marvel Noir,’ which is low light and colorful. I never use any normal in the camera color temperature settings (for instance, 3,200K for night and 5,600K for day). I always look for different settings that fit the location and feel of the scene, and build the lighting from there. My approach is very source-oriented, and I do not like cheating in lighting when shooting scenes.”

According to Hlinomaz, the look they were striving for was a mix of Taxi Driver and The Godfather, but darker and more raw. “We primarily used wide-angle lenses to place our characters into our sets and scenery and to see geographically where they are. At times we strived to be inside the actors’ head.” They also used Jason Bourne films as a guideline, “making Jon (the Punisher) and all our characters feel small in the large NYC surroundings,” he adds. “The stunt sequences move fast, continuously and are brutally real.”

In terms of color, Hlinomaz uses very low light with a dark, colorful palette. This compliments New York City, which is colorful, while the city’s multitude of lights and colors “provide a spectacular base for the filming.” The show highlights various location throughout the city. “We felt the look is very fitting for this show, the Punisher being an earnest human being in the beginning of his life, but after joining the force is troubled by his past, PTSD and his family being brutally slaughtered, and in turn, he is brutal and ruthless to ‘bad people,’” explains Hlinomaz.

For instance, in a big fight scene in Season 1, Episode 11 at Micro’s hideout, Hlinomaz showed the top portion of the space to its fullest extent. “It looks dark, mysterious. We used a mixture of top, side and uplighting to make the space look interesting, with lots of color temperature mixes,” he says. “There was a plethora of leftover machinery and huge transformers and generators that were no longer in use, and stairwells that provided a superb backdrop for this sequence.”

The Workflow
For the most part, Hlinomaz has just one day to prep for an episode with the director, and that is often during the technical scout day. “Aside from reading the script and exchanging a few emails, that is the only prep we get,” he says.

During the technical scout, a discussion takes place with the director concerning how the scenes should look and feel. “We discuss lighting and grip, set dressing, blocking, shooting direction, time of day, where we light from, where the sun should be and so on, along with any questions concerning the locations for the next episodes,” he says.

During the scout and rehearsal, Hlinomaz looks for visually stimulating backgrounds, camera angles and shots that will enhance and propel the story line.

When they start shooting the episode, the group rehearses the scene, discusses the most efficient or suitable blocking for the scene and which lenses to use. During the shoot, Hlinomaz takes stills that will be used by the colorists as reference for the lighting, density, color and mood. When the episode is cut and roughly colored, he then will view the episode at the lab (Company 3 in New York) and make notations. Those notes are then provided to the post producer and colorist Tony D’Amore (from Encore) for the final color pass and Lightfoot’s approval.

The group employs HDR, “which, in a way, is hard because you always have to protect for overexposure on sources within the frame,” adds Hlinomaz. In fact, D’Amore has commended Hlinomaz, the directors and Lightfoot with devising unique lighting scenarios that highlighted the HDR aspect of the show in Season 2.

Tools of the Trade
The Punisher’s main unit uses two cameras – “we have crew to cover two at all times,” Hlinomaz says. That number increases to three or more as needed for certain sequences, though there are times when just one camera is used for certain scenes and shots.

According to Hlinomaz, Netflix and Marvel only shoot with Red 4K cameras and up. For the duration of The Punisher shoot, the crew only carried four “Panavised” Red cameras. “We shot 4K but frequently used the 5K and 6K settings to go a bit wider with the [Panavision] Primo lenses, or for a tilt and swing lens special look,” he says, adding that he has used Red cameras for the past four years and is still impressed with the color rendering of the Red sensors. Prior to shooting the series, he tested Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses, Leica Summilux lenses, along with Panavision Primos; Hlinomaz chose the Primos for their 3D rendering of the subjects.

The lens set ranged from 10mm to 150mm; there was also an 11:1 zoom lens that was used sparingly. It all depended on the shot. In Episode 13, when Frank finally shoots and kills hitman Billy Russo (aka Jigsaw), Hlinomaz used an older 12mm lens with softer edges to simulate Billy’s state as he is losing a lot of blood. “It looked great, somewhat out of focus along the edges as Frank approaches; then, when Frank steps closer for the kill, he comes into clear focus,” Hlinomaz explains.

In fact, The Punisher was shot using the same type of camera and lenses as the second season of the now-cancelled Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage (Hlinomaz served as a DP on Luke Cage Season 2 and a camera operator for four episodes of Season 1). In addition to wide-angle lenses, the show also used more naturalistic lighting, similar to The Punisher.

