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

July 28, 2021

Cinematographer Adam Bricker on shooting the Emmy-nominated series Hacks, Chef’s Table and more

One of Adam Bricker’s favorite things about being a cinematographer is the opportunity to collaborate with different filmmakers, try something new and make each project the best it can be. His most recent project is the HBO Max comedy series Hacks, which just earned him an Emmy nomination for best cinematography. Adam was given the scripts for the first two episodes, and loved the pilot script, which opens with a long Steadicam single shot following behind the main character, Deborah Vance, played by Jean Smart, for two minutes, until her character is finally revealed in the dressing room vanity mirror. Adam knew it’s a rare thing to find a half-hour comedy with that level of cinema, and he was excited to shoot the show. Hacks takes place in Las Vegas, about a legendary comedian who is losing relevance and fading from the spotlight. Adam and show creator Lucia Aniello used vintage Las Vegas movies and photos as a reference point, as well as films such as Soderberg’s Behind The Candelabra and Judy with Renée Zellweger. Adam likes to set the look based on how the viewer is supposed to feel, and he makes notes in his scripts about what emotions should be felt in each scene. Most of Hacks is filmed on tripods and dollies, but for the verbal duels between characters Deborah Vance and Ava, her young comedy writer/protégé, Adam chose to shoot handheld, which gives those scenes more energy and naturalism. Lighting on the show goes from naturalistic, when Deborah is at home or when Ava is in Los Angeles, contrasted with vintage glamorous stage lighting when Deborah performs her comedy act.

Adam grew up in Chicago and attended film school there before attending the USC summer cinema program, which inspired him to transfer to USC and continue studying cinematography. After college, Adam began taking as many jobs as he could, and planned to work his way up through the camera department, before a DP mentor suggested he buy a camera and take as many cinematography jobs as possible. He and a group of friends invested in a Red One digital camera, and Adam shot dozens of music videos and low-budget films.

The Netflix series Chef’s Table has taken Adam all over the world. As one of the primary DPs of Chef’s Table, Adam and show creator David Gelb have established the artistic look of the modern cuisine documentary, which has since been imitated by countless other food shows. When the show began, Adam had never shot a documentary before, so he had a more cinematic approach to the show, only using prime lenses and no zoom lenses. For him, it’s been a dream job to explore new places, eat amazing food at excellent restaurants and work with good friends on the crew.

Find Adam Bricker: https://adambricker.com
Instagram: @realadambricker

You can see Hacks on HBO Max.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep133/

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

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

July 14, 2021

Jake Polonsky, BSC on The Sparks Brothers documentary, working with director Edgar Wright, The World’s End, Black Mirror and Billions

Director of photography Jake Polonsky was a fan of the band Sparks for several years, a love he developed after seeing the band perform at a music festival. Jake had frequently worked with director Edgar Wright, shooting commercials and music videos in the early 2000’s, and then as the second unit DP on Wright’s movie, The World’s End. Both Jake and Wright shared a love of music, and in 2018 he saw Wright had posted a photo of himself with Sparks. He congratulated Wright on finally meeting the band. Wright let Jake know he was going to make a documentary on Sparks and asked if he would be the cinematographer.

The Sparks Brothers documentary combines interviews, live and archival concert footage and collage-style animation in an eclectic style that reflects the aesthetic of Ron and Russell Mael, the Sparks Brothers themselves. In spite of putting out 25 albums over the past 50 years, Sparks has remained under the radar for most of the public. The brothers had some success at the beginning of their careers, mainly in the UK, writing and creating an unusual sound admired and imitated by many other bands. Sparks continues to reinvent themselves and has never stopped touring, building an incredibly devoted fan base.

Both Jake and Wright knew that all the interviews for the documentary needed to have a certain look and visual continuity. They settled on a photograph from the cover of the 1976 Sparks album, Big Beat. The photo was taken in black and white with a large format camera, so Jake decided to shoot all of the interviews in black and white, using several large format Red Monstro cameras. Everyone would wear black so that each interview had a consistent look, no matter where it was shot, and each interviewee spoke directly to the lens, using an Eyedirect teleprompter.

When Jake heard Wright was getting ready to make The World’s End in 2013 with DP Bill Pope, he was eager to work on his first feature film, and asked if Wright needed anyone to shoot second unit. Wright was happy to give Jake the opportunity. Jake saw that even with a comedy such as The World’s End, Wright found it important to have even the smallest scenes exactly right for comedic timing. Jake went on to work on several other UK based television shows, such as the Black Mirror episode, The National Anthem, and the interactive Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch. The executive producers of the Showtime series Billions noticed Jake’s work on Black Mirror, and he became the cinematographer for 27 episodes of the show, as well as directing one. Jake was able to learn from many different directors on Billions, and loved working with actors Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti. He thinks that as a DP, it’s much more stimulating to work with a director you like and respect. It becomes easy to deliver what they want to achieve because you know it’s going to be great.

