Tag Archives: Director of Photography

DP Chat: The Baby-Sitters Club’s Adam Silver talks collaboration and color

By Randi Altman

Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club, based on the best-selling book series by Ann M. Martin, follows a group of entrepreneurial middle-school girls as they start a babysitting business in the town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. There are dad dilemmas, crushes, Halloween spookiness and more. The show stars Sophie Grace, Momona Tamada, Shay Rudolph, Malia Baker, Xochitl Gomez, Alicia Silverstone and Mark Feuerstein.

The cinematographer on The Baby-Sitters Club is Adam Silver, founder of the Santa Monica-based production company National Picture Show, which creates content across multiple platforms. Silver’s recent DP projects include Pen15, Into the Dark and the Valley Girl remake. He also served dual roles as director and DP on the TV adaption of Heathers and producer and DP on the films Daddio and A Deadly Adoption. Proving his ability to move between types of projects, Silver also works shooting commercial campaigns, such as those for Bud Light, 3M and Meta.

His most recent endeavor, The Baby-Sitters Club started streaming on Netflix on July 3. Here Silver talks to us about the show, his process and inspiration.

How early did you get involved in planning for the season? And what direction did showrunner Rachel Shukert give you about the vision she had for this new series?
I came onto the project with about six weeks of prep before we started shooting in Vancouver. I’d known EP/director Lucia Aniello socially and had seen a lot of her comedy work. I had also watched Rachel’s work on GLOW and other shows. It was exciting to do a project with both of them.

From the outset, Rachel and Lucia envisioned a look that was naturalistic and felt real but also poppy and fun to look at. So, I took this initial guideline and then got to run with it and hone it to a specific set of aesthetics and grammar, all while creating space for each director to come in and personalize it. Working closely with Lucia, I put our ideas into a visual presentation for the EPs, studio and network. They loved it, so we were off and running.

Can you talk about developing that happy and bright look?
I felt the coolest version of the show was something grounded in naturalism and realism — something that felt truthful and authentic. We wanted to enable the audience to connect emotionally with the characters, but balance that with something visually dynamic and fun to watch. We wanted something that had a sense of childlike whimsy and playfulness to serve the comedy and was inherent in the book-to-series adaptation.

How much did the books the show is based on play into the look of the show, if at all?
We were very inspired by the spirit of the books. Lucia and Rachel were superfans to put it lightly, and we all wanted something that felt like a compelling friendship/adventure story — for and about girls.

As I was doing visual research in prep, it was very easy to find references set in the world of boys — I had grown up with films like Goonies, E.T. and Stand By Me. Now there’s Stranger Things, etc., but it was surprisingly hard to find visual references or an equivalent series for girls. Which is of course what the books are, and which meant that this was such a great time to make this show.

We wanted the visual style to capture a sense of excitement and adventure and I felt there were ways to reflect that in the photography — with a dynamic camera, sense of playfulness, a richness and vibrancy to the color all while staying grounded in realism. And I really wanted to stay away from the type of old-school kids show that is too cutesy or bubble gum; I think kid audiences are way too sophisticated for that now.

There’s also an iconography associated with the original books from the cover art and other renderings. For example, the classic cover of the five main characters framed in Claudia’s room, sitting around the rotary telephone, which is another iconic device from the books. We wanted to keep those very much alive in the Netflix version, but with a modern twist.

How did you work with director Lucia Aniello and Light Iron colorist Corinne Bogdanowicz to achieve that look?
It always starts with story and what the show is about at its core. The drama and comedy of this show are born from the relationships between the five main characters. I thought a lot about how to visualize these relationship dynamics and how to use the frame to help tell this part of the story.

Lucia and I really liked the idea of a widescreen aspect ratio that could capture four of five kids in the same shot, and felt a wider frame could help articulate themes about group vs. the individual, together vs. alone, etc. I find the wider frame works well to isolate a character feeling alone.

While 16×9 didn’t feel wide enough, traditional anamorphic 2.40 actually felt too wide for the streaming format. We felt it might lose a sense of intimacy. I had gone through a similar process on Heathers (Paramount TV) and suggested we do some tests and find our own proprietary frame that felt right to the show. I got the network and post team to approve the idea, and after testing we settled on a ratio of 2.1:1. Very specific, but I liked it, and that’s what felt right to Lucia so we made it happen!

Working with Lucia, our general process was to hone the look using visual references, then I proposed a couple different lens and camera options to test during prep. She came into Sim Camera (our camera partner) with me and we went through a few setups. Then, using our test footage up in Vancouver, I did a remote color session with colorist Corinne Bogdanowicz, who was in LA working on the FilmLight Baselight.

Huge props to Light Iron’s Katie Fellion for setting that up and figuring out the tech. Corinne helped create a show LUT and some looks, which were very helpful during production. Throughout prep, in addition to exhaustive location scouting, Lucia and I went on to shot-list most of her episodes, which was key for production efficiency, especially given the limited hours with the kid cast.

What was it like shooting in Vancouver, and how long was the shoot?
It was fantastic; we had some of the best technical crews I’ve ever had: 1st AC Mikah Sharkey, who was the anchor of the camera department; operators Mikey Jechort and Brett Manyluk; gaffer Mark Alexander; and key grip Amrit Bawa.

But the town also had its challenges. We were one of 70 or 80 TV productions working at the time, which put a strain on resources. We also had tricky situations with the weather and shooting outdoors. For scheduling reasons, we had to shoot some of our summer episodes in the fall when the weather had turned, so rain became a regular part of our production. We tried to embrace it as much as possible, and Rachel and the writers did an amazing job of adjusting the scripts to incorporate the rain.

How did you choose the right camera and lenses for this project? Why was this the right combination of tools?
I’ve traditionally been a huge fan of the ARRI Alexa Mini for fast-paced TV production, but with the Netflix 4K requirement, I took it as an opportunity to try some new stuff. I hadn’t shot Red for several years but had heard great things about the Monstro chip and was excited to test it.

I paired the DSMC2 Monstro with a couple different lens packages, including both spherical and anamorphic. We liked the feel of the anamorphics right away; they captured the wider aspect ratio. We also liked the bokeh and rendering of an out-of-focus background. Even though we weren’t using its full width (essentially chopping off the extreme sides of the frame for a 2.1:1 finish), there was something about the bendiness on the wider anamorphic primes when framing a group of actors in close proximity that we felt encircled the viewer, drawing them into the group. Though I love the Cooke anamorphic/i primes, I thought this show needed a bit more crisp, clean look. After testing both, we went with the Arri/Zeiss Master anamorphics.

When testing the Red Monstro, I paid close attention to its color rendition, since my preferences for the Alexa were a lot about the color science, the system’s filmic color rendition and smooth skin tones. I ended up really liking the Monstro’s color.

DIT Mason Denysek helped to keep our color consistent with his live grade on set and into dailies. Then in final grade at Light Iron, I was able to dial it in with Corinne, most of which I was able to supervise directly.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging?
Overall, the trickiest part of the production was having enough time with our amazing kid actors. All our young leads were so professional and prepared, but because of their ages we had very limited hours with them. Each day became both a race and a math puzzle to figure out how to shoot all their scene work before we had to wrap them. Our producer Meg Shave and the AD team worked some magic with scheduling and other tricks to give us what we needed.

Adam Silver on set of After with director Jenny Gage.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
I started in the business in New York, moving there after college and working on set. I spent four or five years coming up in the lighting and grip departments. I had studied still photography in college and always liked the visual side of filmmaking.