Hlinomaz details another sequence pertaining to his choice of cameras and lenses on The Punisher, whereby he used 10mm and 14mm lenses for a fight scene inside an elevator. Spieldenner, the A cam operator, was inside the elevator with the performers. “We didn’t pull any walls for that, only the ceilings were pulled for one overhead shot when Frank flips a guy over his shoulder,” explains Hlinomaz. “I did not want to pull any walls; when you do, it feels like the camera is on the outside, especially if it’s a small space like that elevator.”

On-Set Challenges
A good portion of the show is filmed outdoors — approximately two-thirds of the series —which always poses an additional challenge due to constantly changing weather conditions, particularly in New York. “When shooting exteriors, you are in the elements. Night exteriors are better than day exteriors because you have more control, unless the day provides constant lighting — full sun or overcast, with no changes. Sometimes it’s impractical or prohibitive to use overhead cover to block out the sun; then you just have to be quick and make smart decisions on how to shoot a scene with backlight on one side and front fill that feels like sunlight on the other, and make it cut and look good together,” explains Hlinomaz.

As he noted earlier, Hlinomaz is a naturalist when it comes to lighting, meaning he uses existing source-driven lighting. “I like simplicity. I use practicals, sun and existing light to give and drive our light direction,” he further adds. “We use every possible light, from big HMIs all the way down to the smallest battery-driven LED lights. It all depends on a given shot, location, sources and where the natural or existing light is coming from. On the other hand, sometimes it is just a bounce card for a little fill or nothing extra to make the shot look great.”

All The Punisher sets, meanwhile, have hard ceilings. “That means with our use of lower camera angles and wide lenses, we are seeing everything, including the ceilings, and are not pulling bits of ceilings and hanging any lights up from the grid. All lighting is crafted from the floor, driven by sources, practicals, floor bounces, windows and so on,” says Hlinomaz. “My feeling is that this way, the finished product looks better and more natural.”

Most of Season 1’s crew returned for Season 2, so they were familiar with the dark and gritty style, which made things easier on Hlinomaz. The season begins with the Punisher somewhere in the Midwest before agent Madani brings Frank back to New York, although all the filming took place throughout New York.

One of the more challenging sequences this season, according to Hlinomaz, was an ambulance chase that was filmed in Albany, New York. For the shoot, they used a 30-foot Louma crane and Edge arm from Action Camera cars, and three to four Red cameras. For the actual ambulance drop, they placed four additional cameras. “We had to shoot many different passes with stunts as well as the actors, in addition to the Edge arm pass. It was quite a bit of work,” he says. Of course, it didn’t help that when they arrived in Albany to start filming, they encountered a rain delay, but “we used the time to set up the car and ambulance rigs and plan to the last detail how to approach our remaining days there.” For the ambulance interior, they shot on a greenscreen stage with two ambulances — one on a shaky drive simulation rig and the other mounted 20 feet or so high on a teeter rig that simulated the drop of the highway as it tilted forward until it was pointing straight to the ground.

“If I remember correctly, we spent six days total on that sequence,” says Hlinomaz.

The second season of The Punisher was hard work, but a fun and rewarding experience, Hlinomaz contends. “It was great to be surrounded from top to bottom with people working on this show who wanted to be there 100 percent, and that dedication and our hard work is evident, I believe, in the finished season,” he adds.

As Hlinomaz waited for word on Season 3 of The Punisher, he lent his talents to Jessica Jones, also set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and sadly also receiving the same ultimate fate — as Hlinomaz stepped in to help shoot Episode 305, with the new Red DSMC2 Gemini 5K S35 camera. “I had a great experience there and loved the new camera. I am looking forward to using it on my next project,” he adds.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.

Color plays big role in the indie thriller Rust Creek

In the edge-of-your-seat thriller Rust Creek, confident college student Sawyer (Hermione Corfield) loses her way while driving through very rural Appalachia and quickly finds herself in a life-or-death struggle with some very dangerous men. The modestly-budgeted feature from Lunacy Productions — a company that encourages female filmmakers in top roles — packs a lot of power with virtually no pyrotechnics using well-thought-out filmmaking techniques, including a carefully planned and executed approach to the use of color throughout the film.

Director Jen McGowan and DP Michelle Lawler

Director Jen McGowan, cinematographer Michelle Lawler and colorist Jill Bogdanowicz of Company 3 collaborated to help express Sawyer’s character arc through the use of color. For McGowan, successful filmmaking requires thorough prep. “That’s where we work out, ‘What are we trying to say and how do we illustrate that visually?’” she explains. “Film is such a visual medium,” she adds, “but it’s very different from something like painting because of the element of time. Change over time is how we communicate story, emotion and theme as filmmakers.”

