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

Gotham, "Strike Force"

Cinematographer: Christopher Norr

“I had a really hard time deciding which episode to submit,” says Christopher Norr, who received his second ASC Award nomination for the Fox series Gotham. “I had four episodes to choose from, and I was leaning one way, but I had a bunch of people compliment me on ‘Strike Force,’ so at the last minute I decided to send it in instead. But it was a really hard call!

“The biggest challenge on this show is finding the look that gives us the proper Gotham feel,” Norr says. “It’s not really a period piece, but it’s not modern, either — it’s a kind of soft-period feel. When we’re shooting exteriors, we bring in cars from the 1980s, for instance. It’s difficult to find the right locations, but we’ve got a great locations team that carefully selects the buildings that fit our aesthetic. The script for a recent episode included a fight in a park, but we typically try to avoid greenery in the show, so we moved the action to a tunnel that was in a park. It had really interesting architecture and arches, and the scene is dark and moody.”

Norr shares cinematographer duties on Gotham with Crescenzo Notarile, ASC, AIC, who is also nominated in this category for the episode “Scarification.” Norr offers, “Crescenzo and I talk a lot about what we like, and we evaluate each other’s work closely. We each have our own point of view, but we have a great relationship, and we inspire each other; I’ll often see something he does that I like, and vice versa. We challenge each other, but not in a competitive way. We’re on the same team.

“I think shooting Gotham comes down to taking risks. It’s got a graphic-novel feel, so it has to have strong visuals. Nothing is shot straight.”

In terms of doing things differently from episode to episode, Norr continues, “I light the sets differently every time. I’ll change the color or the angle of the light, for instance. Sunlight changes throughout the day, weather changes, colors change, so it’s all justifiable. Some of it is motivated, but some of it is really about creating mood. The spirit of the show means we can get away with just about anything — we can light a whole scene red if we feel like it! Colors that don't necessarily make sense in the real world often make sense in Gotham.”

Norr says executive producer Danny Cannon specified two key visual references for the look of the series: Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, shot by Jordan Cronenweth, ASC, and David Fincher’s Seven, shot by Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC. “One thing I stole from Blade Runner is that I often have moving lights going through the scene,” he says. “They don’t even need to be motivated; they just feel right in our world.

“We go surprisingly dark on this show,” he continues. “Sometimes I think I’m going too far, and I keep waiting for that tap on the shoulder from the network, but all I’ve gotten are pats on the back! They seem to love it, and I keep pushing to see how far we can go.”

Gotham’s cinematographers also make extensive use of wide-angle lenses. “We carry a 10mm and use it all the time,” Norr says. “We use a lot of Panavision lenses from the 1970s, the Standard Primes and Ultra Speeds, to take the HD edge off the image and give it a more filmic feel. Color-wise they’re all over the map, but our DIT, Dan Brosnan, knows them by heart and smooths out the variations. We also carry a few Primos; I find the extra sharpness of the 17.5mm and 14mm Primos helps our super-wide shots. When we get into medium range, which for us is 20mm, 28mm, 32mm and 40mm, we go to the older lenses.

Gotham is not an easy show to shoot,” Norr concludes. “We’re on a lot of locations, and we love atmosphere, so everything is a wet-down. It’s difficult to work 10 months in a row at this kind of pace, but having a second cinematographer gives us both time to plan and recoup between shoot days.”

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


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