While ABC recently cancelled freshman series Whiskey Cavalier, their on-set workflow is an interesting story to tell. The will-they-won’t-they drama featured FBI agent Will Chase (Scott Foley) and CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge (Lauren Cohan) — his codename is Whiskey Cavalier and hers is Fiery Tribune. The two lead an inter-agency team of spies who travel all over the world, periodically saving the world and each other, all while navigating friendship, romance and office politics.
Like many episodic television shows, Whiskey Cavalier used two cinematographers who alternated episodes so that the directors could work side-by-side with a cinematographer while prepping. David “Moxy” Moxness, CSC, ASC, shot the pilot. Moxness had previously worked on shows like Lethal Weapon, Fringe and Smallville and was just finishing another show when Warner Bros. sent him the pilot script.
“I liked it and took a meeting with director Peter Atencio,” explains Moxness. “We had a great meeting and seemed to be on the same page creatively. For me, it’s so much about collaborating on good shows with great people. Whiskey gave me that feeling.” Sid Sidell, ASC, a friend and colleague of Moxness’, was brought on as the second DP.
While Whiskey Cavalier’s plot has its two main characters traveling all over the world, principal photography took place in Prague. Neither cinematographer had worked there previously, although Moxness had passed through on vacation years before. While prepping and shooting the pilot, Moxness developed the look of the show with director Atencio. “Peter and I had the idea of using the color red when our lead character Will Chase was conflicted emotionally to trigger an emotional response for him,” he explains. “This was a combo platter of set dressing, costumes and lighting. We were very precise about not having the color red in frame other than these times. Also, when the team was on a mission, we kept to a cooler palette while their home base, New York, used warmer tones.”
This didn’t always prove to be straightforward. “You still have to adjust to location surroundings — when scouting for the pilot, I realized Prague still had mostly sodium vapor streetlights, which are not often seen in America anymore,” explains Moxness. “This color was completely opposite to what Peter and I had discussed regarding our nighttime palette, and we had a big car chase over a few nights and in different areas. I knew time and resources would in no way allow us to change or adjust this, and that I would have to work backwards from the existing tones. Peter agreed and we reworked that into our game. For our flashbacks, I shot 35mm 4-perf film with an ARRI IIC hand-cranked camera and Kowa lenses. That was fun! We continued all of these techniques and looks during the series.”
Mission, a UK-based DIT/digital services provider serving Europe, was brought on to work beside the cinematographers. Mission has an ever-expanding roster of DITs and digital dailies lab operators and works with cinematographers from preproduction onward, safeguarding their color decisions as a project moves from production into post.
Moxness and Sidell hadn’t worked with Mission before, but a colleague of Moxness’ had spoken to him about the experience of working with Mission on a project the year before. This intrigued Moxness, so he was waiting for a chance to work with them.
“When Whiskey chose to shoot in Prague I immediately reached out to Mission’s managing director, Mark Purvis,” explains Moxness. “Mark was enthusiastic about setting us up on Whiskey. After a few conversations to get to know each other, Mark suggested DIT Nick Everett. Nick couldn’t have been a better match for me and our show.”
Interestingly, Sidell had often worked without a DIT before his time on Whiskey Cavalier. He says, “My thoughts on the DP/DIT relationship changed drastically on Whiskey Cavalier. By choice, before Whiskey, I did the majority of my work without a DIT. The opportunity to work alongside Nick Everett and his Mission system changed my view of the creative possibilities of working with a DIT.”
Whiskey Cavalier was shot with the ARRI Alexa Mini and primarily ARRI Master Prime lenses with a few Angenieux zooms. Both Moxness and Sidell had worked with the Mini numerous times before, finding it ideal for episodic television. The post workflow was simple. On set, Everett used Pomfort’s LiveGrade to set the look desired by the cinematographers. Final color was done at Picture Shop in Los Angeles by senior colorist George Manno.
“There are a few inherent factors shooting episodic television that can, and often do, handcuff the DP with regards to maintaining their intended look,” says Moxness. “The shooting pace is very fast, and it is not uncommon for editorial, final color and sometimes even dailies to happen far away from the shooting location. Working with a properly trained and knowledgeable DIT allows the DP to create a desired look and get it into and down the post pipeline to maintain that look. Without a proper solid roadmap, others start to input their subjective vision, which likely doesn’t match that of the DP. When shooting, I feel a strong responsibility to put my thumbprint on the work as I was hired to do. If not, then why was I chosen over others?”
Since successfully working on Whiskey Cavalier in Prague, Mission has set up a local office in Prague, led by Mirek Sochor and dedicated to Mission’s expansion into Central Europe.
And Moxness will be heading back to Prague to shoot Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.