After a few years working in the industry in New York, I went on to graduate film school. I mostly trained in writing and directing, but because I brought a lighting and photography background, I gravitated to cinematography, shooting dozens of my class mates shorts. These days I’m a director as well, but I will always be a cinematographer; I truly love the craft and it’s in many ways the backbone of filmmaking.

What inspires you artistically?
I’m often driven by wanting to work with a particular artist or filmmaker and will go after projects that have interesting people attached to them.

How do you keep up on new technology?
I’m not the kind of DP that attends gear conferences or anything, and I’ve never wanted to own equipment. I stay on top of it by being as truthful as I can to the story: the story will create a need for a certain type of approach or technique or grammar or style, and if it’s something I haven’t done before I’ll be forced to learn the tech of it. Prep is key, it’s where all that research happens.

Any best practices that you try to follow on each job?
The longer I do this job, the simpler my lighting gets. I also feel a sense of duty to the idea of truth. That may sound amorphous and it can mean a lot of things, but just one example is in lighting. There is truth in lighting the way it is in writing or performance.

Not long ago, I was shooting Pen15, and that’s a great example of this. The creators (also the leads) Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle wrote the show based on their very personal experiences from middle school, and they have an infallible barometer for truth. If anything in the show feels inauthentic, including the lighting — they immediately flag it. I love this. It keeps all of us honest and it’s one reason the show is so good.


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

Stephen Lighthill named president of ASC

The American Society of Cinematographer’s board of governors has once again elected Stephen Lighthill as president of the organization. He previously held the position from 2012 to 2013. The board also voted in VPs Amy Vincent, Bill Bennett and John Simmons; treasurer Levie Isaacks; secretary Gregg Heschong; and sergeant-at-arms David Darby.

Lighthill, who was most recently a VP at the ASC, takes over the reins from outgoing ASC president Kees van Oostrum, who served the maximum four terms and recently was appointed to lead IMAGO, the international federation of cinematographers.

Lighthill assumes his role at an important time in history, as members continue to advocate for equal rights and diversity as well as safe production environments amidst the COVID-19 contagion. “This is a challenging moment for filmmaking in general, and cinematography in particular,” he says. “As an organization, we are making plans to put words into action. Through the work of the Future Practices Committee and Vision Committee, I’m ready to lead our society in responding and in making our work environments safe, equal and diverse.”

Lighthill is currently at the American Film Institute Conservatory as the discipline chair/cinematography, where he’s been a proponent for gender diversity and supported 100 female cinematography graduates during his tenure. He has also long served as an officer on the national executive board of the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG) as well.

Lighthill began his career shooting for San Francisco Bay Area news programs as well as national news shows such as 60 Minutes. He segued into documentary cinematography, working on many films, including Gimme Shelter and Berkeley in the Sixties. The latter was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Audience Award at Sundance.

His narrative credits include such television dramas as Vietnam War Story, Earth 2 and Nash Bridges, among many others. In 2018, Lighthill was honored with the ASC President’s Award. He was also the recipient of the Society of Camera Operators President’s Award in 2000.

The ASC has over 20 committees leading the organization’s various initiatives, including the recently formed Future Practices Committee to assist and advise on COVID-19 safety on set; the Motion Imaging Technology Council (MITC) formed in 2003 to understand technology’s ongoing impact on the imaging chain in a way that best serves the creative interests of filmmakers; the efforts of the Vision Committee to encourage and support the advancement of underrepresented cinematographers, their crews and other filmmakers; regional and international ASC Master Classes taught by members; Clubhouse Conversation discussions with members and filmmakers about highly regarded work; and the activities of the Education & Outreach Committee with film schools.

DP Chat: Defending Jacob’s Jonathan Freeman

When the Apple TV+ crime drama Defending Jacob begins, viewers meet the seemingly perfect Barber family — assistant DA Andy, teacher Laurie and their teenage son, Jacob. Fairly quickly, things start falling apart after a local boy is found murdered in a park, and Jacob becomes the prime suspect.

Jonathan Freeman

Andy and Laurie both lose their jobs, and the family is ostracized as Jacob is presumed guilty before his trial even begins. The series, which stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell, keeps viewers asking, “Did he or didn’t he?” until the very end.

For the most part, Defending Jacob takes place in winter, and the look of the show reflects that cold. To find out more about Defending Jacob’s look, we reached out to the show’s cinematographer, Jonathan Freeman, ASC, (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire) to talk about working with the show’s director, Morten Tyldum, and showrunner Mark Bomback.

The show is set in an affluent suburb of Boston. Where did you shoot?
The series was shot in many of the locations that take place in the story. We were inspired by real locations and had tremendous support by our local crew. The lighting, grip and camera team worked extremely fast, often shooting the rehearsals. We rarely had to shoot a take again for technical reasons. I can honestly say it was one of the best production teams I’ve ever worked with. And our cast was phenomenal. Capturing performance was the most critical aspect of our storytelling.

What cameras did you use, and did you do camera tests?
We used the Panavision XL II. We also tested the Sony Venice and ARRI Alexa LF (both beautiful cameras as well), but the XL II provided the most resolution, which was needed for Apple’s delivery, once the anamorphic image was unsqueezed.

Can you talk about shooting with multiple cameras?
Working on television shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, we had to achieve quite a lot in a short period of time. On GoT we shot only 10-hour days with almost no overtime, so I got used to shooting with multiple cameras. That experience helped me when capturing the scenes in Defending Jacob, which is primarily a character-driven story.

It was important for director Morten Tyldum and I to have as many simultaneously running cameras as possible in order to capture performances. Shooting this without it feeling like conventional television was a challenge because we often wanted the camera to be physically close to the characters; finding a second camera angle when shooting a close-up of an actor was sometimes difficult.

When we were not able to get a strong camera angle for the B camera, they would either pick up a detail of that same performance or prep for the next setup. This leapfrogging helped us immensely, but one key motif we frequently used the B camera for was shooting close-ups, where the camera was just a few inches higher than the character’s eyeline. It created a very intimate feeling — almost as if we were sharing the character’s perspective.

Can you talk about lenses?
These internal close-ups became a critical element in our storytelling. For Morten and me, the optical quality of the glass, the lenses, was paramount. We chose to shoot with anamorphic lenses. Even though we composed for a 2:1 aspect ratio, we wanted the benefits anamorphic provides aesthetically.

Since so much of our storytelling would be close-ups of our actors, anamorphic served three critical aspects. The anamorphic bokeh (out of focus distortion) became a skewed backdrop, a subtle depiction of their deteriorating world. It also smoothed out the inherent crispness of digital cinematography. And, frankly, it just looked more cinematic.

Panavision was extremely helpful in getting us the G series, which are particularly beautiful and unique in character. And Apple was very supportive throughout the process, working with us to ensure we kept the aesthetic vision Morten and I had while also delivering the highest-quality image.

You brought up the characters’ perspectives earlier. Can you expand on that?
Because the story is such an internal piece, Morten wanted the audience to experience the story through the characters’ eyes. We became very committed to POV. We referenced films like Michael Clayton, Mystic River and the films of Bergman and Polanski.

For every scene, we determined whose perspective we wanted to take. So in a scene with Andy, we might have shot with the camera close to him and potentially wrapping around him, over his shoulder, to see the rest of the scene play out from his perspective. We would often take the same approach with Laurie. But the critical difference that Morten wanted to convey was how the audience saw Jacob.

As the story unfolded, we wanted to create an enigma around him, just as the characters in our story start to wonder whether Jacob is guilty or innocent. We maintained a less subjective perspective with Jacob by keeping the camera more distant. If we did occasionally come in for a close-up, it was to capture another beautifully ambiguous performance by our actor playing Jacob, Jaeden Martell. We hoped this approach translated a sense of uncertainty for the audience.

