Novelist Rodes Fishburne's new series, Paradise Lost, for Spectrum Originals is a rich, slow burn south in front of the camera and a path towards it Inclusivity behind the lens.
by David Geffner / Photos and frame grabs courtesy of Paramount Network / Spectrum Originals
Alan Caso, ASC, has many years of experience as cameraman Episodic television with lenses includes four nominations for Primetime Emmy (Into the West, Six Feet Under, and George Wallace) and acclaimed shows like American Gothic and The Americans signed for Paradise Lost, a new drama for Spectrum Originals. His first question was that his alternate cameraman was female and / or colored.
Why? Because, as Caso says, "The biggest change for me (in casting a show) was identifying unconscious biases and working against them to create a fairer and more diverse industry and, frankly, a much better product," he explains. “Surrounded by people who have shared a similar or even identical life experience, you find yourself in a very narrow place of creativity and worldview. An inclusive crew opens up new artistic sensibilities and a whole range of voices; It's the difference between playing a piece with only the middle C octave and not the entire keyboard. Denying all of these notes is the opposite of creating real art and telling important stories. "
Caso's mandate was wholeheartedly supported by Creator Paradise Lost, novelist Rodes Fishburne and co-executive producers Mark McNair (also the director of Unit 2), David Kanter and Local 600 Director of Photography who became Production Director Romeo Tirone .
"We threw out a very wide network and ended up with Nicola (Daley, ACS) who has worked a lot in Australia and the UK," continues Caso. “We were very impressed with Nicola on that first Skype call. (Daley is based in London.) Her role (and website) show a taste in lighting and composition that matches what we wanted with Paradise Lost, set in a small town in the south where the heat, Moisture and texture had to get right into the filmmaking process. "
According to Caso, Daley's work also showed the ability to do so “Modeling faces beautifully and keeping the lighting simple, sourced and natural,” he continues. “While her compositions are evocative and asymmetrical, and make good use of negative space, she's also not afraid of center punching as a choice. Aside from her laid-back personality, probably the most important thing that I could tell that Nicola knew how to use wide lenses – a requirement for working with me. "
Fishburne, who calls Caso a "highly contagious collaborator," says the veteran Lenser "came up with five different ideas when we first met, so we all knew Alan was a perfect match," he offers. “What was so wonderful about Nicola is that she didn't spend much time in the south. She brought a fresh outside perspective to a place where I was born and raised. For me, this was the key to creating a tone that wasn't reflecting the many depictions of the South that we had already seen. My question was, "How do you make sure that the South Gothic tone – as one character in the series says," In the South, nothing is more alive than the dead "- is not one-dimensional ? "
One way Fishburne achieved this goal was by injecting what he and Caso called "vitamin C" into the frame, "where the C is the color," he adds. "And Nicola is fearless when it comes to trying unexpected color palettes. Her approach is based on her personal experiences that have nothing to do with how I saw Mississippi, and that was a good thing. I would also add that you as Showrunner, who shot over 90 degrees in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in August, quickly recognized the real professionals. I would be lucky to work with Alan and Nicola again. They were amazing. "
Amazement (mixed with some fear and awe) So Daley (Harlots, The Letdown, Pin Cushion) approached her biggest project yet, which included a camera crew she had never met and her first-ever use of the Sony VENICE full-screen capture system. When it came to Caso, of course, she already knew she had an ally.
"Alan's speech at the ASC Awards had gone viral with a lot of cameramen, so he was already famous in my eyes," says Daley. “The talk (about inclusivity in hiring film teams) had a huge impact on our community and was a real beacon. While the number of men and women leaving film school may be relatively small, the actual percentage of women directors in photography (in the UK) is only six percent. So this is a war of attrition, and I understand that. When I first started working as a camera assistant in Australia, I endured all sorts of comments that we now refer to as "micro-inequalities" and "micro-aggressions". This systematic cutting away of a person (based on their gender or race) means that the micro eventually becomes the macro, and behavior, when not activated, is fed into film and television culture as a whole. This is what needs to be fought every day and why a person like Alan is so important in making change. "
Photography in the US wasn't the only first for Daley, who says the size of Paradise Lost's sets, the way they light them, and the use of oblique focus lenses are all new. "I hadn't used any (oblique focus lenses)," she adds, "and Alan shared his learning curve in terms of actor movement and what can be achieved within the plane of focus." As a cameraman it is of no use to be a closed shop. When we are open and free with our creativity everyone becomes a better artist and (crews) are inspired along the way. Cinematography is a craft that you will learn throughout your career. That's what makes me go to work every day. "
What also motivated Caso and Daley was Fishburne's desire to "let the story breathe" and play scenes in long takes. "Neema Barnette, who directed my first episode," says Daley, "struggled to maintain the style (pilot director) that John Lee Hancock established with Alan, who didn't have all of the typical over-the-shoulders and coverage ran counter to. " TV shows want to live. The flashback scenes, for example, are a good example of shooting outside the box. "
Paradise Lost is about the return of high school in hometown Football hero Yates Forsythe (Josh Hartnett) and his family, wife Frances (Bridget Regan) and sons Reynolds (Jackson Tessmer) and Davis (Michael Kendall Kaplan), after a failed entrepreneurship in Palo Alto, CA, according to Bishop, MI. Yates returns to run his father, Judge Forsythe (Nick Nolte) 's fading newspaper, Southern Trees, while living in the guest house of Judge and his mother Byrd (Barbara Hershey) with a steam trunk full of dark, violent secrets.