McGowan and Lawler developed the idea that Sawyer is lost, confused and overwhelmed as her dire situation becomes clear. Lawler shot most of Rust Creek handholding an ARRI Alexa Mini (with Cooke S4s) following Sawyer as she makes her way through the late autumn forest. “We wanted her to become part of the environment,” Lawler says. “We shot in winter and everything is dead, so there was a lot of brown and orange everywhere with zero color separation.”

Production designer Candi Guterres pushed that look further, rather than fighting it, with choices about costumes and some of the interiors.

“They had given a great deal of thought to how color affects the story,” recalls colorist Bogdanowicz, who sat with both women during the grading sessions (using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve) at Company 3 in Santa Monica. “I loved the way color was so much a part of the process, even subtly, of the story arc. We did a lot in the color sessions to develop this concept where Sawyer almost blends into the environment at first and then, as the plot develops and she finds inner strength, we used tonality and color to help make her stand out more in the frame.”

Lawler explains that the majority of the film was shot on private property deep in the Kentucky woods, without the use of any artificial light. “I prefer natural light where possible,” she says. “I’d add some contrast to faces with some negative fill and maybe use little reflectors to grab a rake of sunlight on a rock, but that was it. We had to hike to the locations and we couldn’t carry big lights and generators anyway. And I think any light I might have run off batteries would have felt fake. We only had sun about three days of the 22-day shoot, so generally I made use of the big ‘silk’ in the sky and we positioned actors in ways that made the best use of the natural light.”

In fact, the weather was beyond bad, it was punishing. “It would go from rain to snow to tornado conditions,” McGowan recalls. “It dropped to seven degrees and the camera batteries stopped working.”

“The weather issues can’t be overstated,” Lawler adds, describing conditions on the property they used for much of the exterior location. “Our base camp was in a giant field. The ground would be frozen in the morning and by afternoon there would be four feet of mud. We dug trenches to keep craft services from flooding.”

The budget obviously didn’t provide for waiting around for the elements to change, David Lean-style. “Michelle and I were always mindful when shooting that we would need to be flexible when we got to the color grading in order to tie the look together,” McGowan explains. “I hate the term ‘fix it post.’ It wasn’t about fixing something, it was about using post to execute what was intended.”

Jill Bogdanowicz

“We were able to work with my color grading toolset to fine tune everything shot by shot,” says Bogdanowicz. “It was lovely working with the two of them. They were very collaborative but were very clear on what they wanted.”

Bogdanowicz also adapted a film emulation LUT, which was based on the characteristics of a Fujifilm print stock and added in a subtle hint of digital grain, via a Boris FX Sapphire plug-in, to help add a unifying look and filmic feel to the imagery. At the very start of the process, the colorist recalls, “I showed Jen and Michelle a number of ‘recipes’ for looks and they fell in love with this one. It’s somewhat subtle and elegant and it made ‘electric’ colors not feel so electric but has a film-style curve with strong contrast in the mids and shadows you can still see into.”

McGowan says she was quite pleased with the work that came out of the color theater. “Color is not one of the things audiences usually pick up on, but a lot of people do when they see Rust Creek. It’s not highly stylized, and it certainly isn’t a distracting element, but I’ve found a lot of people have picked up on what we were doing with color and I think it definitely helped make the story that much stronger.”

Rust Creek is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Google.

Cold War’s Oscar-nominated director Pawel Pawlikowski

By Iain Blair

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski is a BAFTA-winning writer and director whose film Ida won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Pawlikowski, who left Poland at age 14 and currently resides in the UK, is Oscar nominated again — as Best Director for his latest film, Cold War. Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Cold War earned cinematographer Lukasz Zal an Oscar nomination, as well as an ASC Award win.

Pawel Pawlikowski                            Credit: Magda Wunsche and Aga Samsel

Cold War traces the passionate love story between Wiktor and Zula, a couple who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland. With vastly different backgrounds and temperaments, they are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in 1950s Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, it’s the tale of a couple separated by politics, character flaws and unfortunate twists of fate — an impossible love story in impossible times.

I spoke with Pawlikowski, whose credits include The Woman in the Fifth, which starred Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, about making the film, the Oscars and his workflow.

How surprised are you by the Oscar nominations, including the one for Best Director?
I’m pleasantly surprised as it’s very unusual for a small film like this — and it’s in B&W — to cut through all the noise of the big films, especially as it’s an American competition and there’s so much money and PR involved.

Your Ida cinematographer Lukasz Zal also got an Oscar nomination for his beautiful B&W work. It’s interesting that Roma is also semi-autobiographical and in B&W.
I’m so happy for him, and yes, it is a bit of a coincidence. Someone told me that having two foreign-language film directors both nominated in the same year has only happened once before, and I feel we were both trying to reconnect with the past through something personal and timeless. But they’re very different films and very different in their use of B&W. In Roma you can see everything, it’s all in focus and lit very evenly, while ours is far more contrast-y, shot with a lot of very different lenses — some very wide, some very long.

You won the Oscar for Ida. How important are the Oscars to a film like this?
Very, I think. This was made totally as we wanted. There wasn’t an ounce of compromise, and it’s not formulaic, yet it’s getting all this attention. This, of course, means a wider audience — and that’s so important when there’s so much stuff out there vying for attention. It’s very encouraging.

What sort of film did you set out to make, as the story is so elliptical and leaves a lot unsaid?
That’s true, and I think it’s a great pleasure for audiences to work things out for themselves, and to not spell every single thing out. When you work by suggestion, I think it stays in your imagination much longer, and leaving certain types of gaps in the narrative makes the audience fill them in with their own imagination and own experience of life. As a film lover and audience member myself, I feel that approach lets you enter the space of a film much more, and it stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema. When a film ties up every loose end and crosses every “T” and dots every “I” you tend to forget it quite quickly, and I think not showing everything is the essence of art.

Is it true that the two main characters of Wiktor and Zula are based on your own parents?
Yes, but very loosely. They have the same names and share a lot of the same traits. They had a very tempestuous, complicated relationship — they couldn’t live with each other and couldn’t live without each other. That was the starting point, but then it took on its own life, like all films do.

The film looks very beautiful in B&W, but I heard you originally planned to shoot it in color?
No. Not at all. It’s been like this Chinese whisper, where people got it all wrong. When the DP and I first started discussing it, we immediately knew it’d be a B&W film for this world, this time period, this story, especially as Poland wasn’t very colorful back then. So whatever colors we could have come up with would have been so arbitrary anyway. And we knew it’d be very high contrast and very dramatic. Lukasz did say, “Maybe we shouldn’t do two films in a row in B&W,” but we never seriously considered color. If it had been set in the ‘70s or ‘80s I would have shot it in color, but B&W was just visually perfect for this.

Where did you post?
All in Poland, at various places in Warsaw, and it took over six months. It was very tricky and very hard to get it right because we had a lot of greenscreen work, and it wasn’t straightforward. People would say, “That’s good enough,” but it wasn’t for me, and I kept pushing and pushing to get it all as nearly perfect as we could. That was quite nerve-wracking.

Do you like the post process?
Very much, and I especially love the editing and the grading. I’m basically an editor in my approach to filmmaking, and I usually do all the editing while I shoot, so by the time we get to post it’s practically all edited.

Talk about editing with Jaroslaw Kaminski, who cut Ida for you. What were the big editing challenges?
We sit down after the shoot and go through it all, but there’s not that much to tweak because of the coverage. I like to do one shot from one angle, with a simple, square composition, but I do quite a lot of takes, so it’s more about finding the best one, and he’s very used to the way I work.

This spans some 15 years, and all period films use some VFX. What was involved?
Quite a lot, like the whole transition in Berlin when he crosses the border. We don’t have all the ruins, so we had to use enormous greenscreens and VFX. West Berlin is far brighter and more colorful, which is both symbolic and also realistic. We shot all the Paris interiors in Poland, so everything that happens outside the windows is greenscreen, and that was very hard to get right. I didn’t want it to feel like it was done in post. We scoured Poland for locations, so we could use real elements to build on with the VFX, and the story also takes place in Split, Yugoslavia, so the level of realism had to be very high.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
It was so important, and it took a long time to do as it’s really a silent movie when there’s no music, and as it’s not an action film, it was really critical that we didn’t overdo it or under-do it. I took a very long time working with my sound mixer — over four months. Before we shot, I went around Poland with my casting director to lots of folk music festivals and selected various faces, voices and tunes for the first part of the film. That took over half a year. Then I chose three tunes performed by Mazowsze, a real ensemble founded after the war and still performing today. A tune could be used in different ways — as a simple folk song at the start of the film, but then also later as a haunting jazz number in the Paris scenes. For me, all this was like the glue holding it all together. Then I chose a lot of other music, like the Russian piece, Gershwin and also a song like “Rock Around The Clock,” which really drives a wedge between Wiktor and Zula. The film ends with Bach, which gives it a whole different feel and perspective.

