The American Society of Cinematographers

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Mad Men
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Manley: Before we worked together on that episode [‘Meditations in an Emergency’], I had a lot of preconceptions about what his tastes were, based on what other people were telling me, but I found him to be far more open-minded and flexible about visuals than I understood he was. It was a relief to know that the rules, so to speak, of the visual language of the show are not completely hard and fast. Matt’s very intuitive, and he’s open to breaking those rules if it works and it’s interesting.   

Can you give us an example of that?   

Manley: There’s a shot in the bullpen toward the end of ‘Meditations’ when Don and Joan have a dialogue at her desk and she retrieves his coat and briefcase. It’s the Cuban missile crisis, and it looks like Don might be quitting his job. It’s a very tense moment, and we found a way to block it and a dolly move that made the scene into a oner that was kind of elegant and had the right energy. We sometimes do oners on the show, but rarely; most directors feel they need to cover themselves enough to create options in the edit. But Matt’s the boss, so if he loves it, we go for it.   

Another visual departure that comes to mind is the shot in ‘The Jet Set’ when Don faints in Palm Springs, and the camera assumes his point of view as he falls to the ground. How did you do that?   

Manley: Yeah, there was a lot of debate about whether that shot fit the visual vocabulary of the show, and I think people are still split on it. That was a Doggicam body-rig. We’ve done a similar shot this year, and it works really well. Like I said, we have a lot of rules, but they’re all meant to be broken eventually.   

Does that mean we might see a Steadicam shot one day?   

Manley: We’ve never had a Steadicam on our set, and I don’t think we ever will.   

Unless the storyline goes into the late 1970s?   

Manley: Right. Maybe then!   

With all the unusual colors and textures in the wardrobe, do you ever shoot wardrobe tests?   

Manley: Occasionally we’ll have B camera test something a few days ahead of time, but very rarely. [Costume designer] Janie Bryant and her team will often come to me with different weaves, different tweeds for the suits, and ask, ‘Will this moiré?’ I tell them they should use what they want, and if there’s a problem, we’ll fix it. Whether something will moiré depends on so many different factors, including the fabric and the scale of the shot, that I don’t want to eliminate a whole range of material simply because it might happen. Also, people are seeing Mad Men in a lot of different ways — AMC’s signal is standard-definition, but some people watch the show on HD On Demand, which is a whole other world of sharpness and detail. When I started watching the first season, I got it on iTunes. I don’t think we’ve had many moiré problems, and some of them can be fixed in post.   

Have you made any changes to your post process this year?   

Manley: We’re using the same team we used last season, [dailies colorist] Mace Johnson and [final colorist] Tim Vincent at LaserPacific, but we’re doing better now because we’ve all become attuned to what Matt likes and doesn’t like. Last year, I’d shoot on-set gray scales and reference stills and e-mail them to Mace, and when I had time, I’d pop in to watch the final and give Tim notes, and then Matt would come in for the review and change a lot of things. His changes weren’t for the worse or for the better; he just had a different idea about how the show should look.   

How would you describe the look he’s after?   

Manley: He wants natural skin tones whenever possible, and he wants to feel the warmth in the wood at Sterling Cooper. There are a lot of warm tones, and a lot of middle tones and neutral tones, too. It’s a fluorescent environment, and the fluorescents are color-correct, but they’re still slightly cool compared to tungsten, and that tends to dull the wood. When you think about it, letting fluorescents be cool or be green in photography is a very recent idea. I came up in the late ’80s-early ’90s, when cyan became really fashionable for a while, and that affects my taste and my perception of the world and photography. But Matt is steeped in the late ’50s-early ’60s, and keeping the light clean and white is more reminiscent of movies of that era, when [cinematographers] tried to balance everything all the time. So this year, I’m shooting my gray scales differently. We’re keeping the green level consistent so that when we add or alter green or magenta, there aren’t a lot of shifts in skin tones, lipstick or hair. Our actors have many different skin tones, and there’s a variety of color in the women’s wardrobe, hair and makeup, and the more we wrestle that color-corrected image, the more strange artifacts and color shifts arise that make it harder for Tim to arrive at his final, matching color. This year, between the adjustments I’ve made on set, the adjustments Mace has made in dailies, and Tim’s understanding of what Matt likes, we’re all much closer [to the final] much more quickly than we were last year.   

Apart from the period angle, are there aspects of Mad Men that make this experience different from the other series you’ve shot?   

Manley: We have less money than a lot of the other shows I’ve done, yet the show is still fairly ambitious. Overall, the challenges are similar. Shooting episodic television is a real marathon, and the schedule just kind of washes over you and becomes your life. It’s very easy to get discouraged, but with Mad Men I don’t. This is the first time I’ve done two seasons of any show. I’ve done some good shows, but nothing this good. The quality of the writing is fantastic, and that keeps me excited about every episode. It’s rewarding to come to work and feel like I’m involved in creating great drama.    

    


TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

1.78:1

3-perf 35mm

Panaflex Platinum

Primo lenses

Kodak Vision2 250D 5205, Vision3 500T 5219


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