At the heart of the puzzle box (and the source of most of the flashbacks) is Judge's late daughter Janus (Autry Haydon-Wilson), who ruled over a teenage boy Yates and best friend Dickie Barrett (Shane McRae) barn / art studio filled with her psychosexual, deeply metaphorical oil paintings. When Frances, a psychologist, settles in Bishop and hears the "strange visions" of her first client, Boyd Suttree (Silas Weir Mitchell), secrets begin to unravel, driving each episode like a runaway nest doll.
“One of the things we were adamant about with all interiors, but especially at Janus & # 39; Kunststudio,” recalls Caso, “was the feeling that the environment was invading these people's lives – warmth, dampness, dampness and light sunlight. For the barn set, I had the art department widen all of the wooden slats to let in more light. Whenever we could, we had one of our great lights in the picture to appear as the sun. Almost everything was filmed on set, except for a few key locations. "
According to Daley, this included the house where Janus & # 39; s favorite painting Mississippi Ophelia hangs. “Our production designer Meghan Rogers put lots of handy lights in the place and made the room where the painting hung in a fantastic style,” remembers Daley. “I really think our craft depends so much on this creative give and take with the production designer. It's such an important relationship these days. "
Fishburne also credits director Romeo Tirone, whose background as a Local 600 cameraman helped protect the texture and breathability Fishburne sought for the look of the show. "When you travel across the country in a covered wagon, you have to be careful who is with you," explains the first-time showrunner. “Romeo is one of those who solve problems. He would be helping with Alan, Nicola, Meghan and the entire creative team brainstorm how best to overcome obstacles in our path. "
Some possible bumps, like the flashbacks that Daley pointed out above, turned into speedways that were later picked up by the editorial staff as outstanding narrative moments. Caso says flashbacks tended towards saturated pastels "rather than the more common desaturated look we often see," he offers. "Our colorist Maxine Gervais from Technicolor contributed a lot to these scenes as the flashbacks were different in density and saturation."
Many of the flashbacks come abruptly with an overlapping, frenetic quality that Daley owes “because we shot these scenes in a 35mm film with an ARRI IIC. We would hand crank and rotate the dolly forward, then stop and crank back to repeat and overlay, ”she reveals. "The tech was originally a memory trigger to get you into the character's head, but the editors were so excited that it was used in those scenes. Every time we started filming the flashbacks, the operators were excited, when the film cameras came out. "
Regarding the Sony VENICE recordings, which were partially done to fit Spectrum's spectrum for a native 4K result, Caso says he's usually not a fan of false colors. "With VENICE, however, you can start programming the camera and assign colors to different exposure areas," he explains. "I knew we would do a lot of setups and not have time for a DIT tent and a video village. To quickly determine an exposure level, I set the green color to 38 to 42 percent, removed all other colors and the only one made wrong color to my calculated green. Then I would find what I thought was a medium gray and an iris until that object was green to find my exposure value. It was like having a light meter in the camera. "
Daley, who tested VENICE for a show in Australia (but couldn't use it due to budget constraints on the project), says Sony's new sensing system “reproduces skin tones beautifully. We softened it with Hollywood Black Magic Diffusion to give the image the texture and weight that Rodes wanted. "
One of the key moments of Paradise Lost that is filled with the south The atmosphere Fishburne was looking for concludes episode 8 – directed by Daley – and opens episode 9 – directed by Caso. The extended night scene begins in the vestibule of Boyd's ramshackle house on Dickie Barrett's property and then moves outside to a moonlit pool nearby, where Yates eventually reveals his past to his wife. It's a prime example of what Daley describes as "two cameramen working together on a series," which, believe it or not, is not that common in our industry, she notes.
