A quartet of 600 local cameramen Make the first season of Apple TV + & # 39; s great anthology series Little America easier across physical, emotional and economic boundaries.
by David Geffner / Featured image by Walter Thomson / Courtesy Apple TV +
There is currently no other program on television – narrative or reality – that captures the experience of immigrants like Apple TV +, aptly titled Little America, an eight-episode anthology series slated to begin production in season two once COVID-19 security protocols are fully implemented. Some of the elements that make Little America a unique small-screen experience include the four different 600 local photography directors – David Franco; Paula Huidobro, AMC; Eric Moynier; and Jonathan Furmanski, who worked for eight different directors, most of them immigrants themselves.
The various stories with titles like "The Grand Prize Winners", "The Rock" and "The Baker" take place in completely different physical, social and emotional landscapes (of the real characters on which they are based), but encompass a visual unit that is rare for the anthology format. Lee Eisenberg, executive producer of Little America (whose Israeli father was an inspiration for the series), says the unit relies on a clear understanding of what the camera feels like on purpose and story-driven. "The DPs were all so sensitive to this material," Eisenberg describes. “Paula, David, and Eric are immigrants, and Jonathan, who shot (Eisenberg's 2019 Good Boys), has the same ability to visualize material from the inside out. They provided this warm canvas overlaid by every other department. "
A common capture system and aspect ratio – Sony VENICE with prime numbers from the Panavision Primo 70 series (used in all but Furmanski's episode "The Son," which was filmed in Canada for its Middle Eastern actors due to US immigration restrictions) – helped a consistency of clay. Much of Little America's stories are steeped in a warm palette of colors that portrays places like Oklahoma, San Diego, and New Jersey (in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s) with the hope and promise that power every immigrant's story.
But it's much more than the equipment.
“One of the reasons (showrunner / director) Sian Heder I think I got involved, "says Mexico-born Paula Huidobro, who shot three of the eight episodes," because I was able to bring my feelings as an immigrant into the project. Things that seem ordinary to an American-born American may seem extraordinary to another. So we wanted to keep that magic and excitement in storytelling. "
Huidobro's episode, "The Cowboy," directed by Indian-born Bharat Nalluri, "is a clear realization of those intentions. Iwegbuna Ikeji (Conphidance), a student who has left his close-knit family in war-torn Nigeria, tries mightily (and happily ) to blend in with Oklahoma life. Scenes of Ikeji visiting a western store to buy a cowboy hat and boots or a lantern-filled cattle shed (where he envisions visiting his Nigerian goat breeder family) contain subtle magical realism, which, according to Nalluri, stems from Huidobro's emotional approach to cinematography.
"My job is to find the heart and truth of each scene, and I think Paula shares a similar sensitivity," explains Nalluri, who says the episode is so familiar that it would have been traded for the story of his own Indian family can be. “Every shot is about emotions, every shot is about capturing what the character is experiencing in that moment – not about drawing attention to the camera or the lighting. It fits in perfectly with how I love running television, especially with a half hour story filmed in multiple locations. "
Finding the right locations, Nalluri adds, is key to one Anthology series that will never have the luxury of a repetitive set. And the (real) cattle ranch Ikeji visits – first during the day, where he is invited to rappel down a wild calf, and then again alone in the light of the full moon, was not without its challenges.
