September 8, 2021

Emmy-nominated cinematographer Donald A. Morgan, ASC on The Upshaws, The Conners, Last Man Standing, shooting multi-camera television shows

Cinematographer Donald A. Morgan, ASC has won 10 Emmys and is nominated this year for three more for his work on Netflix’s The Upshaws, Fox’s Last Man Standing, and ABC’s The Conners. Like a few cinematographers, Donald had some experience studying architecture in college, which enabled him to take two dimensional drawings and visualize them in three dimensions. He also thought he’d be a professional baseball player or a musician- his father was a musician who played in Cab Calloway’s band, so Donald grew up around musicians and stages. By his mid-20’s he had a job working at KTTV in Los Angeles in the mailroom while trying to make it with his own band in the 1970’s, and was soon offered a position in the lighting department. He found his experience reading architectural plans made it easy to understand electrical schematics. Donald worked on the lighting crews for several different shows produced by the legendary Norman Lear, such as Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Diff’rent Strokes, plus many other shows. Donald knew working on shows produced by Lear were progressive and groundbreaking for the time, telling stories about people of color like himself, and Lear made it a point to hire a diverse workforce for his shows. Soon, Donald was offered a union job as a DP on two shows on the Universal lot- Silver Spoons and Gloria. Donald was able to learn more about cinematography while working on the Universal lot by visiting several different film stages and making notes on how different DPs worked.

Working on three camera shows, the whole set can be lit before there’s any blocking, because typically, comedies use very high-key lighting. Donald notes where the walls and doors are, and then most sets can be lit with standard three point lighting.  For The Conners, as the show becomes a bit darker, Donald subtly shades the room for more drama, and brightens the room as the mood lightens. Most multi-camera shows use three to four fixed cameras, and dolly in for shots rather than just panning. Donald also uses a jib arm camera on the show Last Man Standing, a technique he began using back on Home Improvement. The jib arm came into use on Home Improvement because the character Mr. Wilson, Tim Allen’s neighbor, was never seen over the fence, and the camera crew had to get creative with how to shoot those scenes.

Donald enjoys working on multi-camera studio shows because it keeps him local, and he’s been able to spend more time with his family with three weeks on and one week off, with the longest days about 10-12 hours. He tries to keep the work as creative as possible, always watching and learning about new techniques he can bring to the shows he shoots. Though Donald is very experienced with shooting multi-camera shows, he will often shoot single-camera short films to keep his skills fresh.

You can see Donald A. Morgan’s work: https://vimeo.com/12993063

You can watch The Upshaws on Netflix and find episodes of The Conners and Last Man Standing on Hulu.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep139/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

August 25, 2021

Emmy-nominated Mark Doering-Powell, ASC on grown-ish, challenges of single camera comedies, lighting setup tips, the early days of HD video

When Mark Doering-Powell, ASC was hired as the DP of Freeform’s grown-ish after season one, he knew the show had to expand the storylines of each character’s college experience. He was excited to take more of an anthology approach to some of the episodes, and get creative shooting each chapter with multiple looks.

A single camera half-hour comedy such as grown-ish takes about four days to shoot, creating an extremely tight schedule between prepping and shooting. Mark thinks it’s imperative to be in touch with post and the dailies colorist at the end of each day, so everyone can stay on top of the workload. On a rapid schedule it can be challenging to make the show look cinematic, but finding each character’s point of view helps consolidate the work and keeps each shot economical. Mark favors using “swingles” on grown-ish, where the camera swings back and forth between characters on single shots, saving setup times.

With a focus on each college-age character’s personal life and position on social issues as they navigate their early 20’s, the lighting on grown-ish is intended to make the cast look their best, and sometimes Mark employs classic Hollywood portrait lighting techniques using crisp, controllable hard light. Mark also likes to splash hard light onto the set, letting it naturally bounce off of something that is already in the room. He’s learned to focus on lighting the people and then the space- lighting the space can aid lighting the people.

Mark went to art school in New York, studying painting and graphic design until he found the film department and changed his major to film. He then worked as a Photo-sonics technician, which is a special high speed camera for shooting slow motion, on several commercials in the 1980’s and 90’s. But Mark wanted to focus more on filmmaking, so he quit, moved out to L.A. and started working for Roger Corman’s studio in Venice, including camera assisting on Corman’s famously unreleased 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. A documentary about the production called Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four was made in 2015. 

Find Mark Doering-Powell: www.markdoeringpowell.com
Instagram: @instamdp

You can watch grown-ish Season 4 on Freeform: https://www.freeform.com/shows/grown-ish

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep137/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by DZO FILM: https://www.dzofilm.com/

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

August 2, 2020

Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS on The Mandalorian, Lion, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and more

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 85: Greig Fraser

World-renowned director of photography Greig Fraser grew up in Australia, working as a still photographer before he moved into cinematography, shooting shorts, TV shows and films for several Australian directors. Greig’s most recently completed project is The Mandalorian, which recently earned him an Emmy nomination. At first, Greig felt incredibly nervous about working on the frontline development for The Mandalorian because of the massive amount of technology involved. His usual approach as a DP has been naturalistic lighting, in a real setting, rather than an entirely manufactured environment on a soundstage. The Mandalorian brought together gaming technology and set design, which could only be done with the support of ILM and Lucasfilm. The Star Wars series used 3D digital environments built with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine gaming technology that was capable of interacting with the cameras and was projected on huge LED screens for very realistic backgrounds on the soundstage. Greig was not a Star Wars newbie- prior to The Mandalorian, he was the cinematographer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As a fan of Star Wars, Greig felt some trepidation at first about shooting Rogue One, because he was worried about losing that passion in the day-to-day while on set. Greig met with Rogue One director Gareth Edwards and loved his early film Monsters, so he was convinced to take the job. Grieg also discusses his work on the 2016 film, Lion, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. Greig was extremely excited to shoot Lion- he and fellow Australian director Garth Davis had worked together a number of times. As a photographer, Greig had traveled and shot in India, and he loved being able to return to India and Melbourne to shoot such a great story. For Lion, Greig and Garth Davis wanted to be very respectful of Indian culture, and be careful of their choices not to oversensationalize images of poverty. Greig shot many of the railway scenes in the film at the level of a small child to capture the character Saroo’s feelings of loss and helplessness.

Grieg Fraser is the cinematographer of two hugely anticipated films coming soon: Dune with director Denis Villeneuve and The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves.

Find Greig Fraser: Instagram @greigfraser_dp

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep85/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz