The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2015 Return to Table of Contents
Vanja Černjul
David Greene
Christopher Norr
Crescenzo Notarile
Fabian Wagner
ASC Close-Up

12 Monkeys, "Mentally Divergent"

Cinematographer: David Greene, CSC

This year’s ASC Award nomination marks a trifecta for David Greene, CSC, who was previously nominated for the MOW The Trip to Bountiful and the series Beauty and the Beast.

12 Monkeys is an episodic adaptation of the 1995 feature film directed by Terry Gilliam and shot by Roger Pratt, BSC. It follows the journey of James Cole (played by Aaron Stanford), a time traveler from the post-apocalyptic future who appears in the present day on various missions to locate and eradicate the source of a deadly plague that will destroy the human race.

Greene says he chose to submit the episode “Mentally Divergent” because “it was the first episode that I shot, and it was the first episode following the pilot [shot by Todd McMullen]. We put a lot into it in terms of planning and resources. It was also the first time we shot the time-machine room, a primary set. Given that time is so tight on network shows, I had no time to test. The very first day we were on the set with a camera was the first day we were in there shooting! It was definitely a challenge to try to anticipate all the problems we might confront while the art department was still constructing the set.”

Greene wanted a healthy complement of practical lighting throughout the time-machine set. “The look of that set is very much based on practicals — that’s what defines the space,” says the cinematographer. “I knew we would need that definition in the back corners, and I asked for practicals to encircle the space and define its edges. The time machine itself has all sorts of small LEDs twinkling on it. There are lots of fluorescent lights that encircle the space on the walls. I was keen to have points of light in the background of every shot in there, and I almost drove people crazy pushing for it, but it really helps to add life to the frame.”

Above the time machine, Greene’s crew built four 20’x12’ frames of Grid Cloth diffusion fronted with Lighttools ez[Pop] grids. Pushing through the soft frames were sets of Kino Flo Image 80s with Lee 129 diffusion. “This created a very soft 24-by-40-foot toplight that was 2 to 3 stops under,” Greene says. “There is also the control area where the scientists initiate the time splintering. When we see their faces, they’re lit by units hidden within their consoles, but when we come around to see the consoles, we uplight them with fluorescent units beneath the grate in the floor that I asked the art department to create.”

Greene notes that he is “a big fan of Kino Flos. A standby for me is the Blanket Light [a 6’ square of 6’ Kino Flo tubes with a face of diffusion]. Many people don't seem to like that fixture, but I really love it. It’s quiet, it’s compact, and it gives you a quality that’s similar to a book light, but it’s less than 1 foot thick.”

Over the years, he has developed a choreography for working with the Blanket Light. “There are times when that light has as many marks as the actors do for the scene!” he says with a laugh. “I move it around with them so that we always have a soft light outside of frame. When you’re shooting as fast as you have to on network television, you have to come up with many shortcuts that work. We devised a caster system for the Blanket Light that is very smooth and quiet, and my electricians can move it around during the scene to keep the quality of look I want.”

12 Monkeys shoots in Toronto at the Cinespace stages and on locations throughout the city. The show is captured with the Arri Alexa EV (to ProRes 4:4:4) with Cooke S5 and S4 prime lenses.

“The shooting schedule for the first season was quite grueling,” Greene attests. “We had seven days per episode, but we really needed eight. They were very long days just because the volume of work was tremendous.

“It’s a great relief to any cinematographer to be teamed up with an outstanding production designer, and John Mott is fantastic,” Greene concludes. “His department provides us with beautiful sets, and that helps to make my work that much better.”

Here is the 4-minute clip reel Greene submitted with the episode:


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