×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How HBO’s ‘The Night Of’ Prepared DP Robert Elswit for ‘Nightcrawler’

Even though HBO’s “The Night Of” premiered just last month, the miniseries’ camerawork informed the look of “Nightcrawler,” a film released in 2014.

A case of cinematographic time travel? Not really. When gearing up for Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” in 2013, DP Robert Elswit knew he’d have to shoot digitally, because the feature required many nighttime exteriors and had a low lighting budget. But he had always shot on film.

That experience gap figured into Elswit’s decision to first take on Steven Zaillian’s 10-part miniseries, which began production three years ago but was stalled after the untimely death of star James Gandolfini (later replaced by John Turturro). “The Night Of” would serve as a testing ground for the Arri Alexa digital camera.

“I was able to use everything I learned in ‘The Night Of’ to help me get the most out of ‘Nightcrawler,’” Elswit says. “[Alexa] was a great way to go because it’s a little faster. The exposure index is twice as high as the fastest Kodak film stock, and you can get away with murder. By shooting in places that had a lot of street and business lighting, I didn’t have to light backgrounds.”

Set in New York, the 10-part mini tells the story of a man accused of murder, and the suffocating judicial system that works against him. Elswit, who could commit to only the aesthetic-setting first two episodes, says he and Zaillian were inspired by New York-set movies shot there in the ’70s, particularly the “raw-energy ones,” like “Report to the Commissioner” and “The French Connection.”

In Demand DP
Robert Elswit has more than 70 film and TV credits.
Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015)
The latest “Mission” is darker than the franchise’s earlier films, including his own “Ghost Protocol.”
The Town (2010)
The Boston-set film features a shootout-in-the-streets finale.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Elswit earned the cinematography Oscar for Paul Thomas Anderson’s tale of an oil baron, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
Elswit was Oscar-nominated for George Clooney’s B&W saga of Edward R. Murrow’s battle with Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

“It wasn’t a documentary style in the sense that it was handheld camera or anything, but you really felt like you were in the city,” Elswit says. “Things were theatrical but not artificial. You were in real locations. The lighting would be dictated by the places you picked to shoot.”

Elswit also looked back to the 1961 television series “The Defenders,” starring E.G. Marshall. “It was all in black and white and in the streets,” he recalls. “It was a courtroom drama, but it wasn’t like ‘Perry Mason.’ It wasn’t a Hollywood version. You weren’t looking at a lot of sets. And that’s what Steven was hoping you’d come away feeling here — that you’d seen a kind of slice of life.”

The other eight episodes in the series were shot by lensers Igor Martinović (“House of Cards”) and Fred Elmes (“Olive Kitteridge”). But Elswit doubled back in the end to shoot some additional photography on different parts of the series, which is set all over New York, including Rikers Island.

“I matched what they did in the courtroom and some other places,” Elswit says. “I couldn’t pull it all apart, and I didn’t want to. Steven is a hands-on director and I think that’s why the thing looks vaguely consistent with three different DPs. He believes what cinematographers believe, which is that how something is lit … how light, how dark it is, where the shadows fall — all of these things are keys to an audience’s emotional response.”

More Artisans

  • Jeff Goldblum performs in a sketch

    Inside the High-Pressure World of Late-Night Talk-Show Prop Demands

    Television production is an area where “Hurry up and wait” is a common refrain. However, for the prop teams that work on late-night talk shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” that’s not an option. They typically have only a matter of hours to deliver what’s necessary. Lou A. [...]

  • Smithsonian Handmaids Tale Costume

    Why the Smithsonian Chose to Enshrine 'Handmaid's Tale' Servant Costume

    The iconic red-caped, white-bonneted outfits worn by Elisabeth Moss and the other childbearing servants in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” created by costume designer Ane Crabtree, have become that show’s signature visual.  Hulu immediately knew it had a good thing, hiring groups of women around the country to parade in the garments to promote the show. [...]

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Why 'Missing Link's' Title Character Was One of Laika's Biggest Challenges

    Stop-motion studio Laika pushes design boundaries in every film it makes, and the lead character in “Missing Link” is no exception. “It became pretty apparent that [the character] Link was going to be the cornerstone,” says director and writer Chris Butler. “I did this rough drawing many years ago, and it was basically like a [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    New 3D-Printing Technology Was 'Missing Link' for Laika's Latest Stop-Motion Project

    For the upcoming animated comedy adventure “Missing Link,” stop-motion studio Laika set the bar very high. To execute the designs created by director and writer Chris Butler, artists would have to speed up their 3D printing of character faces — and those faces would have to be the most complex they’d ever created. “Missing Link” [...]

  • The Old Man and the Gun

    Ohio’s Midwest Locations and Flexible Tax Credit Lure Producers

    With its small towns, rolling farmlands and industrial cities, Ohio embodies the American Midwest. Other location lures for filmmakers include the shore along Lake Erie, the campus of Ohio State University, the striking skyline of Cincinnati and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Buckeye State also provides producers with a 30% [...]

  • Nancy Schreiber Mapplethorpe Cinematographer

    DP Nancy Schreiber Captures Life of Artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Grimy Gotham

    Don’t tell cinematographer Nancy Schreiber that she’s having a renaissance. That would imply there’ve been slumps in her long career, and she won’t have any of that, even if for a time she was taking smaller jobs as the gaps widened between larger gigs. “It’s never been about the money, for me,” says Schreiber over [...]

  • What Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga Share:

    LeRoy Bennett Keeps Top Acts Like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande in the Spotlight

    You might say that LeRoy Bennett is a shining light among lighting and production designers for pop music. Doing double duty creating both touring sets and their illumination, he started out with a 14-year run as Prince’s collaborator, went on to work with Nine Inch Nails and Madonna and has counted Beyoncé’s and Bruno Mars’ [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content