Can you talk about the look and tone?
Mark Bomback’s scripts were so compelling. I read almost the entire eight hours in one sitting. Even though it was set in contemporary Boston, in the most familiar settings, it had a somber, elegiac quality to it — like a requiem. For the look and tone, we were inspired by Nordic paintings and the films of Bergman — a cool, wintery chiaroscuro light. To amplify a sense of isolation, we framed our characters against windows showing the world they were increasingly being separated from. We also shot our characters through layers of glass or partially obscured them from view using architecture, emphasizing their prison.

What about the lighting?
We wanted to take a naturalistic approach but with a slightly heightened reality — slightly expressionistic. So a cold, rainy day might be pushed toward cyan a bit more and the color desaturated. And since much of our storytelling would be conveyed by the performances of our brilliant actors, it was important to capture performance but also reflect that tone in their close-ups. Light might fall off to shadow more dynamically, but it was always critical to retain detail in the eyes of the actors.

Defending Jacob was the first production where I shot almost entirely with LEDs. The advancement of LED lighting has been a game-changer for me. I often use mini dimmer boards, where I can adjust the key and fill light ratio on the fly. This was more challenging when shooting with tungsten — as the light dimmed, the color temperature shifted warmer. Before LED, I wasn’t able to do the dynamic adjustments that I can now. It also means that I feel more comfortable shooting a rehearsal wherein I can adjust to the actors’ positions immediately without disrupting the set by tweaking between takes.

ARRI SkyPanels were the workhorses for our lighting, often bouncing them through book lights or lighting sections of our night exteriors. We also used Litepanels through diffusion as key or fill in tight spaces. My gaffer, Josh Dreyfus, introduced me to Quasar tubes, which became very versatile. We would use them in the standard way one would use tubes for lighting, but Josh and our key grip, Woody Bell, built substantial softboxes made of eight-foot Quasars, which we used instead of 18K HMIs through diffusion in cherry pickers. They weighed slightly less, drew less power, were aesthetically more pleasing, and were fully RGB and dimmable.

Talk about the color workflow.
When setting a look, I like to keep the variables to a minimum. By limiting the LUTs, I feel it helps reduce inconsistency across the workflow. Luckily, I had a fantastic team of people who translated the look that we captured on set down to the final color. DIT Nic Pasquariello and I established a few basic LUTs during testing and tweaked them slightly on set from scene to scene.

Jonathan Freeman

One was slightly cool, another slightly warm, but we made them all denser than the standard Rec. 709. I prefer to have darker LUTs, like rating the ASA of a film stock lower to get more exposure in a negative. This ensures that we were capturing more detail in the shadows, so when we got to the final color, we could “print down” most of the image but still extract information we wanted through power windows.

The workflow was seamless between our on-set look and dailies, which was graded by Rob Bessette from Finish Post in Boston. Rob and Nic were in constant communication, ensuring what we were seeing on set was delivered accurately to the editorial department. They were extremely consistent, which helped us greatly when it came to doing the final color timing with Joe Finley at Chainsaw in LA, with whom I have worked over numerous projects, including Game of Thrones.

Morten has a very strong eye, so for him, having great latitude in the color grade was as important as shooting, which was another reason why a dense capture was critical. One addition to the look that Morten made in post was creating a subtle color adjustment to the cool look we established in the dailies. He added yellow to the highlights, which gave it a gritty, almost aged quality and provided a color contrast to the overall cool tone.

Tales From the Loop DP talks large-format and natural light

By Adrian Pennington

“Not everything in life makes sense,” a woman tells a little girl in the first episode of Amazon’s series Tales From the Loop. Sage advice from any adult to a child, but in this case the pair are both versions of the same character caught in a time-travelling paradox.

Jeff Cronenweth

“This is an adventure with a lot of sci-fi nuances, but the story itself is about humanity,” says Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, who shot the pilot episode for director/producer Mark Romanek. “We are representing the idea that life is little different from the norm. There are time changes that our characters are unaware of, and we wanted the audience’s attention to detail. We didn’t want the visuals to be a distraction.”

Inspired by the retro-futurist paintings of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop gravitates around characters in a rural North American community and the emotional connection some of them feel toward artefacts from a clandestine government facility that litter the landscape.

Rather than going full Stranger Things and having a narrative that inexorably unlocks the dark mysteries of the experimental lab, writer Nathaniel Halpern (Legion) and producer Matt Reeves (director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Batman), construct Tales From the Loop as a series of individual loosely connected short stories.

The tone and pace are different too, as Cronenweth explains. “Simon’s artwork is the foundation for the story, and it elicits a certain emotion, but some of his pieces we felt were overly strong in color or saturated in a way that would overwhelm a live-action piece. Our jumping-off points were his use of light and staging of action, which often depicts rusting, broken-down bipedal robots or buildings located in the background. What is striking is that the people in the paintings — and the characters in our show — treat these objects as a matter of fact of daily life.”

Near the beginning of Episode 1, a young girl runs through woods across snowy ground. Filmed as a continuous shot and edited into two separate shots in the final piece, the child has lost her mother and spends the rest of the story trying to find her. “We can all relate to being 9 years old and finding yourself alone,” Cronenweth explains. “We begin by establishing the scale of the environment. This is flat rural Ohio in the middle of winter.”

Photography took place during early 2019 in southwest Winnipeg in Canada (standing in for Ohio) and in sub-zero temperatures. “Our dilemma was shooting in winter with short daylight hours and at night where it reaches minus 32. Child actors are in 80 percent of scenes and the time you can legally shoot with them is limited to eight hours per day, plus you need weather breaks, or your fingers will break off. The idea of shooting over 10 consecutive nights became problematic. During location scouting, I noticed that the twilight seemed longer than normal and was really very beautiful, so we made the decision to switch our night scenes to magic hour to prolong our shoot time and take advantage of this light.”

He continues, “We had a condor [cherry picker] and lights on standby in case we couldn’t make it. We rehearsed two-camera setups, and once the light was perfect, we shot. It surprised everybody how much we could accomplish in that amount of time.”

Working in low, natural light; maximizing time with child actors and establishing figures isolated in a landscape were among the factors that led to the decision to shoot large-format digital.

Cronenweth drew on his vast experience shooting Red cameras on films for David Fincher, including Gone Girl, The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Cronenweth was Oscar nominated for the latter of those two films. His experience with Red and his preference for lenses led him to the Panavision’s Millennium DXL2 with the Red Monstro 8K VV full-frame sensor, which offers a 46.31 mm (diagonal) canvas and 16 bits of color.

“It was important for us to use a format with 70mm glass and a large-format camera to give scale to the drama on the small screen,” he says.

Another vital consideration was to have great control over depth of field. A set of Primo 70s were mainly for second unit and plate work while Panaspeeds (typically 65mm, 125mm and 200mm) allowed him to shoot at T1.4 (aided by 1st AC Jeff Hammerback).

“The Monstro sensor combined with shooting wide open made depth very shallow in order to make our character more isolated as she tries to find what was taken away from her,” explains Cronenweth. “We also want to be with the characters all the time, so the camera movement is considerable. In telling this story, the camera is fluid, allowing viewers to be more present with the character.”

There is very little Steadicam, but he deployed a variety of technocranes, tracks and vehicles to keep the camera moving. “The camera movement is always very deliberate and tied to the actor.”