Find Jake Polonsky: http://jakepolonsky.com/
Instagram: @jakepolonsky

You can see The Sparks Brothers in theaters and streaming on VOD. https://www.focusfeatures.com/the-sparks-brothers/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep132/

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

July 7, 2021

Cinematographer Stuart Biddlecombe on The Handmaid’s Tale Season Four

As a filmmaker, director of photography Stuart Biddlecombe wants to visually put his ideas on screen, telling stories that he genuinely connects to with true creative collaborators who listen and contribute. When Stuart came aboard to shoot part of season three of The Handmaid’s Tale, he knew he was taking on the mantle of what has become an iconic show. He had read the book in high school, and feels that the television series does an incredible job of putting the book into pictures, continuing to tell a meaningful and important story. Stuart was fortunate enough to begin working on the show with former cinematographer and Emmy winner Colin Watkinson, who had moved into directing. He was able to learn the ropes from Watkinson and continue the look of The Handmaid’s Tale smoothly into season four.

Stuart was very involved in the production of the fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and he loved the extraordinary creative input he’s had on the show. He would meet with lead actor and executive producer Elisabeth Moss and showrunner Bruce Miller to talk though each episode, discussing with them what they wanted to shoot and what direction each episode should go. Color on The Handmaid’s Tale plays a very important role- Gilead is presented with strong red, blue and black costumes while the colors and tones representing Canada are muted and softer. In season 4, as the story follows the main character, June (Elisabeth Moss) as she escapes to Canada, Stuart knew they needed to change the color palette, shifting into stronger colors and contrasts to push the look forward.

Stuart began working in television in the UK before he went to film school, on game shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but felt no love for the job. He decided to attend college at the National Film and Television School in order to learn more about the art of telling stories using a camera. He was in a very small film class with fellow cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. After film school, he shot several episodes of Call the Midwife and Doctor Who. Working in television taught Stuart how to shoot quickly, creating storytelling in the purest form, without the need for a lot of coverage. Stuart finds working on many of today’s television shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale to be very satisfying, as the lines of quality storytelling are blurring between television and film, with many television shows matching or even exceeding much of what can be seen in the cinema.

Find Stuart Biddlecombe: https://www.stuartbiddlecombe.co.uk/
Instagram: @stuartdop

You can see The Handmaid’s Tale season four streaming on Hulu

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep131/

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

June 30, 2021

Cinematographer Alice Brooks on shooting In The Heights, Home Before Dark, working with director Jon M. Chu

Alice Brooks grew up on Broadway musical theater and movies as a kid, and loves shooting music and dance oriented films and TV shows. Alice has always been in awe of dancers, and though she isn’t a dancer herself, she is inspired by their work ethic and loves that she can capture dance with her camera.

Working on In The Heights has fulfilled a lifelong dream for Alice. She and director Jon M. Chu have known each other since college at USC. The two bonded over musicals- she shot his she shot his student short, a musical called When The Kids Are Away in 2002 and worked together again on the film Jem and the Holograms. Alice and Jon were shooting the Apple TV+ series Home Before Dark when he asked her to shoot In The Heights. Jon, choreographer Christopher Scott and Alice had also worked together on a Hulu series called The LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers for three seasons, and they got used to working together and working quickly, figuring out how tell a story and develop characters through dance. Jon, Alice and Chris Scott felt their whole careers came together to make a musical like In The Heights. The characters’ hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties can be played out not only through song and dance but in the environment around them, which sometimes shifts to where they are emotionally.

With just 49 shoot days, preproduction for In The Heights was essential. Alice and Jon Chu would location scout in the mornings and then spend afternoons in the dance rehearsal space with Chris Scott. They would share their input and make suggestions from each location scout on how to face and orient the dance. Alice and Jon thought at first many more locations would be done on a soundstage, but they found that shooting in real places on the streets looked and felt so true- even the theater and the subway station were real locations. During shooting, every Sunday they would meet and go through the coming week because the schedule was so tight and the camerawork so complex, looking at videos from dance rehearsal to discuss the shots and angles to use, deciding if a crane shot was needed, and how many cameras to use for each scene. Jon made animatics detailing each scene from storyboards and dance rehearsal footage. With 17 song and dance scenes in In The Heights, Jon had huge goals for the musical numbers, and Alice, the dancers and the entire film crew were able to pull it off.

Alice grew up in New York and got into acting at a young age. She and her family then moved to Los Angles, and she realized as a teen that she did not want to be an actor. Being on set around the camera crew made her realize that she wanted to shoot movies, and that being a DP was her true dream. After graduating from USC Film School, Alice asked many of the graduate students if she could shoot their projects, knowing that the key to honing her craft was practice, practice, practice. She shot about 20 shorts, including Jon M. Chu’s musical short, When The Kids Are Away. Alice thinks it’s important to find the right people to work with, since you’re spending so much time together, and forming that bond helps everyone. She wants to make movies that inspire her daughter. For anyone with a family, it’s important to pick the projects that are worth it, since filming can take so much time away from loved ones.

