April 28, 2021

Dana Gonzales, ASC, director and cinematographer of Fargo and Legion, on creatively rich television, moving into directing, and more

Dana Gonzales, ASC loves pushing himself to use creative lighting, lenses and camera moves to transport the audience into the story. While working on the mind-bendingly surreal television series Legion and the cinematic, character-driven crime stories of the series Fargo, Dana found a true creative home with producer and showrunner Noah Hawley. With Hawley, Dana has been able to explore how to create and maintain an image that challenges himself and makes an audience feel differently than they’ve ever felt before. Audiences today are more sophisticated and crave good visuals and storytelling. Dana sees many of today’s television series leading the way in artistic expression, which is why huge actors and directors are getting involved. Writers can tell a 10-hour story, fully developing characters and plot, while the director and camera crew can build a world with a strong visual foundation to hold it up. Dana finds today’s TV is certainly still challenging- shooting on tight schedules requires staying sharp all the time, and strong visionary showrunners and producers keep everyone motivated.

For season four of the FX series Fargo, Dana shot three of the episodes and directed four, including the season finale. Being involved with Fargo since season one helped Dana confidently bring a point of view to the story. He thinks one of the most important aspects of directing is offering an interesting perspective that makes the most of the story, characters and tone. Working with cinematographers Erik Messerschmidt and Pete Konczal, they changed the look of the show to a small degree, using different lenses and framing, and departed from a strict adherence to the visual LUT of the first seasons. They instead decided on a Kodachrome look, which was also the first color film used in season four’s time period. The biggest challenge of season 4 was shooting the tornado sequence- partly shot in black and white as a callback to The Wizard of Oz, the complex storylines leading up to and in the aftermath of the tornado all had to seamlessly weave together.

As a kid, Dana grew up in L.A. He was always naturally attracted to cameras and began taking photos at a young age. He found jobs on film sets as a driver, set PA, loader and camera assistant, and worked his way up while shooting small side projects. Just working on low budget movies, where Dana was able to be bold and experiment, served as his film school. He maintains the philosophy that every single job needs to be an artistic statement better than the last one, with each script informing his approach differently. After several years working on features and television, Dana moved into directing, where he feels you’re even more the author of a show than as a cinematographer. He continues to enjoy working as both a cinematographer and as a director.

Dana loved working on the series Legion, where producer Noah Hawley gave him the freedom to be extremely bold and experimental. For Legion, Hawley wanted surreal, elevated images with beautiful and dramatic lighting, that both embraced and reimagined the comic book/graphic novel look. If they tried something and it didn’t work visually, they would simply reshoot it. Even though they had access to a visual effects team, Dana chose to build most practical effects in camera, such as stacking several filters onto the lens to create a super surreal look for some scenes, knowing he would be satisfied with the results instead of leaving it up to post production or visual effects to create his vision.

You can see season four of Fargo on FX and on Hulu.

Find Dana Gonzales: https://www.danagonzales.com/
Instagram: @dana_gonzales_asc

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep122/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

Website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

March 17, 2021

Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC on Snowfall, working with the late John Singleton, Spike Lee, Straight Outta Compton, Tales, Kalushi and more

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 Snowfall.

You can see Snowfall on FX on Hulu. https://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/snowfall

Find Tommy Maddox-Upshaw: http://www.maddoxdp.com/
Instagram: @themaddoxdp

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep117/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz