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Kramer Morgenthau: Spurred by TV’s visual dazzle

10 Cinematographers to Watch

ASC award nominee Kramer Morgenthau knows the stakes are high in creating engaging visuals for television. “Viewers are inundated with amazing images,” he tells Variety. “And they’re much more sophisticated than they were 10 or 20 years ago. … So what you do as a cinematographer better be great.”

Son of WGBH documentary producer Henry Morgenthau, the cinematographer cut his teeth in the doc world, making a handful of films (both doc and narrative) with the late George Hickenlooper. “In documentary, I learned how to tell a story with one camera, in a room with people talking, and how to follow dialogue instinctively. That was tremendous preparation for when you walk onto a set with a blank slate, a bunch of actors and a story to tell.”

With 20 features under his belt, Morgenthau’s projects now involve both film and television, including HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and the pilot for ABC’s short-lived “FlashForward,” for which he received an Emmy nomination.

For both, Morgenthau applied what has become somewhat of a recognizable style for the d.p., with dark, expressionistic lighting, in the chiaroscuro style. “It’s somewhat daring in the world of television,” he explains, due to the darkness of the imagery. “It’s actually still within the realm of the way light works in nature, with radical extremes of contrast and shadow and light.”

Morgenthau is judicious in the use of the style though. “If you light the entire show like that, it becomes flat,” he says. “In order to feel the pain, there’s gotta be joy.”

VITAL STATS:
Role model: “Haskell Wexler. I think he’s bridged the world of doing amazing, iconic Hollywood pictures, and also doing political documentaries and really caring about the world.”
Camera & film used: “I hate to sound like a Luddite, but Panavision cameras and lenses and Kodak film.”
Favorite tool: “Hipstamatic, the iPhone app. It’s fun, simple, and it looks amazing. People say the best camera to have is the one on your person.”

10 Cinematographers to Watch:
Adam Arkapaw | David Boyd | Benoit Debie | Zoltan Honti | Yorick Le Saux | Jody Lee Lipes | Michael McDonough | Reed Morano | Kramer Morgenthau | Andrew Reed

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