×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cinematographers Take Risks on TV With Moody Images

It’s no accident that today’s television renaissance has coincided with a golden age of TV cinematography. The moody, nuanced imagery that now appears on small screens supports cinematic themes, top-notch acting and innovative directing, and audiences have responded.

Rob McLachlan, a contributor to HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld,” and Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” says digital cameras are another major factor in TV pictures.

“When I first shot HD for TV back around 2002, I realized that a monitor on the set showing precisely what you’re recording made it possible to safely go a lot darker,” he says. “On film, only the most experienced DPs could really work on the edge of underexposure. A slightly uncalibrated lens combined with a variation in the film stock and a weak chemical bath in the lab could spell disaster. Now, with digital and a decent DIT [digital imaging technician] or monitoring system, it’s really what you see is what you get.  Courage is no longer a factor in shooting low key images.”

McLachlan adds that today’s producers, having grown up watching “The X-Files” rather than “Dragnet,” are on board. That can mean that schedules and budgets that allow for careful, detailed lighting and shot design.

“The networks used to say that if it was too dark, people would switch to something they could see better in their bright living rooms,” says McLachlan. “Back then, it required the power of someone like ‘X-Files’ ceator Chris Carter to force the network to send those shows out the way he intended. Now, I’m lucky to have the trust of my producers… to let me do what I want.”

On the FX’s “The Americans,” Dan Stoloff shares cinematography duties with Joseph Bradley Smith. He notes the bigger, better screens at home have led to decreased reliance on the close-up to communicate emotion. “Because ‘The Americans’ is a period piece, we prefer to stay a little closer with a wider lens so that there’s more period-specific detail in the frame,” says Stoloff. “Another cinematic technique we try to use is an outside-looking-in perspective. I’ll frame things in doorways and through windows. It’s harder and a bit slower to work that way. There’s less cutting; we tend to hold a shot longer. Television has traditionally been more blatant about directing where the eye goes. I find that as a viewer and a filmmaker, if you respect your audience, they’ll find what’s important. The story will be told in a more participatory and rewarding way.”

On FX’s “Fargo,” the initial brief was to visually echo the 1996 Coen brothers’ feature film, shot by Roger Deakins. Dana Gonzalez and Craig Wrobleski currently trade episodes behind the camera. Each season has a unique storyline and aesthetic, and even the time period changes. Most recently, the look involved removing much of the blue element in the pictures — a technique cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel used on the Coens’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” earning an Oscar nomination in the process.

“On ‘Fargo,’ we are referencing feature films,” says Wrobleski. “It’s about making choices that are true to the vocabulary of the show. And it’s not about volume. It’s about quality versus quantity, and that helps us keep the production value high. It used to be that if someone went to a movie theater they had certain expectations, and when they turned on their television they would have different expectations — about production value, scale, ambitions and more. But I think those lines are blurred now. On ‘Fargo,’ we are of the mindset that we’re making what is essentially a 10-hour movie.”

Pictured above: “Fargo”

More TV

  • The Play That Goes Wrong review

    BBC Orders Comedy Series Based on ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

    The BBC has greenlit “The Goes Wrong Show,” a new series based on Mischief Theatre’s popular “The Play That Goes Wrong” stage production about a troupe that puts on disastrous plays. The stage show has transferred from London’s West End to Broadway for a J.J. Abrams-produced version described by Variety as “a broad, silly and [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Jussie Smollett court

    Jussie Smollett's Attorneys Say He Was Victim of Police 'Spectacle'

    Jussie Smollett’s legal team issued a defiant statement on Thursday night, saying the “Empire” actor feels betrayed by the justice system and hinting at a political motive for his prosecution. Smollett was arrested early Thursday on a felony charge of filing a false police report. He was released after a court hearing on $100,000 bond, [...]

  • Carra Patterson Sarah Levy Paola Lazaro

    Fox Casts Four Leads in 'Patty's Auto' Pilot

    Fox has announced the casting of four lead characters for its multi-cam comedy pilot “Patty’s Auto,” including the eponymous Patty. Inspired by Patrice Banks’ Girls Auto Clinic, an auto repair shop with all female mechanics, the project centers on Patty, the intimidating owner of Patty’s Auto who will be played by “Straight Outta Compton” alumna [...]

  • Adam Pally Abby Elliott

    Adam Pally, Abby Elliott Join Cast of NBC Comedy Pilot 'Uninsured'

    NBC pilot “Uninsured” has cast four of its series regulars, with Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project,” “The President Show”) and Abby Elliott (“Saturday Night Live,” “Odd Mom Out”) playing the young married couple at the center of the show. Pally will play Dave, who is described as a “natural hype man with a good heart.” Elliott [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Appeared in Documentary on

    Jussie Smollett Recently Hosted Doc on Lynching, Filmmaker Talks 'Coincidence'

    In May 2018, Jussie Smollett appeared as the narrator and correspondent in an episode of the Epix documentary series “America Divided” that explored the subject of hate crimes, specifically lynching, in the state of Tennessee. Now that the “Empire” actor has been charged with filing a false police report and Chicago police are convinced he [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content