The grading must have also been very important for the look?
Yes. Michal Herman was the colorist and we spent a long time getting the contrast and grain just right. I love that process.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s more or less everything I felt and imagined about my parents and their story, even though it’s a work of fiction.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Sundance Videos: Watch our editor interviews

postPerspective traveled to Sundance for the first time this year, and it was great. In addition to attending some parties, brunches and panels, we had the opportunity to interview a number of editors who were in Park City to help promote their various projects. (Watch here.)

Billy McMillin

We caught up with the editors on the comedy docu-series Documentary Now!, Michah Gardner and Jordan Kim. We spoke to Courtney Ware about cutting the film Light From Light, as well as Billy McMillin, editor on the documentary Mike Wallace is Here. We also chatted with Phyllis Housen, the editor on director Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency and Kent Kincannon who cut Hannah Pearl Utt’s comedy, Before you Know It. Finally, we sat down with Bryan Mason, who had the dual roles of cinematographer and editor on Animals.

We hope you enjoy watching these interviews as much as we enjoyed shooting them.

Don’t forget, click here to view!

Oh, and a big shout out to Twain Richardson from Jamaica’s Frame of Reference, who edited and color graded the videos. Thanks Twain!

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.

Behind the Camera: Television DPs

By Karen Moltenbrey

Directors of photography on television series have their work cut out for them. Most collaborate early on with the director on a signature “look.” Then they have to make sure that aesthetic is maintained with each episode and through each season, should they continue on the series past the pilot. Like film cinematographers, their job entails a wide range of responsibilities aside from the camera work. Once shooting is done, they are often found collaborating with the colorists to ensure that the chosen look is maintained throughout the post process.

Here we focus on two DPs working on two popular television series — one drama, one sitcom — both facing unique challenges inherent in their current projects as they detail their workflows and equipment choices.

Ben Kutchins: Ozark
Lighting is a vital aspect in the look of the Netflix family crime drama Ozark. Or perhaps more accurate, the lack of lighting.

Ben Kutchins (left) on set with actor/director Jason Bateman.

“I’m going for a really naturalistic feel,” says DP Ben Kutchins. “My hope is that it never feels like there’s a light or any kind of artificial lighting on the actors or lighting the space. Rather, it’s something that feels more organic, like sunlight or a lamp that’s on in the room, but still offers a level of being stylized and really leans into the darkness… mining the shadows for the terror that goes along with Ozark.”

Ozark, which just kicked off its second season, focuses on financial planner Marty Byrde, who relocates his family from the Chicago suburbs to a summer resort area in the Missouri Ozarks. After a money laundering scheme goes awry, he must pay off a debt to a Mexican drug lord by moving millions of the cartel’s money from this seemingly quiet place, or die. But, trouble is waiting for them in the Ozarks, as Marty is not the only criminal operating there, and he soon finds himself in much deeper than he ever imagined.

“It’s a story about a family up against impossible odds, who constantly fear for their safety. There is always this feeling of imminent threat. We’re trying to invoke a heightened sense of terror and fear in the audience, similar to what the characters might be feeling,” explains Kutchins. “That’s why a look that creates a vibe of fear and danger is so important. We want it to feel like there is danger lurking around every corner — in the shadows, in the trees behind the characters, in the dark corners of the room.”

In summary, the look of the show is dark — literally and figuratively.

“It is pretty extreme by typical television standards,” Kutchins concedes. “We’ve embraced an aesthetic and are having fun pushing its boundaries, and we’re thrilled that it stands out from a pretty crowded market.”

According to Kutchins, there are numerous examples where the actor disappears into the shadows and then reappears moments later in a pool of light, falling in and out of shadow. For instance, a character may turn off a light and plunge the room into complete darkness, and you do not see that character again until they reappear, until they’re lit by moonlight coming through a window or silhouetted against a window.

“We’re not spending a lot of time trying to fill in the shadows. In fact, we spend most of our time creating more shadows than exist naturally,” he points out.

Jason Bateman, who plays Marty, is also an executive producer and directed the first two and last two episodes of Season 1. Early on, he, along with Kutchins and Pepe Avila del Pino, who shot the pilot, hashed out the desired look for the show, leaning into a very cyan and dark color palette — and leaning in pretty strongly. “Most people think of [this area as] the South, where it’s warm and bright, sweaty and hot. We just wanted to lean into something more nuanced, like a storm was constantly brewing,” Kutchins explains. “Jason really pushed that aesthetic hard across every department.”

