How Jeff Cronenweth Threw Away the Rule Book on 'Tales From the Loop'
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The cameraman offers insights into his avant-garde approach to night exteriors.

How do you visualize some science fiction and make it appear as part of everyday rural life? For cameraman Jeff Cronenweth, this question guided his approach to the Amazon television series Tales from the Loop by creator Nathaniel Halpern.

Long-time David Fincher employee has targeted his first pilot alongside director Mark Romanek, where the supernatural takes center stage. In the small town of America, a mysterious machine called The Loop was built to "unlock and explore the secrets of the universe."

The anthology series lets their visual grammar do the heavy lifting for good reason– –A style based on the work of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, known for juxtaposing unusual science fiction landmarks in familiar surroundings.

"The visuals took the lead in Simon's work, but our approach was very straightforward," says Cronenweth, who received an Emmy nomination for the series. Taking inspiration from Scandinavian filmmakers Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky, the cameraman rechecked their films for camera movement, tempo and, in some ways, the subtlety of light.

While it was ultimately Stålenhag's art that steered the style, Cronenweth approached photography a little differently. "His artwork can be very bold and saturated at times, and we felt that this wouldn't serve the narrative. We thought if we were too persistent with the graphics you would lose some of the humanity," he says. " Nathaniel's writing is brilliant and the performances were so good that it had to blend the science fiction elements with the intricacies of photography to be lured into this false sense of everyday life. "


Abby Ryder Fortson and Duncan Joiner

The recording in 6K RAW with Panavision Millennium DXL2 cameras in combination with Panavision Primo 70 and Panaspeed lenses took place in Winnipeg due to the largely flat topography and the snow-covered fields.

The pilot follows a young girl played by Abby Ryder Fortson as she tries to figure out what the loop is and what role her mother plays in it. Almost every scene has a child actor associated with their own production challenges, including how long they are allowed to have on set. Combined with the weather conditions dropping to -32 ° F and the outside areas of the night, Cronenweth had to consider what could be achieved on any given day of production. The answer was revealed by chance during a scouting session.

“We had two elements to deal with. Canada's strict and reasonable child labor laws and then weather conditions. The idea that we could finish all of the exterior night scenes was a bit overwhelming, ”admits Cronenweth. "It made me realize that twilight was an exceptionally long time at this time of year and that there was a good hour of usable light once the sun went down."


Abby Ryder Fortson and Rebecca Hall

Romanek and Cronenweth knew this and blocked and rehearsed a scene on their first night of production an hour before sunset. After dusk, the production managed to record the sequence with several cameras and motivated lighting. “Although it wasn't pitch black, it met all of the children's needs and fundamentally changed the way we approach production. It opened up the kids to more daylight scenes, allowed for less equipment, and helped reverse the crew. "

As for the look itself, Cronenweth says that the twilight gave them a dark blue nighttime that fit the show. “Our theory was, if we were consistent that this was the night, the audience would believe it. We ended up spending all outer nights in this way, and it gave the image that arose out of necessity a rich, bold, but not entirely dark quality. "

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