The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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2012 Television
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In certain situations, the crew also made use of old lightbulbs to lend an authentic feel to these early days of domestic electricity. “The most interesting bulb changing we did was actually on the kitchen set at Ealing,” says Struthers. “Phil got hold of some period bulbs that were beautiful, huge glass things with thick filaments that produced a really warm light. They made me think that early electricity must have looked pretty warm, so I made anything that was lit by the new electric lights [look] a lot warmer than the electric fixtures we saw in series one.” Brookes says he remembered the period bulbs from a previous shoot, and dug them out of the “specials” box at Panalux. “The filament is huge and is strung back and forth all the way around the glass envelope,” he says. “Nowadays they use a coil construction, so filaments are a lot smaller; you can tell a modern bulb because it’s a very point source to your eye. These period bulbs are perhaps only 60-100 watts, but as the filament is so long, they don’t burn out as much on camera. I only had a few, so we couldn’t use them everywhere, but the kitchen was a good place because the bottom of the bulbs would protrude below some of the glass shades and into shot. They looked really good. Most people don’t notice such things, but Gavin and I liked it.” For the time during which Downton Abbey serves as a hospital, Struthers wanted a cooler, more austere look. “The house is a character in the show, so it had to have a character arc,” he says. “We wanted the house to initially feel relatively similar to the first series, and then, as the war starts to filter in, we wanted to strip away the veneer of grandeur before restoring it for the later episodes.” It was not Struthers who shot 
the two episodes for which this cooler look was intended, but David Marsh. (A third cinematographer, Nigel Willoughby, BSC, was on second unit and also shot the finale, which aired in the U.K. as a Christmas special.) Marsh had shot a couple of episodes in the first series and was able to share his experiences with Struthers. “It was very collaborative,” says Marsh. “Gavin and I agreed that the general feeling for my episodes would be much busier and bleaker. The woman who owns Highclere told us that the house really had been used as a convalescent home in World War I, so it was exciting to re-create something that had actually occurred in that place.” Scenes set in the trenches on the Western Front were limited in number, but Struthers relished the opportunity to do something different and gave a lot of thought to his approach. “We wanted a look that would feel horrific but also sit in the world of Downton, so I spent quite a while grading stills in Photoshop [for the colorist’s reference]. We ended up with a yellowy-khaki feel, but with a coldness, a tiny bit of blue in the blacks.” The camerawork had to put the audience on the battlefield and also achieve continuity between exteriors and bunker scenes. “I came up with a rough design and asked one of my camera assistants, Scott Rodgers, to create what we called a ‘Wobbleator,’ which was basically a motorized, rotating weight,” says Struthers. “We put them on both cameras, and whenever an explosion went off, a little button was pressed that made the camera wobble so the operator had to fight to control the frame. It’s quite an old trick, but that judder at the moment of an explosion really helped to sell the experience of being in the trenches.”  — Mark Hope-Jones
The Walking Dead
Cinematographers: David Boyd, ASC and Rohn Schmidt
On the surface, AMC’s The Walking Dead seems like zombie apocalypse stories we’ve seen before: a small, scrappy group of survivors, in this case led by small-town sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), struggles through the aftermath of a mysterious worldwide pandemic that causes the dead to rise as “walkers.”  At the heart of the rotting flesh and pulpy horror is a story about the strength of the human spirit, and series cinematographer David Boyd, ASC believes that’s the key to the franchise’s success. “My interest in The Walking Dead lies in seeing how the human spirit responds to a brave, new world — how we all adapt to weather the times,” he says. The show’s pilot was shot in and around Atlanta, GA, by David Tattersall, BSC; Boyd shot the first season as well as some of the second, which were also based in Atlanta. Boyd theorizes that his work on NBC’s Friday Night Lights helped him land the job; he shot that show in Super 16mm with multiple cameras, and The Walking Dead’s original showrunner, Frank Darabont, wanted the same thing. The Walking Dead uses Panavised Arri 416 cameras, rented from Panavision offices in Dallas and Atlanta, and mainly two Kodak Vision3 negatives, 250D 7207 (for most day exteriors) and 500T 7219 (for most interiors and night work). “Shooting 16mm was a fantastic choice in terms of what it enables us to achieve, and the pace of the shoot is a perfect fit for the Arri 416,” says Boyd. “The camera is small and light; it moves fast; it’s totally self-contained; and it can handle all the accessories that are necessary for a good photographic outcome. “With a Canon 10.6-180mm zoom on each body, we can move these cameras around freely at no cost in terms of production time, even between takes,” he continues. “The compulsory shots can be accomplished with speed, leaving time to do the unique shots that help make the show visually interesting. The production benefits greatly from the ease of use the 416s give us. Shooting 16mm easily buys us an hour-and-a-half a day in production time, maybe more, compared to any other format.” As part of his prep for the series, Boyd delved into the comic books that inspired the show. “The illustrations convey what the characters are thinking as well as what they’re saying,” he notes. “My goal was to construct a method of shooting that would do justice to some pretty brilliant thinking on the parts of [comic-book creators] Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.” This method was greatly influenced by Boyd’s experiences as a documentary filmmaker in the 1980s. “I’m so glad I had that early experience,” he remarks. “Every chromosome is trained to size up a scene fast and start shooting.” On The Walking Dead, he scrupulously avoided complex lighting setups, indoors and out, in favor of natural light and practical motivation. The primary camera crew — operators Mike Satrazemis, Chris Jones and Glen Brown (the latter two on Steadicam); 1st ACs David Galbraith and Bruce Robinson; and 2nd ACs Matt McGinn and Angela Holford — average 70 to 80 shots a day. At the end of the first season, film loader Tracy Minnis tallied about 2,000 rolls between A and B cameras, including short ends and reloads.