Alas, that was made even more difficult since the show was mainly shot outdoors in the Atlanta area, and a good deal of work went into reacting to Mother Nature and transforming the locations to reflect the show’s Ozark mountain setting. “I spent an immense amount of time and effort killing direct sunlight, using a lot of negative fill and huge overheads, and trying to get rid of that direct, harsh sun,” says Kutchins. “Also, there are so many windows inside the Byrde house that it’s essentially like shooting an exterior location; there’s not a lot of controlled light, so you again are reacting and adapting.”

Kutchins shoots the series on a Panasonic VariCam, which he typically underexposes by a stop or two, mining the darker part of the sensor, “the toe of the exposure curve.” And by doing so, he is able to bring out the dirtier, more naturalistic, grimy parts of the image, rather than something that looks clean and polished. “Something that has a little bit of texture to it, some grit and grain, something that’s evocative of a memory, rather than something that looks like an advertisement,” he says.

To further achieve the look, Kutchins uses an in-camera LUT that mimics old Fuji film stock. “Then we take that into post,” he says, giving kudos to his colorist, Company 3’s Tim Stipan, who he says has been invaluable in helping to develop the “vibe” of the show. “As we moved along through Season 1 and into Season 2, he’s been instrumental in enhancing the footage.”

A lot of Kutchins’ work occurs in post, as the raw images captured on set are so different from the finals. Insofar as the digital intermediate is concerned, significant time is spent darkening parts of the frame, brightening small sections of the frame and working to draw the viewer into the frame. “I want people to be leaning on the edge of their seat, kind of wanting to look inside of the screen and poke their head in for a look around,” Kutchins says. “So I do a lot of vignetting and darkening of the edges, and darkening specific things that I think are distracting.”

Nevertheless, there is a delicate balance he must maintain. “I talk about the darkness of Ozark, but I am trying to ride that fine line of how dark it can be but still be something that’s pleasant to watch. You know, where you’re not straining to see the actor’s face, where there’s just enough information there and the frame is just balanced enough so your eyes feel comfortable looking at it,” he explains. “I spend a lot of time creating a focal point in the frame for your eyes to settle on — highlighting certain areas and letting some areas go black, leaving room for mystery in every frame.”

When filming, Kutchins and his crew use Steadicams, cranes, dollies and handheld. He also uses Cooke Optics’ S4 lenses, which he tends to shoot wide open, “to let the flaws and character of the lenses shine through.”

Before selecting the Panasonic VariCam, Kutchins and his group tested other cameras. Because of Netflix’s requirement for 4K, that immediately ruled out the ARRI Alexa, which is Kutchins’ preferred camera. “But the Panasonic ended up shining,” he adds.

In Ozark, the urban family is pitted against nature, and thus, the natural elements around them need to feel dangerous, Kutchins points out. “There’s a line in the first season about how people drown in the lake all the time. The audience should always feel that; when we are at the water’s edge, that someone could just slip in and disappear forever,” he says. “So, the natural elements play a huge role in the inspiration for the lighting and the feel of the show.”

Jason Blount:The Goldbergs
A polar opposite to Ozark in almost every way, The Goldbergs is a single-camera comedy sitcom set in the ’80s about a caring but grumpy dad, an overbearing mother and three teens — the oldest, a popular girl; the middle one, who fancies himself a gifted athlete and strives to be popular; and the youngest, a geek who is obsessed with filmmaking, as he chronicles his life and that of his family on film. The series is created and executive-produced by Adam F. Goldberg and is based on his own life and childhood, which he indeed captured on film while growing up.

The series is filmed mostly on stage, with the action taking place within the family home or at the kids’ schools. For the most part, The Goldbergs is an up-lit, broad comedy. The colors are rich, with a definite nod to the vibrant palette of the ’80s. “Our colorist, Scott Ostrowsky [from Level 3], has been grading the show from day one. He knows the look of the show so well that by the time I sit with him, there are very few changes that have to be made,” says Blount.

The Goldbergs began airing in 2013 and is now entering its sixth season. And the series’ current cinematographer, Jason Blount, has been involved since the start, first serving as the A camera/Steadicam operator before assuming the role of DP for the Season 1 finale — for a total of 92 episodes now and counting.

As this was a Sony show for ABC, the plan was to shoot with a Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K digital camera, but at the time, it did not record at a fast enough frame rate for some of the high-speed work the production wanted. So, they ended up using the ARRI Alexa for Season 1. Blount took over as DP full time from Season 2 onward, and the decision was made to switch to the F55 for Season 2, as the frame rate issue had been resolved.