“The entire scene had to be recorded in 30 to 40 seconds because it rained day and night,” says Nalluri. “Despite all the mud and the stopping and starting, both scenes turned out very nice. This is a testament to how turned on Paula and her camera crew – in fact every single department – were on this show. "
"We rated VENICE 2500 and used a softbox from above (for the night scene), which I actually thought was too directional," laughs Huidobro. “The daytime scene at the ranch was tough because rappelling down calves is very physical and dangerous – the stunt performer could only do it a few times. We had clear security measures for our operators (Jeffrey Dutemple and Todd Armitage). What I loved about this project was that every episode felt like a short film and that way the directors were connected to the material. "
Indian-born director Deepa Mehta, who lives in Canada, is her episode "The Manager" was filmed by Huidobro and starts the series. The script by Obie Prize winner Rajiv Joseph expressed "a deep understanding of what immigration has given American society." Lee Eisenberg encouraged me to dive into the material in preproduction, "shares Mehta," and I was able to speak to the young man on whom the story is based and his mother and father. It's a heartbreaking trip, and Paula immediately figured out how to get the emotional nuance – Kabir is so alive when we first meet him and his parents run the motel. Then they go – for so many years – and the audience, like Kabir, becomes an observer of the diminution of their dreams. "
According to Mehta, Huidobro and her camera team worked with production designer Amy Williams "to weave a visual tapestry that was almost theatrical – as if this motel were a stage on which the details of Kabir's surroundings reveal so much about his life," Mehta adds . “The entire story is shot in hand, except when Kabir goes to Washington DC about the spelling bee. Laying tracks to make this section look stable was because the spelling bee was a means for Kabir to get his parents back. He thought about it very carefully; and Paula and her team visualized it so well. "
Visualizing "The Jaguar," a Rocky-like sports story that is Little America's most engaging episode, was a challenge for photography guild leader David Franco (ICG Magazine, June / July 2020, Law & Disorder), who said so, when he accepted the job, he didn't know that every story was a piece of time. “The producers sometimes forget that everything is before 2000 and everything needs to be replaced,” he smiles. “And shooting New Jersey for San Diego was interesting. I wanted to shoot as close to the actors as possible for these personal stories, and since Apple needs 4K, the larger format (Sony VENICE) was great. We could use longer lenses – a 100-millimeter feels like a 50-millimeter and doesn't distort faces. And we had more control over the depth of field. It's like hiding things in the background when the budget doesn't allow everything to be on time. "
"The Jaguar," directed by Aurora Guerrero, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, centers around Marisol (Jearnest Corchado), a teenager who lives with her mother, a maid in an affluent beachfront home, and Marisol's older brother in an illegal one Garage subletting is alive. With no hope or ambition, Marisol's life changes when drawn into the world of competitive squash. Inspired by her trainer (John Ortiz), nicknamed "Jaguar", the story follows Marisol's rise through sport – from playing at the local health club to playing championship Olympic-style games.
“We almost shot in a real garage,” laughs Franco, “but in the end We had to do something the same size on stage. For the squash scenes, we were lucky that (Corchado) was already a talented athlete and learned very quickly, so we didn't have to use much twice at all. The pieces were professionally designed and the actors knew each piece and where to look. If they missed the ball, we just kept shooting and added the ball later with CG. "
Marisol's inspirational final, which featured her mother, brother, and cheering friends, was filmed in a brick-and-steel-laden train station where previous professional squash tournaments were televised. “There was a large skylight that we had to control, but the lighting was already in place for the show,” adds Franco. "We tuned everything to natural light and stayed away from cool blues and greens for a more organic look that was very uplifting for this story too."
Franco's other two episodes, "The Rock" and "The Silence," were challenging for a variety of reasons. “The Silence (written and directed by Little America Executive Producer Sian Heder) was the only episode without dialogue (until the very last scene in which the retreat participants were allowed to speak). Sylviane (Mélanie Laurent) is supposed to meditate, but she has all these different fantasies that required a lot of camera coverage – different extras, costumes and changes to the set design, and that's always difficult to visualize without getting too far out of the story. " The large, sun-drenched meditation room was site-specific and required the largest lighting setup for the series. "With the VENICE of 2500 we may not have used all the light," adds Franco. "But I think it was important that the large room, which had a lot of wood and texture in the production design, is easily reflected and filled. "
"The Rock," directed by Iranian promoter Nima Nourizadeh, was more location dependent than any other episode. Faraz (Shaun Toub) is a Persian dreamer who lives in an apartment in New Jersey with his wife and son. His dream of building a house (mainly so that his son doesn't move to New York with his musician friends) culminates in a piece of land that is only affordable thanks to the massive rock that takes up the entire property. “It was so difficult to find this rock out in nature, but next to a road,” offers Franco, who was born in France and grew up in Africa. Although Faraz's story is humorous, "we didn't want the camera to be busy or overtly weird," he continues. “Where you place the camera is the type of lens, whether you move or stay still, which we do a lot in this series, ultimately, how the viewer relates to writing, acting, and governing, and that is less dependent on the lighting, in my opinion. For the Oner, where Faraz imagines a house (where the rock is and full of friends and family), the lighting feels warm and comfortable. But it's this 12 millimeter super wide angle and slow motion that makes you feel like this fantasy he craves. "
Longing to bond with their two teenage children is what drives hard working single mom Ai in "The Grand Prize Winners". The episode was directed by Eric Moynier, a colleague of David Franco from Montreal, Quebec, whose parents were born in France. Singapore-born actress Angela Lin, who grew up in California, was filmed in Florida on a real cruise ship. It was written and directed by Tze Chun, on whose life the story is based. Chun, who owns a comic book publisher, was in conversations with Epic Magazine (from which Little America emerged as a photo essay) when he casually mentioned his childhood in Boston and his single mother took him and younger sister to the yearbook Vacation Expo to kill to win a trip. “It snowed one winter and we were the only ones taking part in all the raffles. That's why we won an Alaska cruise, ”explains Chun. “The guys at Epic said, 'That sounds like an episode of Little America. Do you mind when we introduce your story to Apple? "We were shooting a few months later!"