Find Alice Brooks: https://www.alicebrooks.com/
Instagram: @_alicebrooks_

You can see In The Heights in theaters, the best place to experience the film’s immersive sound design and visuals. You can also find it streaming on HBO Max.

Alice’s new musical film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda is tick, tick…Boom! releasing in the fall.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep130/

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

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

June 23, 2021

Cinematographer Dan Stoloff on shooting The Boys on Amazon Prime, The Americans and Suits

Over his long career, cinematographer Dan Stoloff feels he’s always learning as a DP. Every job, even if it seems small, is an opportunity to meet people and build relationships.

Dan’s latest project, The Boys season two on Amazon Prime, plays with the idea that superheroes in that world are actually just corrupt and possibly psychotic people with special powers, who behave in ways that are anything but super. They have celebrity, play politics, and use publicists and the media to manipulate their image. A small group of people- “The Boys” in the show’s title- band together to expose the superheroes and the corporation they work for. Dan likes that the show stays relatable and not to fantastical. When he came on board for the second season of The Boys, Dan knew he wanted to change the look as the story moves forward. The first season presented a slick, neatly packaged corporate world for the superheroes which was shot with a Steadicam, while the grittier world of the regular guys who are trying to expose and take down the supers was done handheld. For the second season, the two worlds have started to clash and unravel, so Dan gave everything a more ragged look. He decided to adhere more closely to the graphic novel of The Boys, sometimes using black silhouettes and contrasts such as subtractive lighting, positioning the actors against a dark background. Dan also enjoyed that season two presented a variety of scenes to shoot with different cameras, equipment, lighting scenarios and lenses, such as a big-budget hero movie, newscasts, an awards show, a country farmhouse and a gritty basement.

In Dan’s early career, he moved from Boston to New York, after having shot several claymation films. He began shooting comedy projects for Broadway Video, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michael’s production company, and got a call to shoot The State, a 1990’s MTV sketch comedy show shot on 16mm. But Dan hadn’t considered television as a serious place for artistic expression until The Sopranos opened his eyes to the possibilities of a quality series. By then, the mid-budget independent features that Dan had worked on started to dry up, and he began seeking out jobs on television series. After landing his first television series, Memphis Beat, Dan found he likes the precision, continuity, and security of TV. He went on to DP the show Fairly Legal and then worked for nearly five seasons as the cinematographer of the USA show Suits. On Suits, Dan learned a lot about shooting through multiple levels of glass, playing with reflections and bouncing outdoor light to make it look more natural even within an office building or conference room.

Prior to The Boys, Dan shot season six of The Americans on FX. In season six, more of The Americans takes place in Russia, and some of the street scenes and exteriors were actually shot there, though most of the interiors were shot on a soundstage. Dan wanted to differentiate between the two countries, keeping the colors to a green and cyan palette for Russia so that it felt cold, while in contrast the American scenes were shot in full, rich color.

You can find Dan Stoloff: http://danstoloff.com/
You can watch Season Two of The Boys streaming on Amazon Prime.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep129/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

September 21, 2020

Ben Kutchins, Emmy-nominated cinematographer of Ozark, on creating the look of the show, working with Jason Bateman, the Veronica Mars movie, Mozart in the Jungle

Cinematographer Ben Kutchins feels that in filmmaking, you have to be fully committed to believing the story you’re telling, and your focus must be unwavering when shooting. There is no other story happening in the world other than the story you’re telling. This single-mindedness has served Ben well when shooting the series Ozark for Netflix, which is shot with very controlled light sources and camera movements. Every scene in the show is planned out carefully to reveal more about the story or the character. He and director/producer Jason Bateman wanted it to always look dark and shadowy, and many of the shots in the show are done as “oners,” or one long take. It might take seven to ten takes to get the oner, depending on how intricate it is. Before Ozark, Ben started off exploring still photography as a teen, then landed an internship at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), which led to a production assistant job at ILM. He had the opportunity to use the lab at Lucasfilm to experiment and process film to understand how it could look. But Ben knew his passion was film, so he enrolled at NYU Film School in order to learn more and work with other young filmmakers such as Rachel Morrison and Reed Morano. He shot about 60 short films in two years, then worked on several indie films before getting hired to shoot the Veronica Mars movie and then the Amazon series, Mozart in the Jungle. Shooting Mozart in the Jungle gave Ben the opportunity to work with and learn from very seasoned directors. He thinks working in television has been an amazing opportunity to collaborate with other DPs and that television has helped him develop a style and hone his craft.

You can find Ozark season three streaming on Netflix.

Find Ben Kutchins: http://www.benkutchins.com/
Instagram: @benkutchins

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep92/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

WIN a Sony A7SIII, Gitzo tripod and $100 Hot Rod Cameras gift card! Worth over $4,000, for one lucky winner! Follow us on Instagram @thecinepod and click on the link in bio to enter by September 29, 2020.

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