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:

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:

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras:

The Cinematography Podcast website:
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