Chun says he and Moynier knew there would be restrictions on the ship and that they would have to rely on available lighting and multiple cameras. "On the first day for the interior of the cabin we had 45 setups!" Miracle chun. "Eric, who has a background in documentaries, said," Don't worry. I got that. "It wasn't about lighting for an hour and shooting for 10 minutes. The actors needed complete freedom, and Eric liked that."
According to Moynier, crew size restrictions meant that each story point had to be mapped in advance. “It was an older carnival cruise ship from the late 80's / early 90's. It traveled from West Palm Beach to the Bahamas in the late afternoon and came back the next day, ”he explains. "Working with Key Grip Dave Stern and Gaffer Richard Neumann, I said," Guys, this is totally MacGyver. "We don't use a dolly and it has to be the smallest package of lights we've used. We spun the steadicam and skateboard wheels on a platform with angle irons for the conveyor track. It was less of a crazy handheld approach than a slightly 'unstable frame' that felt alive. "
According to Moynier, DIT Malika Franklin optimized the LUT it created for the series, especially for the cruise ship scenes. Ai, dismayed that her children leave with their new American friends every day, watches films alone in the ship theater, plays slot machines and drinks red wine alone and finally sings a tearful karaoke ballad alone on stage in the penultimate scene. The moment becomes all the more powerful when it overlaps with her memories of being taken by ship from Singapore to Hong Kong as a child and handed over to another family.
“We made three passes for the song,” recalls Moynier, “and I told my operator Jeff Dutemple,“ This moment is so precious. You can only give it to you once, so please don't miss it! We all took close-ups first, then went behind them and wrapped ourselves around. The spotlight in her eyes was all Ritchie did – we knew we couldn't get any on the boat, so he mounted an LED flashlight with a snoot and flicked it up to shine down. We had some Astera tubes on the floor and the art department changed the background. So simple and yet such a beautiful result. "
Chun says the karaoke scene should always be the centerpiece. "I knew it was going to be the hardest scene to shoot," he said. “We shot on the last day of production from 10 p.m. As filmmakers, we have to feel so much on set that the audience feels even a little bit on screen. When I saw the monitor in Video Village, I was just so grateful that we were in the hands of Eric and his great team. "
For the flashbacks to Ai's childhood, Franklin created a desaturated LUT that felt monochromatic and where the camera was shot at a higher frame rate. Steadicam Capture was an elegant contrast to Ai's reality on the cruise ship. The port was recreated in Staten Island using local ships, with production designer Diane Lederman working on Moynier to shoot 360 degrees. According to Chun, the opening recording of "Millennium Mambo" directed by Chinese filmmaker Hsiao-Hsien Hou was a template. "You're chasing the main character and she's so beautiful," he says. “I sent Diane (Lederman) some photos from my childhood home and photos of my mother. I have to say it was weird for the Boston scenes (before they win the cruise) to go into the kitchen and see the same kitchen that you grew up in as a kid. Even the pasta and rice on the shelf. "
The last shot of the episode is Ai, who is alone on deck and watches a sunrise, which she carefully puts in the hope that her children will be fine. "I remember talking to my mother about that moment, and she described the sound of the glacier at sunrise as 'breaking ice in a glass of cola,'" says Chun. “When I saw the same moment on the monitor in Video Village, I knew that Eric had captured what my mother had experienced, even though it was a sunset in 100 degree weather in Florida. It was so cool. "
The final episode of the first season of Little America entitled "The Son" crosses other boundaries than the previous stories. The majority of the episode was filmed by Jonathan Furmanski in Montreal, Quebec, with an IATSE Local 667 camera crew and is set in the Middle East – Damascus, Syria and Aman, Jordan – with the main character Rafiq (Lebanon-born Haaz Sleiman). I'm only coming to the US for the final scenes. And because Rafiq is a gay man in Syria who, in the opening scene, leaves his brother's wedding party to meet another man in a secret location, much more is at stake – as Furmanski notes: “This is the only episode Where leaving literally means life or death. "
Furmanski, who used to travel a lot in the Middle East, knew the secret location in Damascus (actually a fully clothed former military base in Montreal) where Rafiq's gay identity is revealed, a mix of older lighting elements – mercury and sodium vapor street lights and cool ones white phosphors. "We really wanted the opening scene (at the dining table) to be that cocoon of warm, soft light to show how much Rafiq gives up when he runs away," explains Furmanski. “When he met the young man, the alley outside and the room where they kissed must feel mysterious and dangerous. It still has warm reds and oranges in it, but it's not inviting. It's a place where they can steal a moment, hidden from the eyes of the world. "
A year later, Rafiq finds dishes in a restaurant in Aman, where he meets Zain (Libyan-born Adam Ali), a young man who is flaunting his gay identity in public. Zain brings Rafiq to his apartment for dinner to meet his lover. They go for wine in a bar and talk; At night they walk through a busy souk and Zain sings his favorite Kelly Clarkson song – all scenes in which the viewer is not sure how well Rafiq knows how to adopt an openly gay lifestyle.