Shooting against blinding white snow might have been an issue for older generations of digital sensors, but the Monstro “has so much latitude it can handle high-contrast situations,” says Cronenweth. “We’d shoot exteriors at the beginning or end of the day to mitigate extreme daylight brightness. The quality of light we captured at those times was soft and diffused. That, plus a combination of lens choice, filtration and some manipulation in the DI process, gave us our look.”

Cronenweth was able to draw on his experience working camera on eight pictures for fabled Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, ASC, FSF, (Sleepless in Seattle, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). Other tonal references were the films of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) and Polish genius Krzysztof Kieslowski (notably his 10-hour TV series Dekalog).

“I was motivated by Sven’s style of lighting on this,” he says. “We were trying to get the long shadows, to create drama photographically as much as we could to add weight to the story.”

Cronenweth’s year spent shooting Dragon Tattoo in Sweden also came into play. “The way exteriors should look and how to embrace the natural soft light all came flooding back. From Bergman, Tarkovsky and Kieslowski, we leaned into the ‘Scandinavian’ approach of tempered and methodological filmmaking.”

The color palette is suitably muted: cold blues and greys melding with warm yellows and browns. Cronenweth tuned the footage using the DXL2’s built-in color film LUT, which is tuned to the latest Red IPP2 color processing incorporated in the Monstro sensor.

Cronenweth recalls, “In talking with [Light Iron supervising colorist] Ian Vertovec about the DI for Tales From the Loop, he explained that Light Iron had manufactured that LUT from a combination of work we’d done together on The Social Network and Dragon Tattoo. That was why this particular LUT was so appealing to me in tonality and color for this show — I was already familiar with it!”

“I’ve had the good fortune of working with Jeff Cronenweth on several feature films. This would be the first project that’ve we’ve done together that would be delivering for HDR,” reports Vertovec. “I started building the show LUT using the camera LUT for the DXL2 that I made, but I needed to rebuild it for HDR. I knew we would want to control skin tones from going too ruddy and also keep the green grass from getting to bright and electric. When Jeff came into grade, he asked to increase the contrast a bit and keep the blacks nice and rich.”

The pilot of Tales From the Loop is helmed by Romanek, for whom Cronenweth has worked for over two decades on music videos as well as Romanek’s first feature, One Hour Photo. The remaining episodes of Tales From the Loop were shot by Ole Bratt Birkeland; Luc Montpellier, CSC; and Craig Wrobleski, CSC, for directors So Yong Kim, Andrew Stanton and Jodie Foster, among others.

Tales From the Loop is streaming now on Amazon Prime.


Adrian Pennington is a UK-based journalist, editor and commentator in the film and TV production space. He has co-written a book on stereoscopic 3D and edited several publications.

DP Chat: Cinematographer John Grillo talks Westworld, inspiration

By Randi Altman

HBO’s Westworld ended its third season in early May, and it was quite a ride. There was anarchy, rioting, robots, humans, humans who are really robots, robots who had other robots’ brains. Let’s just say there was a lot going on. This season took many of our characters — including Dolores, Maeve, Bernard and the Man in Black — out of the Westworld park and into the real world, meaning the look of the show needed to feel different.

John Grillo on set

Cinematographer John Grillo has shot eight Westworld episodes spanning Seasons 2 and 3. In fact, he earned an Emmy nomination for his work on Season 2. His resume is full of episodic work and includes TNT’s new series Snowpiercer, The Leftovers and Preacher, among many others.

We reached out to Grillo to find out about his process on Westworld and how he found his way to cinematography.

The most current season of Westworld has completely different locations than in previous years — we are now in the outside world. How did this change the look?
We introduced more LED practical fixtures in both interior and exterior sets. The idea was to create more linear patterns of illumination. Production designer Howard Cummings created sets that incorporated this futuristic motif, whether built on stage or added them to existing locations.

We relied much more on the art department and post VFX to help us eliminate certain elements in the background that would bump against the story. Beyond that, we endeavored to find locations in Los Angeles, Spain and Singapore that either already had a futuristic vibe about them or that we could touch up with VFX. There were some that needed no extra work, like the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, which became Delos Headquarters, and another location in Barcelona called La Fabrica, which used to be a cement factory that architect Ricardo Bofill converted into his offices and living quarters. This would become the character Serac’s home. In the near future, not everything has changed so dramatically, so we focused on key elements like vehicles and buildings.

DP Paul Cameron, who shot the show’s pilot, directed Episode 4 this season, which you shot for him. Tell us about working together on that episode.
I’ve known Paul Cameron for many years and assisted him on a few occasions, most notably on Collateral. I’ve always admired his lighting, so needless to say there was a healthy mix of excitement and fear on my part when I heard I’d be shooting his directorial debut!

I have shot episodic TV for other DP-directors and I’ve been in that situation myself — recently directing episodes for Preacher — so I came in with a new appreciation of how difficult it is to direct.

Working with a fellow cinematographer makes the communication a lot smoother; if he asked me for a specific look or feel we were able to speak in shorthand. He was very respectful of my opinions and let me do my thing, and at the same time I was able to help him like I would any director. He came up with some great ideas that were not in the script, particularly for the opening sequence with Ed Harris. Anybody directing for the first time with actors of the caliber that we have in Westworld would be a nervous wreck, but Paul was very much in control, and we managed to have fun in the process.

What camera was Westworld shot on? What about lenses?
We shot on Kodak 35mm stock with ARRICAM ST and LT, 435 and 235 cameras using ARRI Master Primes serviced from Keslow Camera. They were very helpful in securing HD video taps for us, which were invaluable. We also shot anamorphic sequences with Cooke Anamorphic primes. We did shoot a little bit of digital here and there for wide-angle night exteriors of skylines just to make the buildings pop. For that we used the Sony Venice camera with ARRI Signature Primes. We also used the Rialto extension on the Venice to create a camera rig we mounted on a DJI Ronin-S that we called the Hobo Cam. This allowed us to shoot in the crowded streets of Singapore unnoticed — the idea being that it was a one-man operation with the body of the camera in a backpack and the sensor module mounted on the Ronin. We used Zeiss Super Speeds to keep the weight down.

Tell us about the color grade. How do you work with the colorist?
I worked remotely with Kostas Theodosiou, who was our final colorist at FotoKem. He is new to the show this season, so we had some conversations over the phone early on. I would send reference stills to dailies colorist Jon Rocke after each shoot day in an effort to lock down the look we were going for ahead of time.

We were tweaking as we went along, even retransferring some dailies when we didn’t feel they were right. For me skin tones are very important. We spent a lot of time correcting them. Film is amazing in that respect, but when you transfer it to the digital domain, it takes a lot of know-how from the colorist to dig for them.

You also shot TNT’s new Snowpiercer series. Both shows feature a lot of visual effects. How does that affect your work?
It’s like working with a ghost. You know it’s there, but you can’t see it. I’ve worked with some great VFX artists, so I depend on them to keep me on the right track. Sometimes I affect what they do by suggesting a certain look or vice versa, but it’s all worked out in prep, so usually we are on the same page when it comes time to shoot.

It used to be more complicated when I was coming up in terms of the execution, locking down cameras with 20 C-stands and such. Now they’ve come a long way, and there’s nothing they can’t do. I usually don’t even see their work until the show comes out, so it’s always a pleasant surprise.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
It was by happenstance. My dad is a jazz guitarist, and my mother is a painter. Growing up, I was surrounded by music and painting. There were plenty of art books in my mom’s house in Acapulco, where I was raised, so early on I had an interest in the visual arts.

When I was living in Mexico City, I got a job on an American film that was shooting in town. After working as a PA in various departments, I ended up with the VFX crew, and that was my first time being near a film camera. The assistants began teaching me how to load the old Mitchell and VistaVision cameras, and after principal photography was done, they offered me a job in LA as a loader.

