“We’re pretty light on lenses,” he continues. “We rely on Angenieux Lightweight Optimo zooms most of the time because at least half of every episode involves handheld or Steadicam. Apart from that, we carry a few Cooke S4 primes: 75mm, 100mm and 150mm. We use 12:1 [24-290mm] Optimos when we’re in studio mode. That’s about it. I tend to migrate to the long end of the zoom for the more intimate moments compressing the foreground to background, and for the more comedic moments, I go wider and put the camera closer to the action. But we don’t hold too fast to those rules. I try to avoid being formulaic and really just reach for what best represents Hank’s mood at that moment.”
His lighting for Californication doesn’t involve a lot of gags or elaborate setups. “I try to keep it simple. We use a lot of Kino Flos, especially Image 80s, and we use a lot of 18Ks or 20Ks through windows. We have a lot of very beautiful people on the show, which makes that part of the job a lot easier. Natascha McElhone is probably the only one I take a different approach to, and that’s because Moody keeps Karen high on a pedestal. To accentuate that, we try to treat her with a little more old-school glamour lighting, something square between the eyes. David is a real movie star and can take any type of lighting; bounce a light off the floor, and he looks great.”
Weaver has collaborated with his key crew on Californication, including A-camera operator Andy Graham, B-camera operator Tim Bellen and key grip Vidal Cohen, for many years. He adds, “I worked with gaffer David Morton for the first five seasons of the show, until he retired, and Frank Jacobellis joined me for season six. We’re a pretty tight-knit crew.”
Last season’s ASC Award-winning episode, “Suicide Solution,” was directed by Duchovny. “David and I work well together — we finish each other’s sentences like an old married couple,” says Weaver. “He is a very visual director, and he comes in with a great game plan. There’s a dream sequence in that episode where Moody is writing a letter to his daughter, and we mixed 16mm, HD, black-and-white and color to create it. We mounted a Canon [EOS] 7D to David’s body to get that kind of surreal feeling. It was a lot of fun.”
Weaver has also taken his own turn in the director’s chair, so far for four episodes. “I can’t say that directing is a career transition for me, because I really love being a cinematographer. Directing means putting on a different creative cap and approaching storytelling from a different direction, and I think that strengthens me as a cinematographer.”
— Jay Holben
Chicago Fire (NBC)
Cinematographer: Lisa Wiegand
“I’m a real believer that the best fire effect is fire itself,” says Lisa Wiegand, director of photography on Chicago Fire, a series about the firefighters and rescue personnel of Chicago Firehouse 51. Created by Dick Wolf, the NBC series places a high premium on authenticity, and this is reflected in its locations, its vérité-inflected camerawork and its conflagrations, which are ignited on a burn stage at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.
“I have to say, this is the most challenging show I’ve ever done,” says Wiegand, who had just finished shooting in a fierce December blizzard when she spoke to AC. (“That was brutal, but it’s important for people to realize we’re not shooting San Bernardino for Chicago,” she notes.) She was brought aboard Chicago Fire by pilot director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, with whom she had worked on the series Detroit 1-8-7 (AC March ’11), and she has shot all episodes of the series so far.
Wolf issued several commandments to the creative team. The first: Make the city a character. The second: Never get ahead of your characters. “It’s easy for a director who’s new to the show to suggest we place the cameras in one location and have all the trucks drive up [to it],” says Wiegand. “I have to remind them that we have to be in the trucks with the guys instead. That’s not easy; it takes more time to arrive with the characters. But it ups the dramatic stakes, because these guys never know what they’re in for when they arrive at a scene.”
To enhance her own understanding of what firefighters encounter and how fires behave, Wiegand obsessively watches videos of fires. Some are provided by the production’s technical adviser, Steve Chikerotis, a battalion chief on Chicago’s South Side. Others she finds on YouTube, recorded by firefighters wearing helmet cameras who use them as learning tools.
The first lesson they provided, she says, is that fire produces a lot of thick, black smoke that makes visibility nil. That’s not good for television, where audiences need to see the actors’ faces. Since the show’s inception, the production team has been on a quest to perfect ways of making the fire scenes credible while keeping the acting legible. They tested fire, smoke and fuel. “Propylene is really beautiful when you burn it or make a fireball,” Wiegand says. “It’s got a lot of texture and creates black smoke within the fireball itself, but it’s dirty. Propane is cleaner and burns easier, so it’s safer, but when you expose it, [the highlights] tend to burn out a lot quicker because it doesn’t have those black elements.”
Fortunately, the Arri Alexa has the latitude to capture fire detail, even in the most intense fireballs. (That’s not the case with the Canon EOS 5D and 7D DSLRs, which are used only for stunts that don’t involve fire and for car mounts.) The production typically shoots with two Alexas and carries a third for explosions and Technocrane days. Footage is captured in ProRes 4:4:4 to SxS cards and transferred to three hard drives; two serve as backup, and one is sent to Universal Digital Services in Los Angeles, where online post is done. Offline is done at Wolf Studios on the Universal lot utilizing a FotoKem NextLab Mobile system.
Wiegand estimates that 90 percent of the series is shot handheld either on foot or using a Creeper Butt Dolly made by Carlos Boiles, a dolly grip she worked with while doing second-unit work on the series 24. “It’s a padded seat connected with variable-sized rods to an ultra-smooth, multi-skate-wheeled base,” she explains. “The unique feature is how smoothly the wheels can change from one direction to another.”
Her workhorse lenses on Chicago Fire are Angenieux Lightweight Optimo zooms, which “we use as zoom lenses, not as variable primes. We are constantly zooming within the frame.” They carry two 15-40mm, 28-76mm and 45-120mm Optimos, plus two 24-290mm for work in studio mode. In addition, they carry 12mm, 14mm, 135mm and 150mm Cooke S4 primes.
Inside the burn stage, Wiegand needs a fairly deep f-stop. “I try to keep it to 200 or 400 ASA when doing these interior fires because I want to hold the detail in the flames. I usually shoot between T5.6 to T8, so any light coming through those windows and smoke has to be pretty intense.” These units range from 1,600-watt Jokers to 18Ks.