“We had a cultural advisor who made my work easier our wonderful production designer Zoë Sakellaropoulo who did the same, ”continues Furmanski. “The consultant would confirm details like the nature of the practical lights in this part of the world and give me the freedom to focus on the color and source of the light. Even so, the scene where Zain and Rafiq were walking in the souk was difficult as we only had control of this alley. Everything on both sides, like a shop front with modern window decorations or a FedEx truck driving through the background, should have been VFX-out. "
Furmanski faced similar challenges for a key scene in Rafiq's Aman apartment, where he makes love with a British tourist he met at an internet café. Rafiq spends every day on the computer checking the status of his US immigration request.
"The site had arched windows and was on the fifth floor of a building in Old Montreal where there are restrictions on heavy equipment," continues Furmanski. "We didn't want to see today's Montreal out of the windows, and curtains or blinds weren't suitable for the story. Zoe was able to build lattice-like window frames that would create patterns that would fall on them when they were in bed. In That's when Rafiq reveals why he left his family. We didn't have to bring any light into the room – it was all 6K and 9K pars through the windows – which makes it much more intimate and real for the actors. "
Rafiq's reality changes forever if he is allowed to leave that Middle East. After keeping in touch with Zain (who vowed to become a star in Hollywood), Rafiq is surprised that his first impression of freedom is Zain's cool and gray home, Boise, Idaho. Later that night, riding a bike with Zain through the green city turns into a defining moment.
"We wanted him to feel as though he had crossed a threshold," says Furmanski. "The street lights are the main source for the scene and they're supposed to be magical to show the huge bridge he crossed. But the existing LED street lights were out of time and the city didn't let us replace them."
The solution, and what made The Son stand out, was Furmanski's use of Canon K35 vintage lenses to create flares and ghosting. "The Primos just looked a little too modern," he notes. "We also used a Lensbaby on the Boise club scene because that scene is both confusing and comforting for Rafiq for his journey."
Furmanski says he and director Stephen Dunn talked about the club scene more than anyone in history. "To be surrounded by gay men who were completely liberated in this environment was like nothing Rafiq had ever seen," he continues. “So it had to feel like an almost overwhelming carnival atmosphere. But the club we were shooting in had little lighting. In cooperation with our gaffer Benoit Sévigny, we created light pools. We also used filters from Lindsey Optics which create very unpredictable streaks and aberrations, something like a swirl effect, to go where the lights would hit the camera. The last shot (of Rafiq watching a drag queen on stage and singing Zain's song) is said to be ambivalent as it is interrupted with Rafiq's father in Damascus reading his letter. "
The final take in the series, beautifully visualizing what is gained and lost in the immigrant's experience, is an idea that was central to Little America, according to creator Lee Eisenberg. "During this series it was important to let viewers know that the stories were complex," he concludes. “The idea of coming to America will solve all your problems, even if you come from an oppressive society, is simple and clichéd. Season 2 will feature bigger stories that are more immigrant-oriented and even more ambitious. "
Local 600 camera crew: Little America
Directors of Photography:
David Franco (Episodes 2, 4, 7), Paula Huidobro (Episodes 1, 3, 5)
Eric Moynier (episode 6), Jonathan Furmanski (episode 8)
A-camera / steadicam operator: Jeff Dutemple
A-camera 1st AC: Greg Finkel
A-Camera 2. AC: Emma Rees-Scanlon
B-Camera Operators: John MacDonald (Episodes 1-4), Todd Armitage (Episodes 5 & 6)
B-Camera 1. AC: Bradley Grant
B-Camera 2. AC: Suren Karapetyan
Loader: Derek DiBona
DIT: Malika Franklin
Still photographers: David Giesbrecht, Seacia Pavao, Walter Thomson, Cara Howe, Patrick Harbron, Michael Parmelee, Rod Millington,
Presentation: Erin Felentzer