The story’s decaying urban environments and rural, wooded areas are well suited for handheld and tripod work, and a single grip was assigned to each camera team, providing the operators and camera assistants with support wherever they went. “Crane moves are rare, but our great dolly grips, Frank Boone and Mike Besaw, were very busy, often putting dolly runs in the woods where it seemed impossible,” says Boyd. “Handheld or not, we were stretched out on the lens so the camera was farther away from the actors. It makes them feel more trapped, and it allows me and the directors to play with different depths of field.”  The show’s roster of directors includes Ernest Dickerson, ASC, whose directorial credits include episodes of Dexter, The Wire and Treme. As might be expected from a former cinematographer, Dickerson maintains a close relationship with the camera department. “I rely on the camera as our primary storytelling tool, so I am pretty clear with the operators about how I want a shot framed,” he says, noting that he was often looking over Boyd’s shoulder as the setups came together.  “I do my work near the cameras, and I encourage all of our directors to get out from behind the monitor and participate,” says Boyd. “Good things happen when there’s a director close to the camera.” In lieu of a video village, the directors use three 5" standard-definition monitors attached to a “mobile board” equipped with video receivers.  Boyd also used his proximity to the camera to gauge filtration and T-stops, freeing the first assistants to concentrate on pulling focus. For day exteriors, ND filters were stacked to achieve a more selective depth-of-field. At dawn or in the late afternoon, Boyd corrected the 7219 500T with a Tiffen 81EF filter. “It’s what I use with tungsten film to bias it toward the cool side,” he says. “It gets you to that early dawn/magic hour look quite nicely.” For each season so far, the production has spent six months shooting on location in Georgia, usually in sweltering heat. The grip team is often using its equipment to shield the actors from the sun as well as control the natural sunlight. “Almost all of our day exteriors have been done in available light,” says Boyd. “I’d get by with a 12-by Griffolyn or UltraBounce — something soft that put a bit of light in the actors’ eyes. If we were working underneath a tree, I’d consider putting a light up, but if I did, it would be a 4K HMI. We used 18Ks for wide fills. “The show works best when it looks rough, because it portrays a dangerous world,” he adds. “From time to time, I had to stop myself from making it look better!” In the show’s second season, the survivors took refuge in a secluded farmhouse, much to the dismay of its secretive landlord, Herschel Greene (Scott Walker). For these scenes, the production rented a farmhouse property in Henry County, Ga., which served as the show’s base of operations for the entire season. For day scenes in the farmhouse that called for bright sun outside, “I’d try to get big lights outside the window, usually Nine-light Maxi-Brutes with narrow Firestarter [1.2K tungsten Par 64] bulbs,” says Boyd. “When you bring them in through a window, it’s good sunlight.” Night interiors relied mainly on practicals and a bit of augmentation in the form of Master Blasters and Barger Baglites with fairly directional hard grids. Night exteriors were often lit with 18Ks, 12K Pars and Nine-light Maxis placed deep in the background, freeing the cameras to capture the maximum number of angles. Small units — 400-watt and 800-watt Jokers and individual 1.2K Firestarter Par cans — were kept nearby to “put a kiss of light into the world and the actors’ faces,” says Boyd. “I can get lights up faster than the actors can get ready,” he adds. “Night exteriors require a bit of planning, but by the time the company arrives we’re ready to shoot.” Boyd moved into the director’s chair for “Secrets,” the sixth episode of season two, and Rohn Schmidt took over the cinematography duties, which he then assumed for the rest of the season. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Schmidt says of his approach to the show. “David left some big shoes to fill, and there were a few areas where our tastes were different, but those were handled in an evolutionary way.” Schmidt recalls that when he interviewed for the job, he received two notes from Darabont and executive producer/head writer Glen Mazzara, who had both previously worked with him on The Shield. “They didn’t want to do a lot of handheld, and they wanted the style to be very cinematic,” says Schmidt. “With this show, shots evolve and play without a lot of editing,” he continues. “We were almost never just on sticks; we had a lot of very carefully designed dolly and crane shots.” Schmidt introduced more prime lenses into the show’s visual vocabulary, favoring wide Zeiss Compact Primes. “Primes really force you to commit to the shot,” he observes. In the climactic midseason episode, “Pretty Much Dead Already,” a swarm of walkers was discovered in Herschel’s barn, and Rick’s group grimly put them down in a hail of gunfire. The walker effects, designed by executive producer Greg Nicotero’s KNB Efx, were largely practical, but shots portraying physical trauma were accomplished digitally by a team at Stargate Studios led by visual-effects supervisor Victor Scalise.  Greenscreen backings and bodysuits helped Stargate artists key out portions of the frame. Shots that needed to be rescaled were shot on 35mm film, and lens, camera position and T-stop were recorded, “but we were not encouraged to lock the camera off that much,” says Schmidt. “Shooting on zoom lenses, dollying and handheld were all fine with Victor.” For both seasons of the show, Atlanta post house Cinefilm processed the negative, and Crawford Media (also in Atlanta) created the HD dailies. (Colorist Steve Johnson handled season one; David Cardinale handled season two.) The final color timing was done at the Burbank facility Modern VideoFilm by colorist Dan Judy. Once season two was in the can, Boyd moved on to other projects, but Schmidt says he is likely to return for season three. “I remember Frank [Darabont] saying, ‘Just finish the year — you’ll like it so much you’ll want to come back,’” he recalls. “And he was right! The producers, the network, the cast and the crew made it a decidedlysatisfying experience, and I’m really looking forward to next season.”   — Iain Stasukevich  

 

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