After that I worked as an assistant for many years and was lucky to work for some of the best cinematographers around. What really turned me on to the art of cinematography was discovering the connection to my childhood interests and seeing how certain cinematographers were, in fact, painting with light. Vittorio Storaro, Sven Nykvist, Nestor Almendros and Conrad Hall were channeling Rembrandt, Vermeer and Caravaggio. I began paying more attention to the craft as I continued assisting DPs and then decided to make the leap.

What inspires you artistically?
I draw a lot of inspiration from the other arts. Paintings, photography, music and dance are great tools for learning about color, composition, rhythm and movement. For example, music is very helpful for camera choreography. How slow or how fast the dolly moves or how long a focus rack takes is always linked to the rhythm of a scene, so it becomes a beautiful dance with the actors. That’s why we always talk about beats in a scene like we do with music.

Looking back over the past few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Probably the advent of LED lights. It’s been a game-changer, particularly on tight schedules. Having a dimmer board able to control not just the intensity but also color and angle has freed up time to think about the other dozen things that go into creating an image.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
For me it’s about paying attention. Having your antennas up. Listening to the director. Working on a film is a group effort and I like being involved in the process and want my crew to feel the same way. We spend more time with each other than with our families, so it’s important that everyone is inspired to do their best work but also have fun doing it. The rule is always to serve the story and the director’s vision.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
It all depends on the project. Lately I’ve been impressed with the Sony Venice camera. I love the high ISO setting for low-light scenes. Also, I’ve grown quite dependent on the Astera Titan tubes for lighting. They are like Kino Flos but wireless, battery-powered and color-controlled. They can quickly get you out of a jam.


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

DP Chat: Jeffrey Waldron on Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere

By Randi Altman

Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere stars Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as, well, frenemies? Maybe? It’s hard to describe their relationship, other than a powderkeg covered with a fake smile. From the minute Washington’s Mia, a wandering artist and single mom, pulls into the upper-class Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights and meets Witherspoon’s Elena, an uptight and OCD mother of four, you know the close-knit town won’t ever be the same.

Jeffrey Waldron

Set in the 1990s, this limited series, based on Celeste Ng’s book of the same name, puts a microscope on just-under-the-surface racism combined with your everyday, run-of-the-mill mother’s remorse.

We reached out to DP Jeffrey Waldron to find out about the look of the show and how he worked with his alternating DP Trevor Forrest, the directors and the EPs.

How early did you get involved on the show?
I was brought on with the other DP Trevor Forrest several weeks before principal photography began. We hit it off in an initial meeting that included the pilot director and the executive producers.

Can you talk about the look they wanted for the show?
My initial instincts for the show, based on the book and the first two scripts, turned out to be really in sync with what they’d been discussing. In the early stages we were all bringing visual references to the table and deciding on the overall visual arc of the eight episodes.

Ultimately, the visual ideas we landed on held that the character of Elena represented a sense of order — tight control of her life and family — and that Mia represented chaos. She’s a strong mother and a wandering artist, but there’s a lot we don’t know about her, and that’s where much of the early tension comes from.

Can you talk about the different looks?
Sure. The other key visual idea was the changing of the seasons, from August to December — which we represented through color in lighting and LUTs — warmer to cooler. In the late summer we see warmer highlights and maintain a bit of cyan in the shadows. But as the days grow shorter, they also grow bluer in the shadows, and the lighting becomes darker and more edgy, and the camerawork starts to loosen and become more reactive.

You mentioned the novel earlier. Did the look described in the book translate to the show?
There’s nothing super-specific to the novel that plays a big role in our approach to the look. But I have now done a couple of book adaptations as limited series and I do try to absorb the author’s prose style to see if there is a visual equivalent. The “voice” of the dialogue is most easily brought to life in a script, but the descriptive style of the novel is an interesting place for the cinematographer to look for tonal cues. What’s the tense? Who’s point of view? Is the narrator omniscient? Is it told loosely? Formally? Beautifully? Gritty? I feel that we did bring a sense of this voice to the show’s look — even if subconsciously.

It takes place in the 1990s. How did that affect how you shot it?
The ‘90s played into every aspect inside of the frames — the amazing production design, cars, costumes, hair and makeup — so there wasn’t a huge responsibility for the look of the show to scream 1990s.

That said, the combination of all of these elements and a more neutral, soft, formal style for Elena — especially in the first couple of episodes — does result in an overwhelmingly ‘90s vibe that we start to undo as her life gets tangled up with Mia’s. You’ll start to see darker, moodier, bluer lighting and a more handheld sense in the camera work as the plot thickens!

Where was it shot?
The show is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but we shot in Los Angeles. This brought the challenge of finding locations that looked right for the written scene, but also for the 1990s, and Ohio. As mentioned, the story begins in August but ends in December, so this meant bringing in rain and snow and giant silks to create overcast-feeling skies.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
The DP for Episode 1, Trevor Forrest, and Panavision magician Dan Sasaki had customized a few versions of Panavision’s Sphero 65 primes to differing strengths of flare, veiling glare and diffusion characteristics.

We tested them on the Alexa LF and ended up really loving the heaviest strength — tasking Panavision to create us an extended set. As we ventured into flashback sequences and ultimately the sixth episode, we brought on a mix of Panavision T and C series anamorphic primes to establish a different feel for seeing “memory.”

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of, or ones that you found more challenging?
Every day is truly a challenge on a television schedule — even scenes that don’t look technically difficult can be Herculean to pull off when you see what else has to be shot on the same day.

All of the homecoming dance scenes in the third episode had to be shot in one day. When you consider the size of the space, the amount of extras and the limited hours of the minor actors, it was quite a task. We built two giant soft boxes that we could control on the lighting board allowing us to create contrast by turning sides of the boxes on and off as we moved the camera around the gymnasium. We had a Technocrane that allowed us to move the camera around the gym quite easily. Even if we weren’t using it for a high-angle crane-style shot, we’d use it like a Steadicam for moving masters. These tools definitely help to make the day.

Who did the color grade on the show?
Company 3’s Stefan Sonnenfeld using Blackmagic Resolve.

Now, moving away from the show, how did you become interested in cinematography?
As a kid I was obsessed with animation and wanted to be a hand-drawn animator. In fifth grade I joined an animation club. My mom would drop me off at their studio, you’d pay like $20 a month and you could use their 16mm camera and everything. This got me wanting to know more about film, which led me to still photography and ultimately to live-action film cinematography. I still love animation!

What inspires you artistically?
The work of other great cinematographers in the episodic realm really does inspire me. I know we share limitations of budget and time, and when I see incredibly beautiful and consistent imagery across a show, I’m excited to learn from them. Right now in episodic, it’s Igor Martinovic’s work on The Outsider. I’m also always excited to see whatever Christian Sprenger or Tim Ives is up to.

What about keeping up with new technology?
I’m not the most camera tech-y DP — my world is generally more affected by advances in the lighting realm. A new set of lenses is always interesting to me, but how it affects my work? A super-versatile new lighting instrument is far more likely to help my craft.

What new technology has changed the way you work over the past few years?
The cameras have obviously changed a bit, but these advances don’t usually change the way I work. The Sony Venice has to some extent — the ability to swap NDs so quickly and the dual native ISO, allowing a 2500 base ISO, have impacted how I put scenes together on set.

Lighting instruments like LiteMats, Astera tubes and SkyPanels have probably had the bigger effect on how I work, making it easier (and cooler) to create soft sources, choose colors without the need for gel and dim without affecting color. The ability to dim everything alone is such a game changer versus Kinos and hot lights.

