The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Television
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Rodney Charters, ASC, CSC
Curtis Clark, ASC
Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up

For the final grade at FotoKem, Ruiz-Anchia worked with colorist John Daro, and he made an unusual request. Daro recalls, “Because the target deliverable was a broadcast master, we started working off the plasma monitor, but then Juan asked if that would match a digital-cinema projection. I explained that for a DCP, we work at 14 foot-lamberts, and the plasma display was pumping out 30 foot-lamberts. Juan asked us to make them match. By running the bulb close to 100 percent and scaling the screen size a little bit, I was able to achieve 28.5 foot-lamberts on our NEC 800c projector. After calibrating the primaries, the plasma and the projector matched closely.”

Daro adds that the manipulation of the images with shapes and keys under Ruiz-Anchia’s direction was, in his view, crucial. “Including the base grade, most shots had at least three layers of color or beauty work,” he notes. “On a few occasions, I wasn’t sure how the final result was going to look, but after a few shapes and a lot of shadow, I was always very impressed by the images we turned out. One example is a shot of Baden inside Spector’s house. Helen was frontlit, and there was a cooler fill. We took a very hard edge shape and knocked half of her face into shadow. This gave the feeling she was hiding, one of the few to witness Spector’s eccentricities.”

“Phil Spector was the first time David and I worked together on a television project, and it was our first digital collaboration as well,” says Ruiz-Anchia, who last teamed with Mamet on Spartan (2004). “It was a different challenge for us, and I think it marked an evolution in our understanding of the craft.”

 — Michael Goldman  

Californication (Showtime)

Cinematographer: Michael Weaver, ASC

“...[I’m] never really all that interested, but I find myself telling her how beautiful she is anyway ’cause it’s true — all women are in one way or another. You know, there’s always something about every damn one of you. There’s a smile, a curve, a secret. You ladies really are the most amazing creatures. My life’s work. But then there’s the morning after, the hangover, and the realization that I’m not quite as available as I thought I was the night before. And then she’s gone, and I’m haunted by yet another road not taken.”

The half-hour dramedy Californication, which recently kicked off its sixth season on Showtime, might be subtitled The Tao of Hank Moody thanks to its emphasis on its main character’s state of mind. Created by Tom Kapinos, the show stars David Duchovny as Moody, a best-selling author who plunges into the depths of writer’s block and escapes into womanizing, alcohol and drugs. As he stumbles from one sexual encounter to the next, he tries, with sporadic success, to maintain good relations with a significant ex, Karen (Natascha McElhone), and their sullen daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin).    

Michael Weaver, ASC, who won an ASC Award last year for his work on Californication, has been the series’ director of photography from the beginning. (Peter Levy, ASC shot the pilot.) Weaver started in the industry in an unusual way: as a paid intern for aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. “The options were to go into the news station and work as a runner, or go someplace like Lockheed and jump right into shooting,” recalls Weaver. “After I spent a summer interning, they hired me as a full-time cinematographer, and I was constantly out shooting. It was great, really. I had a whole studio and lab at my disposal, and I could go in and test anything. It was a phenomenal education. I did that for a few years and then came to Los Angeles in hopes of being a cameraman. I was hired as a gaffer and ended up working as a gaffer for 14 years. But all the while, I was shooting low-budget films and commercials and doing second-unit cinematography when I could.”

While gaffing for Levie Isaacks, ASC on Malcolm in the Middle, Weaver got the opportunity to step up to cinematographer when Isaacks offered him the chance. Subsequently, producer/director Barry Sonnenfeld saw an episode Weaver shot and hired him to shoot the ABC series Notes from the Underbelly. Sonnenfeld then brought Weaver onto Pushing Daisies. When the unit production manager on that show, Lou Fusaro, moved over to Showtime to produce a new series called Californication, he wanted to bring Weaver along. “Showtime was a bit hesitant because I was a pretty big unknown at the time, but Lou fought for me, and I got the gig,” says Weaver.

“I think of Californication as a comedy, but the visuals are always cued by the dramatic aspects of David’s character,” Weaver continues. “It’s about what Moody is going through. If his mood is light and funny, that’s the direction we go visually; if his mood is dark and lonely, that’s what sets the overall look. Every episode really has its own look and style based on what he is experiencing.”

Each episode is shot in five days mainly on location in and around Los Angeles. (The current season also involved work in New York.) “We’re a location-heavy show — we’re usually out two or three days a week,” says Weaver. “We have a standing set or two, but that’s it. We have a warehouse stage, not like a big studio, so we have to deal with limited ceiling heights. We don’t have perms in there, so basically we’re rigging right to the roof and there’s not a lot of room to work with. We have specially-made space lights that are shorter than normal so we can fit them in there. We really use the sets a lot more like practical locations with hard ceilings and lighting with a lot of practical fixtures — it forces me to approach our stage work pretty much the same as location work, mostly from the floor.”

Over the course of six seasons, the production has run the gamut of digital capture, starting with the Sony HDW-F900 and then moving on to the Sony F23, the Panavision Genesis, the Sony F35 and the Arri Alexa, which has been the main camera for the past three seasons. “HD cameras have certainly evolved, and I’ve been able to play with a lot of them,” says Weaver. “That first year of HD was really frustrating. The F900 was top-of-the-line at that time, but it had significant contrast issues, and we spent a good deal of that season shooting in a glass house! The contrast problems got better with the Genesis and the F35, but the Alexa has brought us so much closer to [the capabilities] of film. We can look out a window and know that the highlights out there are going to carry — we don’t have to bring up the interior 3 stops to match! The Alexa is also a big improvement in terms of handheld and Steadicam operating. It’s really the closest thing I’ve seen to a film camera in the digital world.”

Alexa footage is captured to SxS cards in ProRes 4:4:4. “We don’t use any look-up tables,” notes Weaver. “We just shoot it the way it is and send it off to [colorist] Tom Overton at Keep Me Posted. Tom has been our colorist from the beginning, and he has a great feel for what I like to do.” The production also shoots some 16mm (with a Bolex) for the show’s interstitials, dream sequences, fantasies and flashbacks, which are “a lot of fun to shoot,” adds Weaver.

 

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