The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2015 Return to Table of Contents
Martin Ahlgren
Pierre Gill
James Hawkinson
Jeffrey Jur
Romain Lacourbas
ASC Close-Up

Casanova (Pilot)

Cinematographer: Pierre Gill, CSC

This is the fourth ASC Award nomination for cinematographer Pierre Gill, CSC, who won for the miniseries Hitler and was also nominated for the miniseries Joan of Arc and the series The Borgias.

The Casanova pilot was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie), for whom Gill had shot and directed second unit on the feature The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet. “Although I handled second unit for Jean-Pierre, I barely met him on set — most of the time he was something like 2,000 miles away,” Gill says with a laugh. “He was quite happy with the work I did, though, and when he asked me to do Casanova with him, I was honored to accept. I have a lot of high-end television experience, and that was helpful for him because he hadn’t directed television before, and the approach and pace are different.”

The pilot was shot over 20 days in Venice, Versailles, Paris and Budapest. “Jean-Pierre wanted to make sure we had enough time, and because it was a period piece, with costumes and hair, the pace was a little slower than a normal pilot,” say Gill. “I had a great crew. My Hungarian gaffer, Laszo ‘Gromy’ Molnar, also worked with me on The Borgias, which was the last time I was nominated for an ASC Award, so I guess he is good luck for me! I also had a great French gaffer in Paris, Laurent Héritier.”

Amazon Studios mandates that all of its series originate in 4K. After testing a Sony F55, an Arri Alexa and a Panasonic Varicam, Gill decided to work with the F55 for the first time. “I knew we’d be using a lot of candlelight and trying to actually use the candles as sources, and the F55 really was the nicest camera in very low light,” he says. “Also, the blacks were smoother and more velvety. I felt it was a more luscious look for this period piece.”

Gill worked with Arri Master Primes, and Jeunet, as usual, favored very short focal lengths. “One of my biggest challenges on Casanova was that Jean-Pierre’s longest lens is a 21mm or a 27mm,” notes the cinematographer. “It’s quite hard to figure out your lighting with such wide lenses. You cannot get a light next to the camera; you have to light from far away. For a close-up, you typically go with a longer lens and sweeten the lighting on the actor, but we were shooting close-ups with a 21mm lens and the camera close to the actors!

“No matter how much time you have, the clock is always ticking on set, and I had to solve problems very fast. I tried to find a way to light from very far away with large sources and then hide some very small fixtures on set to enhance details and give depth to the image. I worked with small LEDs and very small paper lanterns with small bulbs in them, decoration lights I picked up from Ikea. I also did some keying with multiple candles that we strapped together; I called them the ‘dynamite light’ because that’s what they looked like. The multiple wicks created a brighter source that was really beautiful and natural looking.”

Gill adds that the F55 held highlights surprisingly well. “I was very, very surprised by how well the candle flames held up with the Sony. I was lighting with actual candles, and I was astounded to see that we had great exposure and the flames didn't burn out. That was great because it meant that I could worry about other things, like shaping the gorgeous sets and amazing wardrobe.”

Here is the 4-minute clip reel Gill submitted with the pilot:


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