Jeffrey Waldron on set

Care to share some of your best practices?
I have an ever-growing personal list of best practices — many super-specific to situations I’ve found a good solution for in the past or things to avoid. But the big thing for me is starting the day with some personal time at home to journal about the previous day’s work and the work ahead, and taking some deep breaths and thinking about the challenges coming up.

A film set can be a stressful place, so I try to set a calm and fun vibe and let people know I appreciate them. I honestly have so much fun on a film set; it’s long hours, but the time just flies for me. I love my crews, and I love creating with them.

Does your process change at all when working on a film versus an episodic or vice versa?
On a show like Little Fires Everywhere, with alternating DPs, my process is exactly the same as it would be on a feature. You intimately prep with your director, visiting locations together, craft your specific approach; work with your AD to assure the timing makes sense and meet with the production designer to look at plans.

On a show without an alternating DP, it’s quite different. You treat the first episode or episode block like a feature, but then you start shooting… and you’re juggling future episodes as you shoot. You’re generally not visiting locations with the director, instead relying on your crew to help relay the pertinent information. It’s different, it requires a bit more improvisation to pull things together on the day, but I actually love it too.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
The ideal collaboration is one where it quickly becomes apparent that you have similar instincts — this allows you to run with your best and most ambitious ideas, knowing that they’ll be met with a sense of co-ownership and excitement.

With solid pre-production, shared instincts give way to a shorthand on set that just makes things come together more easily and more beautifully. It’s a lot harder when you’re not on the same page. You may read the same scene and have opposite ideas for what it should look like or how the blocking might look or what focal lengths might feel right. In these situations, it’s all about remaining flexible. I’ve had great collaborations with wonderful directors where we weren’t in sync visually, and we did wonderful work by finding a balance, but it’s harder.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I don’t have any go-tos really. I love prime lenses of all sorts — getting to know their inherent strengths and flaws and exploiting them to tell the story is an exciting part of the job. I love ARRI cameras, and I’m also a big fan of Sony’s Venice camera. There isn’t anything I can’t live without camera-wise — I really feel that amazing images can be made on any of the common cameras and lenses that people are using.

I feel there are lighting tools I can’t live without: LiteMats, Astera tubes, SkyPanels — easy tweaks of color, everything is dimmable. It’s truly amazing the extra trouble we used to go through in lighting. I wouldn’t want to go back.


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

DP Chat: The Grudge’s Zachary Galler

By Randi Altman

Being on set is like coming home for New York-based cinematographer Zachary Galler, who as a child would tag along with his father while he directed television and film projects. The younger Galler started in the industry as a lighting technician and quickly worked his way up to shooting various features and series.

His first feature as a cinematographer, The Sleepwalker, premiered at the in 2014 and was later distributed by IFC. His second feature, She’s Lost Control, was awarded the C.I.C.A.E. Award at the Berlin International Film Festival later that year. Other television credits include all eight episodes of Discovery’s scripted series Manhunt: Unabomber, Hulu’s The Act and USA’s Briarpatch (coming in February). He recently completed the feature Nicolas Pesce-directed thriller The Grudge, which stars John Cho and Betty Gilpin and is in theaters now.

Tell us about The Grudge. How early did you get involved in planning, and what direction were you given by the director about the look he wanted?
Nick and I worked together on a movie he directed called Piercing. That was our first collaboration, but we discovered that we had very similar ideas and working styles and we formed a special relationship. Shortly after that project, we started talking about The Grudge, and about a year later we were shooting. We talked a lot about how this movie should feel, and how we could achieve something new and different from something neither of us had done before. We used a lot of look-books and movie references to communicate, so when it came time to shoot we had the visual language down fluently and that allowed us keep each other consistent in execution.

How would you describe the look?
Nick really liked the bleach-bypass look from David Fincher’s Se7en, and I thought about a mix of that and (photographer) Bill Henson. We also knew that we had to differentiate between the different storyline threads in the movie, so we had lots to figure out. One of the threads is darker and looks very yellow, while another is warmer and more classic. Another is slightly more desaturated and darker. We did keep the same bleach-bypass look throughout, but adjusted our color temperature, contrast and saturation accordingly. For a horror movie like this, I really wanted to be able to control where the shadow detail turned into black, because some of our scare scenes relied on that so we made sure to light accordingly, and were able to fine-tune most of that in-camera.

How did you work with the director and colorist to achieve that look?
We worked with FotoKem colorist Kostas Theodosiou (who used Blackmagic Resolve). I was shooting a TV show during the main color pass, so I only got to check in to set looks and approve final color, but Nick and Kostas did a beautiful job. Kostas is a master of contrast control and very tastefully helped us ride that line of where there should be detail and where it should not be detail. He was definitely an important part of the collaboration and helped make the movie better.

Where was it shot and how long was the shoot?
We shot the movie in 35 days in Winnipeg, Canada.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project and why these tools?
Nick decided early on that he wanted to shoot this film anamorphic. Panavision has been an important partner for me on most of my projects, and I knew that I loved their glass. We got a range of different lenses from Panavision Toronto to help us differentiate our storylines — we shot one on T Series, one on Primo anamorphics and one on G Series anamorphics. The Alexa Mini was the camera of choice because of its low light sensitivity and more natural feel.

Now more general questions…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
My father was a director, so I would visit him on set a lot when I was growing up. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do when I was young but I knew that it was being on set. After dropping out of film school, I got a job working in a lighting rental warehouse and started driving trucks and delivering lights to sets in New York. I had always loved taking pictures as a kid and as I worked more and learned more, I realized that what I wanted to do was be a DP. I was very lucky in that I found some great collaborators early on in my career that both pushed me and allowed me to fail. This is the greatest job in the world.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
Artistically, I am inspired by painters, photographers and other DPs. There are so many people doing such amazing work right now. As far as technology is concerned, I’m a bit slow with adopting, as I need to hold something in my hands or see what it does before I adopt it. I have been very lucky to get to work with some great crews, and often a camera assistant, gaffer or key grip will bring something new to the table. I love that type of collaboration.

 

DP Zachary Galler (right) and director Nicolas Pesce on the set of Screen Gems’ The Grudge.

What new technology has changed the way you works?
For some reason, I was resistant to using LUTs for a long time. The Grudge was actually the first time I relied on something that wasn’t close to just plain Rec 709. I always figured that if I could get the 709 feeling good when I got into color I’d be in great shape. Now, I realize how helpful they can be, and that you can push much further. I also think that the Astera LED tubes are amazing. They allow you to do so much so fast and put light in places that would be very hard to do with other traditional lighting units.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I try to be pretty laid back on set, and I can only do that because I’m very picky about who I hire in prep. I try and let people run their departments as much as possible and give them as much information as possible — it’s like cooking, where you try and get the best ingredients and don’t do much to them. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with some great crews over the years.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I really try and keep an open mind about gear. I don’t feel romantically attached to anything, so that I can make the right choices for each project.


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

The 5th annual Art of Cinematography speaker series set for NYC

Manhattan Edit Workshop’s “Sight, Sound & Story: The Art of Cinematography” returns to New York City on November 14, taking place at the NYIT Auditorium Theater on Broadway.

This year’s line-up features cinematographers Dean Cundey, ASC, (Jurassic Park, Halloween, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, Apollo 13), Tom Hurwitz, ASC, (American Dream, Harlan County U.S.A., The Queen of Versailles), Claudia Raschke (RBG, God is the Bigger Elvis) and Tom Houghton, ASC, (Elementary, American Horror Story: Coven, Rescue Me).