The ending of Episode 8, steeped in shadows and plaid with fiery reds and oranges, is a definitive breakup between Yates 'and Dickie's friendship forever endowed by Janus'. Tampering with her life as a teenager was corrupted. Yates puts a rifle to his friend's head, who challenges Yates to either "pull the trigger or tell Frances the truth". Daley explains, “I wanted the lighting ratio to be high and the contrast to be character as it would reveal all of the mysteries and dark memories pointed out in previous episodes. Boyd's location is multi-tier so I've shed light into the depths of the building behind them. It is fleeting and the lighting must reflect this. "
Daley discussed with chief lighting technician Kurt Pomerleau about insect lights running around the eaves of the house outside, which would give a sickly yellow glow. "We made one of those insect lights flicker to make it feel like everything was falling apart," she continues. "I also changed Alan's moonlight package slightly from a plus green to a white flame green for a dirtier quality. I am always looking for layers of depth with color that may be a little subconscious to the viewer, but I love to paint on to use this way. "
Caso also overlayed the exterior of Suttree's house, using shadow and silhouette areas to deepen the lighting elements deeper than the others. "I partially hid the backlight of the master key behind a tree so you can feel that creeping moonlight. The opening shot in episode 9 is a pan-up of this algae-strewn swimming pool to reflect the moon, which is just a light. The crazy one – when I watched this episode – I realized that there were two moons out that night, "laughs Caso." One looks at Boyd's house and then another looks as you turn around. I didn't know that our planet has two moons! "
Such self-irony and humility are typical of both Directors of photography who in interviews for this story quickly praised each other's talents and leadership skills. They also praised their local 600 camera crew, which included A-camera / steadicam operator Luke Rocheleau. A-camera 1. AC Chris Flurry; A-camera 2. AC Bryce Marshall; B-Cinematographer / Splinter-2nd Unit Director of Photography Steven Parker, SOC; B camera 1. AC / B camera 2. Unit Operator Lisa Lengyel; B-camera 2. AC Nancy Piraquive; Loader Michael Reynolds and DIT Earl Fulcher.
Daley's selfless manner went so far as to tell Pomerleau and Key Grip Jerone Orden as soon as they arrived on the set: "Because the system is different in the UK (because the responsibility of the grips is only in the movement of the camera; they don't set spread and no flags etc) I said, "I'm going to tell you to do the wrong thing, so please excuse me if I'm confused," she laughs. “The entire crew was very supportive – I sat down with the operators before I shot my episodes to show them inspiring photos. I firmly believe that everyone's brains on set can be used to develop a team vision. I'm the team leader, but my job is also to inspire everyone to do their best job. "
According to Fishburne, the approach Daley describes was made possible by some "great location scouting where we were able to find places like Clinton, Louisiana that weren't being shot out," he said. “Job number one made sure that if you saw this show, it couldn't be anywhere else but the deep south. For example, the size and girth of the huge mural Janus painted on Main Street was important to this story, and Alan and Nicola captured it in such a powerful way. "
Also important is the mystery of the deaths of two young women after they left Bishop's debutant ball twenty years ago. The cause of death was listed as an accident and her car was hit by a train when it stopped on the tracks. But Frances and her assistant Gynnifer (Gail Bean) have different theories. So they go out one night to investigate rumors of the ghosts of the "dead debutants" and are afraid of an intruder. (It turns out that Dickie is charging at her with his gun.)
