When Ross Riege was in initial conversations for “Rutherford Falls” with fellow cinematographer and now director Lawrence Sher (DP on Todd Phillips’ “Joker”), one of the ideas was how to explore the quirkiness of a small town.
The new Peacock sitcom, which premiered April 22, stars Ed Helms as Nathan Rutherford, a descendant of the town’s founder, who is on a mission to stop the removal of the burg’s emblematic statue. Not only is the statue the cause of numerous car accidents, but it has a problematic history.
The Coen brothers’ “Fargo” served as the main visual reference for the way the filmmakers portrayed the community and those within it. “It was this classic thing of what character the town plays, as well as what the characters play,” explains Riege.
The DP describes Nathan as someone who is lovable and has the best of intentions, “but he doesn’t realize his history.” In the first episode, Nathan gives a group of young children a tour of the local heritage museum, where his family’s past — a huge part of his identity — is displayed.
“That’s his environment and his home,” Riege says. “There are a lot of dark production design elements, such as the wood paneling and curtains. But we wanted his space to feel warm and historic.”
Nathan’s color palette was kept to gold and greens to reflect the lushness of the trees. “It was less about the show as a whole [and] more about the location of the character,” Riege says. “We shot full frame, large format, with the idea of the camera being close. We went for a wider lens so we could feel the space.”
Those ideas were a blueprint for the rest of the series. And while cinematographer-turned-director Sher offered notes, he gave his DP plenty of leeway. “In the end, he had suggestions and ideas,” Riege says, “but he said, ‘It’s your look. Do what you think is best.’”