Moderators include David Leitner (director/cinematographer), Jim Kamp (producer) and Tony Wisniewski (Zeiss’marketing manager).

Here is the evening’s schedule:

4:15pm – 5:30pm – In The Moment: The Art of Cinematography in Documentary Filmmaking
Panelists: Tom Hurwitz, ASC, Claudia Raschke

5:45pm – 6:45pm – The New Age of TV: Bringing the Look of Cinema to the Small Screen

Panelist: Tom Houghton, ASC

7:00pm – 8:30pm – Behind the Lens: A Conversation with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dean Cundey, ASC

Seating is limited. You can purchase tickets here. Cost includes a ticket to all panels and networking party with an open bar, hors d’oeuvres and sponsored giveaways.

DP Chat: Late Night cinematographer Matthew Clark

Directed by Nisha Ganatra, Amazon Studios’ comedy Late Night stars Emma Thompson as Katherine, a famous talk show host who hires Molly, her first-ever female writer (played by Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay).

Ganatra — whose rich directing background includes Transparent, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fresh Off the Boat and Chutney Popcorn — worked closely with her, DP Matthew Clark. The two were students together at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Clark’s credits include Pitch Perfect 3, Up All Night and 30 Rock, among many others.

Matthew Clark

Clark has said that one of the toughest tasks in shooting comedy is to make it look and feel natural for the audience while allowing the space for them to laugh. “The visuals must have some depth to them but you need to let the actors work things out on screen,” he explains. “That was a big part for this film knowing the way Nisha likes to work. She’s visual but she’s also very actor-oriented, so one of the things I wanted to do was make our technical footprint as small as possible to give the actors room to work and to find those comic moments.”

For Late Night, Clark describes the look as “heightened naturalism.” He created a look book of images from still photographers, including Gregory Crewdson (artificial reality) and Robert Frank (super naturalism). He also worked with Light Iron colorists Corinne Bogdanowicz in Los Angeles and Sean Dunckley in New York to develop the look during prep. “There were three distinct kind of looks we wanted,” describes Clark. “One was for Katherine’s home, which was more elegant with warm tones. The television studio needed to be crisp and clean with more neutral tones. and for the writers’ room office, the look was more chaotic and business-like with blue or cooler tones.”

We recently reached out to Clark with a few questions designed to learn more about his work on the film and his most recent collaboration with Ganatra.

How would you describe the overarching look of the film? What did you and the director want to achieve? You’ve described it as heightened naturalism. Can you expand on that?
Nisha and I wanted a sophisticated look without being too glamorous. We started off looking at the story, the locations and the ideas that go along with placing our characters in those spaces — both physically and emotionally. Comedy is not easy in that regard. It can be easy to go from joke to joke, but if you want something layered and something that lasts in the audience’s mind, you have to ground the film.

So we worked very hard to give Nisha and the actors space to find those moments. It meant less lighting and a more natural approach. We didn’t back away completely though. We still used camera and light to elevate the scenes and accentuate the mood; for example, huge backlight on the stage, massive negative space when we find out about Katherine’s betrayal or a smoke-filled room as Katherine gives up. That’s what I mean by “heightened naturalism.”

How did Ganatra describe the look she wanted?
Nisha and I started going over looks well before prep began. We talked photos and films. Two of our favorites photographers are William Eggleston and Philip-Lorca DiCorsia. So I was ahead of the game when the official prep started. There was a definite shorthand. Because of that, I was able to go to Light Iron in LA and work out some basic looks for the film — overall color, highlights, shadow detail/color, grain, etc. We wanted three distinct looks. The rest would fall into place.

Katherine’s home was elegant and warm. The writers’ office was cool and corporate. The talk show’s studio was crisper and more neutral. As you know, even at that point, it’s just an idea unless you have your camera, lenses, etc.

Can you talk about the tools you chose?
Once prep started, I realized that we would need to shed some weight to accomplish our days due to very few extra days for rigging and the amount of daily company moves. So we went without a generator and took advantage of the 5000 ISO Panasonic VariCam 35 in conjunction some old, beautiful Panavision UltraSpeeds and Super Speeds.

That lens choice came after I sat with Dan Sasaki and told him what I was going for. He knew I was a fan of older lenses having used an old set of Baltars and similar Ultras on my last movie. I think they take the digital edge off of the sensor and can provide beautiful anomalies and flares when used to achieve your look. Anyway, I think he emptied out the closets at the Woodland Hills location and let us test everything. This was very exciting for a DP.

What makes the process a smooth one for you?
I think what got me started, artistic inspiration and rules/process, all stem from the same thing. The story, the telling, the showing and the emotion. The refined and the raw. It sounds simple. but for me, it is true.

Always try to serve the story; don’t get tied to the fancy new thing or the splashy piece of equipment. Just tell the story. Sometimes, those things coincide. But, always tell a story.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I think inspiration for each project comes from many different sources — music, painting, photography, a walk in the afternoon, a sound. That’s very vague, I know, but we have to be open to the world and draw from that. Obviously, it is crucial to spend time with the director — to breathe the same air, so to speak. That’s what puts me on the path and allows me to use the inspirations that fit the film.

Main Image: Matthew Clark and director Nisha Ganatra.

ASC celebrates cinematographers with annual award noms

The nominees for the 32nd Annual ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement were revealed in all categories at a special event staged at the ASC Clubhouse.

In an announcement that drew cheers, Mudbound cinematographer Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated in the feature category. Joining her in the Theatrical Release category were Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049, Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour, Hoyte Van Hoytema for Dunkirk and Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water.

Laustsen was the other first-time nominee for his work on Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water. Deakins, a previous winner of the ASC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, celebrated his 15th nomination in the category. Delbonnel scored his fourth nomination, while Van Hoytema’s work was recognized for the second time.

In the television categories, HBO’s Game of Thrones and Syfy’s 12 Monkeys both received two nominations.

Here’s the complete list of this year’s nominees:

Dunkirk

Theatrical Release

  • Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC for Blade Runner 2049
  • Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC for Darkest Hour
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC for Dunkirk
  • Dan Laustsen, ASC, DFF for The Shape of Water
  • Rachel Morrison, ASC for Mudbound

Spotlight Award
(Recognizing outstanding cinematography in feature-length projects that are screened at festivals, internationally or in limited theatrical release.)

  • Máté Herbai, HSC for On Body and Soul
  • Mikhail Krichman, RGC for Loveless
  • Mart Taniel for November

    The Crown

     

Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television

  • Gonzalo Amat for The Man in the High Castle (“Land O’ Smiles”) on Amazon
  • Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC for The Crown (“Smoke and Mirrors”) on Netflix
  • Robert McLachlan, ASC, CSC for Game of Thrones (“The Spoils of War”) on HBO
  • Gregory Middleton, ASC, CSC for Game of Thrones (“Dragonstone”) on HBO
  • Alasdair Walker for Outlander (“The Battle Joined”) on Starz

 Episode of a Series for Commercial Television

  • Dana Gonzales, ASC for Legion (“Chapter 1”) on FX
  • David Greene, ASC, CSC for 12 Monkeys (“Mother”) on Syfy
  • Kurt Jones for The Originals (“Bag of Cobras”) on The CW
  • Boris Mojsovski, CSC for 12 Monkeys (“Thief”) on Syfy
  • Crescenzo Notarile, ASC for Gotham (“The Executioner”) on Fox

Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television

  • Pepe Avila del Pino for The Deuce pilot on HBO
  • Serge Desrosiers, CSC for Sometimes the Good Kill on Lifetime
  • Mathias Herndl, AAC for Genius (“Chapter 1”) on National Geographic
  • Shelly Johnson, ASC for the Training Day pilot (“Apocalypse Now”) on CBS
  • Christopher Probst, ASC for the Mindhunter pilot on Netflix

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on February 17 in Hollywood, emceed this year by Ben Mankiewicz, a longtime host on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Main Photo: The Shape of Water

DP John Kelleran shoots Hotel Impossible

Director of photography John Kelleran shot season eight of the Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible, a reality show in which struggling hotels receive an extensive makeover by veteran hotel operator and hospitality expert Anthony Melchiorri and team.