“The look of the show had already been established, and I wanted to make sure that the transition between cameras was seamless,” says Blount. “Our show is all about faces and seeing the comedy. From the onset, I was very happy with the Sony F55. The way the camera renders skin tone, the lack of noise in the deep shadows and the overall user-friendly nature of the camera impressed me from the beginning.”

Blount points to one particular episode where the F55 really shined. “The main character was filming a black-and-white noir-style home movie. The F55 handled the contrast beautifully. The blacks were rich and the highlights held onto detail very well,” he says. “We had a lot of smoke, hard light directly into the lens, and really pushed the limits of the sensor. I couldn’t have been happier with the results.”

In fact, the camera has proved its mettle winter, spring, summer and fall. “We’ve used it in the dead of winter, at night in the rain and during day exterior [shots] at the height of summer when it’s been over 100 degrees. It’s never skipped a beat.”

Blount also commends Keslow Camera in Los Angeles, which services The Goldbergs’ cameras. In addition, the rental house has accessorized the F55 camera body with extra bracketry and integrated power ports for more ease of use.

Due to the fast pace at which the show is filmed — often covering 10-plus pages of script a day — Blount uses Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses. “The A camera has a full set of lightweight zooms covering 15mm to 120mm, and the B camera always has the [Optimo] 24-290,” he says. “The Optimo lenses and F55 are a great combination, making it easy to move fast and capture beautiful images.”

Blount points out that he also does all the Steadicam work on the show, and with the F55 being so lightweight, compact and versatile, it makes for a “very comfortable camera in Steadicam mode. It’s perfect to use in all shooting modes.”

The Goldbergs’ DP always shoots with two cameras, sometimes three depending on the scene or action. And, there is never an issue of the cameras not matching, according to Blount. “I’m not a big fan of the GoPro image in the narrative world, and I own a Sony a7S. It’s become my go-to camera for mounts or tight space work on the show, and works perfectly with the F55.”

And, there is something to say for consistency, too. “Having used the same camera and lens package for the past five seasons has made it easy to keep the look consistent for The Goldbergs,” says Blount. “At the beginning of this season, I looked at shooting with the new Sony Venice. It’s a fantastic-looking camera, and I love the options, like the variable ND filters, more color temperature options and the dual ISO, but the limit of 60fps at this stage was a deal-breaker for me; we do a fair amount of 72fps and 120fps.”

“If only the F55 had image stabilization to take out the camera shake when the camera operators are laughing so hard at the actors’ performances during some scenes. Then it would be the perfect camera!” he says with a laugh himself.


Karen Moltenbrey is a longtime writer and editor in the CG and post industries.

DP Rick Ray: Traveling the world capturing stock images

By Randi Altman

It takes a special kind of human to travel the world, putting himself in harm’s way to collect hard-to-find stock imagery, but Rick Ray thrives on this way of life. This Adobe Stock contributor has a long history as a documentary filmmaker and a resume that includes 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama (2006), Letters Home from the South China Seas: Adventures in Singapore & Borneo (1989) and Letters Home from Iceland (1990).

Let’s find out more about what makes Ray tick.

As a DP, are you just collecting footage to sell or are you working on films, docs and series as well?
I used to be a documentary filmmaker and have about 24 published titles in travel and biography, including the 10 Questions For The Dalai Lama and the TV series Raising The Bamboo Curtain With Martin Sheen. However, I found that unless you are Ken Burns or Michael Moore, making a living in the world of documentary films can be very difficult. It wasn’t until I came to realize that individual shots taken from my films and used in other productions were earning me more income than the whole film itself that I understood how potentially lucrative and valuable your footage can be when it is repurposed as stock.

That said, I still hire myself out as a DP on many Hollywood and independent films whenever possible. I also try to retain the stock rights for these assignments whenever possible.

A Bedouin man in Jordan.

How often are you on the road, and how do you pick your next place to shoot?
I travel for about three to four months each year now. Lately, I travel to places that interest me from a beauty or cultural perspective, whether or not they may be of maximal commercial potential. The stock footage world is inundated with great shots of Paris, London or Tokyo. It’s very hard for your footage to be noticed in such a crowded field of content. For that reason, lesser known locations of the world are attractive to me because there is less good footage of those places.

I also enjoy the challenges of traveling and filming in less comfortable places in the world, something I suppose I inherited from my days as a 25-year-old backpacking and hitchhiking around the world.

Are you typically given topics to capture — filling a need — or just shooting what interests you?
Mostly what interests me, but also I see a need for many topics of political relevance, and this also informs my shooting itinerary.

