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Setting the visual tone for ABC’s ‘Madoff’

Bernie Madoff, one of the most hated men on earth thanks to his massive Ponzi scheme, was recently the focus of a four-part ABC miniseries called, simply, Madoff.

Technicolor PostWorks New York colorist Anthony Raffaele worked directly with Madoff cinematographer Frankie DeMarco in finalizing a look of the series, which captures the big money atmosphere of Wall Street in the 1990s and 2000s.

 Directed by Raymond De Felitta, Madoff is told from the perspective of its title character (Richard Dreyfuss) and portrays his schemes to defraud investors and meticulous efforts to keep the truth about his activities hidden from the public and his family.

DeMarco shot the show with an Arri Alexa camera and used vintage Cooke Speed Panchro lenses to give the imagery a filmic look indicative of its time period. He also shot Super 16 and Super 8 film for Madoff’s childhood sequence.

“It’s a character-driven story told from one person’s point of view,” DeMarco recalls. “So, I didn’t want it looking too sharp or crisp. I used the vintage Cooke Speed Panchro lenses to give the movie a more round, human feel.”

Much of the action shifts between the 19th floor of the Lipstick Building in Midtown Manhattan, which housed the offices of Madoff’s investment firm, and a small boiler room operation on the 17th floor — this was hidden from all but a few insiders and is where the dirty work of the fraud scheme was carried out.

 The different atmospheres of these two settings are subtly reinforced through cinematography, lighting and color correction. “Everything that occurs on the 19th floor has a polished, crisp, business feel that’s accented by cooler tones,” says Raffaele, who uses a FilmLight Baselight. “Downstairs, where the fraud occurs, the look is contrasted by a softer, diffused look accented with uncomfortable colors like yellow and green.”

During final grading sessions, DeMarco and Raffaele collaborated remotely. DeMarco was in London working on another project, so Raffaele sent him materials each day that he could review on an iPad. “We had good control over the lighting on the set, so the color was very close when Anthony got it,” DeMarco says. “He did a lovely job of punching up things and fine tuning. He has a great eye and got what I wanted from the get-go.”

As the story progresses and Madoff’s scheme unravels, the look becomes progressively darker. Especially bleak are scenes set in Madoff’s jail cell, where the greenish overtones aAnthony Raffaele re pronounced. A different color treatment was applied to the dreamlike sequences representing Madoff’s thoughts, as he imagines what lies ahead when the truth about his activities comes out.

“Bernie’s visions have a high contrast look, which set them off as something that’s going on inside his head and give them an uncomfortable feel,” Raffaele explains.

Overall, DeMarco says Madoff does a great job of pulling viewers into its antagonist’s inner world. That, he notes, was the product of many factors, beginning with director De Felitta’s strong vision and Dreyfuss’ inspired performance. “There was a very collegial rapport on the set where everyone contributed ideas,” he explains. “It was a real treat to work with Richard Dreyfuss.”

DeMarco adds that the collaborative spirit carried through to post production. “I talked with Anthony before the shoot so we were already on the same page when we reached post — he took that ball and ran with it. It’s a sprawling movie — covering more than 15 years —but it had limited locations, so once we set a look, we were able to carry it through all four episodes.”

 


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