Kelleran, who has more than two decades experience shooting reality/documentary projects, called on Panasonic VariCam LT 4K cinema camcorders for this series.

eWorking for New York production company Atlas Media, Kelleran shot a dozen Hotel Impossible hour-long episodes in locations that include Palm Springs, Fire Island, Capes May, Cape Hatteras, Sandusky, Ohio, and Albany, New York. The production, which began last April and wrapped in December 2016, spent five days in each location.

Kelleran liked the VariCam LT’s dual native ISOs of 800/5000. “I tested ISO5000 by shooting in my own basement at night, and had my son illuminated only by a lighter and whatever light was coming through the small basement window, one foot candle at best. The footage showed spectacular light on the boy.”

Kelleran regularly deployed ISO5000 on each episode. “The crux of the show is chasing out problems in dark corners and corridors, which we were able to do like never before. The LT’s extreme low light handling allowed us to work in dark rooms with only motivated light sources like lamps and windows, and absolutely keep the honesty of the narrative.”

Atlas Media is handling the edit, using Avid Media Composer. “We gave post such a solid image that they had to spend very little time or money on color correction, but could rather devote resources to graphics, sound design and more,” concludes Kelleran.

Quick Chat: DP Dejan Georgevich, ASC

By Randi Altman

Long-time cinematographer Dejan Georgevich, ASC, has been working in television, feature film production and commercials for over 35 years. In addition to being on set, Georgevich regularly shares his experience and wisdom as a professor of advanced cinematography at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

Georgevich’s TV credits include the series Mercy, Cupid, Hope & Faith, The Book of Daniel and The Education of Max Bickford. In the world of documentaries, he has worked on HBO’s Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, PBS’ A Wayfarer’s Journey: Listening to Mahler and The Perfumed Road.

One of his most recent projects was as DP on Once in a Lifetime, a 30-minute television pilot about two New Jersey rockers trying to make it in the music business. The show’s musical roots are real — Once in a Lifetime was written by Iron Maiden’s bass player and songwriter, Stephen Harris.

Georgevich, who was in Australia on a job, was kind enough to use some of his down time to answer our questions about shooting, lighting, inspiration and more. Enjoy…

How did you decide TV production and cinematography, in particular, would be your path?
Perhaps it all started when I hauled around a Bell & Howell projector half my size in elementary school, showing films to an assembly of kids transfixed to a giant screen. Working on the stage crew in middle school revealed to me that I was “a fish to water” when it came to lighting.

You work on a variety of projects. How does your process change, if at all, going from a TV spot to a TV series to a documentary, etc.?
Each genre informs the other and has made me a better storyteller. For example, my work in documentaries demands being sensitive to anticipating and capturing the moment. The same skills translate perfectly when shooting dramas, which require making the best choices that visually express the idea, mood and emotion of a scene.

How do you decide what is the right camera for each job? Or do you have a favorite that you use again and again?
I choose a camera that offers the widest dynamic range, renders lovely skin tones, a natural color palette, and is user-friendly and ergonomic in handling. My camera choice will also be influenced by whether the end result will be projected theatrically on a big or small screen.

Once in a Lifetime

You used the Panasonic Varicam 35 on the TV pilot Once in a Lifetime. Why was this the right camera for this project, and was most of the shooting outdoors?
Once in a Lifetime was an independently financed TV pilot, on a tight schedule and budget, requiring a considerable amount of shooting in low-light conditions. This production demanded speed and a limited lighting package because we were shooting on-location night interiors/exteriors, including nightclubs, rooftops, narrow tenement apartments and dimly-lit city streets. Panasonic Varicam 35’s dual ISO of 800 and 5000 provided unbelievable image capture in low-light conditions, rendering rich blacks with no noise!

What were some of the challenges of this project? Since it was a pilot, you were setting a tone for the entire series. How did you go about doing that?
The biggest challenge for me was to “re-educate my eye” working with the Panasonic Varicam 35, which sees more than what my eye sees, especially in darkness. To my eye, a scene would look considerably under-lit at times, but surpringly the picture on the monitor looked organic and well motivated. I was able to light predominately with LEDs and low-wattage lights augmenting the practicals or, in the case of the rooftop, the Manhattan night skyline. House power and/or portable put-put generators were all that was necessary to power the lights.

The pilot’s tone, or look, was achieved using the combination of wide-angle lenses and high-contrast lighting, not only with light and shadow but with evocative primary and secondary colors. This is a comedic story about two young rockers wanting to make it in the music business and their chance meeting with a rock ’n’ roll legend offering that real possibility of fulfilling their dreams.

How did you work with the DIT on this project, and on projects in general?
I always prefer and request a DIT on my projects. I see my role as the “guardian of the image,” and having a DIT helps preserve my original intent in creating the look of the show. In other words, with the help of my DIT, I like to control the look as much as possible in-camera during production. I was very fortunate to have Dave Satin as my DIT on the pilot — we have worked together for many years — and it’s very much like a visual  pitcher/catcher-type of creative relationship. What’s more, he’s my second set of eyes and technical insurance against any potential digital disaster.

Can you talk about lighting? If you could share one bit of wisdom about lighting, what would it be?
As with anything to do with the arts, I believe that lighting should be seamless. Don’t wear it on your sleeve. Keep it simple… less is best! Direction of light is important as it best describes a story’s soul and character.

What about working with colorists after the shoot. Do you do much of that?
As a DP, I believe it’s critically important that we are active participants in post color correction. I enjoy outstanding collaborations with some of the top colorists in the business. In order to preserve the original intent of our image we, as directors of photography, must be the guiding hand through all phases of the workflow. Today, with the advent of digital image capture, the cinematographer must battle against too many entities that threaten to change our images into something other than what was originally intended.

What inspires you? Fine art? Photography?
I make it a point to get my “creative fix” by visiting art museums as often as possible. I’m inspired by the works of the Grand Master painters and photographers — the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio, Georges de la Tour, Edward Hooper, Henri Cartier Bresson, William Eggelston — too many to name!  Recreating the world through light and perspective is magical and a necessary reminder of what makes us alive!

What haven’t I asked that you feel is important to talk about?
We’re currently experiencing a digital revolution that is being matched by an emerging revolution in lighting (i.e. LED technology). The tools will always change, but it’s our craft reflecting the heart and mind that remains constant and so important.

Checking in with DP Timur Civan

By Randi Altman

New York City born and raised, Timur Civan’s path to becoming a director of photography started with his background in fine art, something he studied in school and something that still influences his work… but that path wasn’t exactly planned.

“I fell into cinematography by accident,” he explains. “I had been working on a series of sculptures that had video elements in them. Through a bit of luck, someone noticed what I had been working on. So with zero experience, I wound up DP-ing a commercial for an ad agency as my first film job. The day we finished, I was asked to work on another shoot the following week.”

Things just took off from there and within a month he was a full-time director of photography. As a DP, Civan (@timurcivan) mainly focuses on spot and feature films but welcomes the opportunity to work Continue reading