"We wanted to play the railroad tracks as an important motif in this scene," he said. Daley recalls, “So we had a cherry picker at the end of the tracks with an 18K background that lit up the tracks and our actors. Neema (Barnette) and I talked about the railroad tracks fading in the dark like they would go on forever to create that sense of mystery. For me, this scene also has a color / contrast idea with the three-quarter backlight with sodium vapor in contrast to the silvery-green moonlight. All night scenes have smoke and moisture in the deep background – real moisture – that glaze the air. "
Daley adds that the diversity of her Louisiana-based production teams was wider and deeper than her overseas experience. "I think America goes to great lengths to make its crews diverse, and that is very commendable," she muses. “It's something I could see when I went on the set of Paradise Lost. It was a visible change that was immediately visible. Unfortunately this is not so obvious in the UK where we pay lip service to the term, but the actual diversity of a typical crew is changing very slowly. "
Daley had two women directors on the show (Barnette and Elodie Keene) plus Jessica Pollini, a 1st century veteran whose TV credits include Boardwalk Empire, Vinyl and Yellowstone. “On my first day at work there are women in key creative and logistical positions all over the set,” she smiles. "And I thought," This is fantastic. "
"Everyone called me 'Ma'am' because it's the south," continues Daley, "and I said," You can't call me that! "Ma & # 39; am" is only for the queen! I told everyone to just call me "Guv & # 39; nor" which is some kind of silly British joke, and from then on it was. Everyone called me "Guv" with those fake British accents, and we hit it off a burning house. "
According to Caso, the process – the filmmaking workflow – doesn't differentiate between gender or race, "because everyone has the same camera, light, and dolly," he laughs. “What's different is when the voices that have been muffled or not heard for so long, such as those of women and people of color, are equally drawn into the process, the flower of that movie bloom becomes more enriched. It's bigger and deeper because the pool now includes people with many different life experiences and different sensitivities as artists. And that's exactly what we had on Paradise Lost. "
While Daley says she learned a lot from Caso's long years on television Trenches, Caso quickly attributes to his counterpart for expanding his chops. "After showing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was always the kind of desaturated John Frankenheimer guy with that somber view of the world," he explains. “But just before Paradise Lost, I was shooting the pilot for the Roswell restart, and (Creator) Julie Plec wanted lots of paint and all the long lenses. Working with Nicola, I learned to trust my instincts with bold colors. The scene on Poochie's houseboat where (Southern Trees reporter) Nicque (Danielle Deadwyler) becomes involved in a water patrol attack is a good example, as is the scenes in Claude's (Jason Davis') adult book store where Frances gets tapes Claude made with Janus. Without Nicola, I doubt I would have gone that far in both cases (with color). "
Daley's love of breaking convention wasn't just limited to color. For a scene in a Memphis motel room where Yates and Dickie are spending a drug addict weekend, she used a rig handle built to hold a Sony a7S from Hartnett's bodycam-like perspective, à la ASC member Matty Libatique's work in Requiem For A. Dream. She also convinced Keene to have her wavy pieces of an old chandelier (which Daley travels in) put in front of the camera to simulate the hallucinogenic journey that Yates and Dickie went on.
In terms of improving hiring inclusivity, Caso says the term wasn't on any radar when it came to Hollywood in the 1970s. “The biggest hurdle I faced wasn't being someone's son or brother. I got on as an operator during an open season and was further maligned. But I was a young white man and the jobs finally came and I took advantage of the white privilege supported by it. That's not even close to what people of color and women have to endure today. I admire and applaud these (marginalized union members) for breaking the barrier, and I really understand their reluctance not to "stick their necks out" and jeopardize their positions by being loud voices for change.
"Now it's up to those with hiring power," concludes Caso, "like Rodes Fishburne, Mark McNair, Romeo Tirone and I – basically white men in positions of power – to create the momentum that will change the status quo." Once that's done, these reluctant union members can lose their token roles and safely contribute to the advancement of potential members who are currently being marginalized. "
Fishburne, who repeats Caso, says working with talented, collaborative artists like Caso and Daley is like “discovering on a creative level every day that one plus one equals three. As a writer, I'm used to putting a puzzle together in a room to find things out. It's wonderful and great, but you don't have the feeling that in Paradise Lost, people of the caliber Alan Caso, Nicola Daley or Romeo Tirone are moving the material to another place. Doing a TV show is more like doing a crossword puzzle where the group works together to solve all the problems. I found this aspect of making Paradise Lost so rewarding. "
Paradise Lost – Local 600 crew
Cinematographer (Ep: 101, 102, 105, 106, 109, 110): Alan Caso, ASC
Cinematographer (Ep: 103, 104, 107, 108): Nicola Daley, ACS
A camera / steadicam operator: Luke Rocheleau
1. AC – One camera: Chris Flurry
2. AC – One camera: Bryce Marshall
B cameraman / splitter-2. Unit Cinematographer: Steven Parker
1. AC – B camera / Operator B camera 2. Unit: Lisa Lengyel
2nd AC – B camera: Nancy Piraquive
Loader: Michael Reynolds
DIT: Earl Fulcher
Test item: Emmett Crockett
Photographer: Eliot Brasseaux