For example, immigration is in the news intensively these days, so I have recently driven the border wall from Tijuana to the New Mexico border capturing imagery of that. It’s not a place I’d normally go for a shoot, but it proved to be very interesting and it’s licensing all the time.

Rick Ray

Do you shoot alone?
Yes, normally. Sometimes I go with one other person, but that’s it. To be an efficient and effective stock shooter, you are not a “film crew” per se. You are not hauling huge amounts of gear around. There are no “grips,” and no “craft services.” In stock shooting around the world, as I define it, I am a low-key casual observer making beautiful images with low-key gear and minimal disruption to life in the countries I visit. If you are a crew of three or more, you become a group unto yourself, and it’s much more difficult to interact and experience the places you are visiting.

What do you typically capture with camera-wise? What format? Do you convert footage or let Adobe Stock do that?
I travel with two small (but excellent) Sony 4K handicams (FDR-AX100), two drones, a DJI Osmo handheld steady-grip, an Edelkrone slider kit and two lightweight tripods. Believe it or not, these can all fit into one standard large suitcase. I shoot in XDCAM 4K and then convert it to Apple ProRes in post. Adobe Stock does not convert my clips for me. I deliver them ready to be ordered.

You edit on Adobe Premiere. Why is that the right system for you, and do you edit your footage before submitting? How does that Adobe Stock process work?
I used to work in Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Pro X, but I switched to Adobe Premiere Pro after struggling with FCPX. As for “editing,” it doesn’t really play a part in stock footage submission. There is no editing as we are almost always dealing with single clips. I do grade, color correct, stabilize and de-noise many clips before I export them. I believe in having the clips look great before they are submitted. They have to compete with thousands of other clips on the site, and mine need to jump out at you and make you want to use them. Adobe allows users to submit content directly from Premiere to Adobe Stock, but since I deal in large volumes of clips in submitting, I don’t generally use this approach. I send a drive in with a spreadsheet of data when a batch of clips are done.

A firefighter looks back as a building collapses during the Thomas Fire in Ventura, California.

What are the challenges of this type of shooting?
Well, you are 100% responsible for the success or failure of the mission. There is no one to blame but yourself. Since you are mostly traveling low-key and without a lot of protection, it’s very important to have a “fixer” or driver in difficult countries. You might get arrested or have all of your equipment stolen by corrupt customs authorities in a country like Macedonia, as happened to me. It happens! You have to roll with the good and the bad, ask forgiveness rather than permission and be happy for the amazing footage you do manage to get,

You left a pretty traditional job to travel the world. What spurred that decision, and do you ever see yourself back at a more 9-to-5  type of existence?
Never! I have figured out the perfect retirement plan for myself. Every day I can check my sales from anywhere in the world, and on most days the revenue more than justifies the cost of the travel! And it’s all a tax write-off. Who has benefits like that?

A word of warning, though — this is not for everyone. You have to be ok with the idea of spending money to build a portfolio before you see significant revenue in return. It can take time and you may not be as lucky as I have been. But for those who are self-motivated and have a knack for cinematography and travel, this is a perfect career.

Can you name some projects that feature your work?
Very often this takes me by surprise since I often don’t know exactly how my footage is used. More often than not, I’m watching CNN, a TV show or a movie and I see my footage. It’s always a surprise and makes me laugh. I’ve seen my work on the Daily Show, Colbert, CNN, in commercials for everything from pharmaceuticals to Viking Cruises, in political campaign ads for people I agree and disagree with, and in music videos for Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and Roger Waters.

Fire burns along the road near a village in the Palestinian territories.

Shooting on the road must be interesting. Can you share a story with us?
There have been quite a few. I have had my gear stolen in Israel (twice). In Thailand my gear was confiscated by corrupt customs authorities in Macedonia, as I mentioned earlier. I have been jailed by Ethiopian police for not having a valid filming permit, which was not necessary. Once a proper bribe was arranged they changed clothes from police into costumed natives and performed as tour guides and cultural emissaries for me.

In India, I was on a train to the Kumba Mela, which was stopped by a riot and burned. I escaped with minor injuries. I was also accosted by communist revolutionaries in Bihar, India. Rather than be a victim, I got out of the car and filmed it, and the leader and his generals then reviewed the footage and decided to do it over. After five takes of them running down the road and past the camera, the leader finally approved the take and I was left unharmed.

I’ve been in Syria and Lebanon and felt truly threatened by violence. I’ve been chased by Somali bandits at night in a van in Northern Kenya. Buy me a beer sometime, I’ll tell you more.