O’Shea brings a ‘big look’ to small screen

Cinematographer receives Career Achievement in TV award

Cinematographer Michael O’Shea has shot plenty of brightly lit, comedy-driven hit movies (“Big Momma’s House,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”) but he’s probably better known for his moodier, elegant work on such character-driven TV shows as “CSI: Miami” (for which he won the 2003 Emmy),”Jack & Bobby,” “Bones” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.”

” ‘Doogie’ was my big break in TV to move up to d.p.,” recalls the Los Angeles native who is being honored with the American Society of Cinematographers’ Career Achievement in Television award. “I was an operator in movies for a long time before that. I got to bring in my own camera crew for ‘Doogie’ and it was a great job.”

O’Shea soon found himself much in demand for such shows and pilots as “Everwood,” “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” “Relativity” and “Chicago Hope.” “I didn’t set out to focus on TV work — it just happened,” he adds, “and the challenges and demands are quite different from movies. For a start, you’re working on a far tighter schedule, you don’t have the time or resources you have on features, but the expectations are the same. They want a big look.”

Compensating for the rushed pace was the chance to work on “some of the best scripts out there, including movies,” he notes. “The writing on shows like “CSI” and “Relativity” just matched the stuff I liked to do — long lenses and strong source light.”

As a kid, O’Shea nursed dreams of becoming a pro baseball player, but ended up apprenticing as a camera loader at Warner Bros. in the mid ’60s. “I did it for two years and it was great training for all the movies I did,” he says. It was Mel Brooks who gave him his first d.p. job in film. “I’d operated on “Spaceballs,” and Mel always kidded with me on the set — ‘You should be a d.p. You’ve got a good eye.’ And I’d go, ‘Give me a break,’ and he did, on ‘Robin Hood'”

Today, O’Shea looks back on his long — and still very active career — fondly. “I’ve worked with so many really talented and creative people, and while some aspects (of the business) never change, like the need for good writing, the technology’s changed radically, especially in the last few years,” he says. “TV’s gone all-digital now, and I embrace it and all the new challenges of shooting digitally.”

More from the ASC Awards:
Roger Deakins | John Seale | Douglas Kirkland |Michael O’Shea