The Cinematography Podcast Episode 117: Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC

Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC uses light and color to help emphasize the drama and power of each scene on the FX series Snowfall. He enjoys putting opposing colors in the scenes to subtly suggest any underlying subtext and shifts in power between the characters. Tommy knows that understanding light and knowing how to photograph dark skin is important in a series revolving around primarily African American and Latino characters. Snowfall, created by the late John Singleton, is a period drama that takes place in 1980’s Los Angeles during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. For Tommy, Snowfall feels personal after growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s in the inner city neighborhood of Mattapan in Boston. Mattapan got the nickname of “Murderpan,” and crack addiction personally affected his own family.

As the lead cinematographer on season four of Snowfall, Tommy reads each script, meets with the showrunners, and even goes into the writer’s room to talk to them about the subtext in certain scenes to devise a color schematic for each storyline. He develops an idea of his approach and watching the blocking on set allows him to try different things. Snowfall is pretty collaborative- John Singleton helped develop an African American cultural understanding on set, often taking suggestions from people’s lived experiences. Tommy says many cultural nuances come from behind the lens, and Black actors, crew members, and people from the neighborhood make the show.

Tommy first got into the business as a production assistant in New York, moving up to grip/electric while going to college in Massachusetts. He started working with Spike Lee on commercials as a gaffer and as an operator on Lee’s miniseries, When the Levees Broke. After attending AFI (American Film Institute), Tommy met fellow cinematographer and mentor Matty Libatique, who brought him on to Iron Man 2 and Straight Outta Compton. Tommy went on to shoot Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu in South Africa, and television series such as Tales, On My Block and Empire. Several years ago, Spike Lee had introduced Tommy to John Singleton at Singleton’s birthday party. Singleton stayed in touch and later saw Tommy’s work on the BET anthology series Tales, and approached him to shoot season three of Snowfall.

You can see Snowfall on FX on Hulu.

Find Tommy Maddox-Upshaw: Instagram @themaddoxdp

Close Focus: The Academy Award nominations for cinematography came out. We are proud to feature interviews with four of the five nominees!

Sean Bobbitt, Judas and the Black Messiah

Erik Messerschmidt, Mank

Dariusz Wolski, News of the World (coming soon!)

Joshua James Richards, Nomadland

Phedon Papamichael , The Trial of the Chicago 7

Ben’s short end: A YouTube channel called In CameraTV, who make DIY amazing practical effects videos.

Illya’s short end: DJI, who makes drones, has a new FPV (First Person View) drone. You can see what the drone camera sees while wearing goggles to operate it. Now available at Hot Rod Cameras.

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras

Sponsored by Aputure: Aputure came out with an accessory compatibility chart and you can find out what lighting accessories are compatible with their different lights. Here is the chart:







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Instagram: @thecinepod

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Podcast Credits:

Editor in Chief:  Illya Friedman@hotrodcameras

Instagram: @illyafriedman @hotrodcameras

Ben Rock

@neptunesalad twitter

@bejamin_rock instagram

Producer: Alana Kode

Editor: Ben Katz

Composer: Kays Al-Atrakchi

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