The American Society of Cinematographers

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Martin Ahlgren
Pierre Gill
James Hawkinson
Jeffrey Jur
Romain Lacourbas
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The Man in the High Castle (Pilot)

Cinematographer: James Hawkinson

The pilot for Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle marks the first ASC Award nomination for James Hawkinson, whose previous credits include the TV series Hannibal (AC June ’14), Community and Arrested Development.

Adapted from a Philip K. Dick novel, The Man in the High Castle is set in 1962 and presents an alternative vision of the outcome of World War II: the Allies lost, and the United States has been partitioned by Germany, which controls territory east of the Rocky Mountains, and Japan, which controls the West. A cold war brews between the two. Although most Americans have accepted their lot under totalitarian rule, a small group of rebels begins to fight back.

“The look of the show is retro-futuristic,” Hawkinson observes. “It’s a period piece, but it’s also set in a somewhat fantastic alternate-history realm. The Nazis’ technology is definitely very advanced for the 1960s — for instance, they’re heading out to colonize Mars, and they can fly from Berlin to San Francisco in two hours.”

To create an appropriate look for the show, Hawkinson turned to history for inspiration: Kodachrome film. “That was a huge influence on me,” he says. “A Kodachrome photo has an immediately retro feel, and I spent a lot of time discussing this feel with David Semel, the director of the pilot, and production designer Drew Boughton and costume designer Audrey Fisher. It was key to finding the correct palette for our world.

“Certainly, Technicolor — the way it holds color, especially in the reds — was also a consideration,” continues the cinematographer. “It has an organic vibrancy that doesn’t hurt your eyes. We tried to achieve a digital equivalent to that. The big challenge there was that Amazon requires all of its productions to be shot in 4K, and that limits your choice of cameras.”

Hawkinson chose the Red Dragon. “I felt the image was the most cinematic of all the options available to us. To my eye, the Sony chip looks more video-ish, and there are only three choices of Kelvin temperatures; but the Red Dragon offers multiple choices, and you can fine-tune the chip to your lighting to find what works best for color separation. I biased what I saw on my monitors for dailies and applied that later in the final grade. I might be shooting a scene in tungsten light, but instead of being at 3,200K, I’d go to 4,000K to force the tungsten to be a little warmer.

“Also, the Red has a superior shutter,” he adds. “For digital I used to use the Arri D-21, which had a mechanical shutter, and I really miss that, but the Red comes close.”

As The Man in the High Castle went to series, Hawkinson was sharing cinematographer duties with Gonzalo Amat. “This was my first show with alternating cinematographers, and television work is so much better that way,” Hawkinson observes. “I was the only cinematographer on Hannibal for three seasons, and my keys had to prep for me. It’s really wonderful to be able to spend that prep time with the director. Gonzalo and I have had a wonderfully harmonious experience together.”

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


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