The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents October 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Mad Men
Page 2
Page 3
Mad Men Sidebar
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

Manley: They used those because they didn’t have individual control of all the fluorescents in Sterling Cooper in the first season, and even though we put all those lights on separate channels for season two, we still use the magnetic gels occasionally. Some-times where the actor stops is a place that requires some kind of hairlight, but the light might be hitting her nose, too, so we’ll fasten a small magnetic triangle or rectangle wherever we need it to shape the light.    

The conference room is used extensively, and a number of directors have talked about the challenges of staging scenes in there. What are some of the tricks you’ve used in that set?    

Manley: The conference room is difficult. It’s the kind of set that calls out to be lit in one very specific way: all the windows are on one side of the room, the table is always in the same place, and people are usually sitting around it in the same way. How do you make that new and different when you’ve already shot 25 or 30 scenes there? When you’re on a tight schedule, it’s very tempting to always do what you know has worked in the past because that will be faster than coming up with something new. You can very easily get trapped in a rut, but Mike Ambrose, Pat O’Mara and I talk all the time about the problems we tend to run into in each set, and we always try to find ways to do things better and more rapidly. There’s a big, frosted glass over the table in the conference room, and we always had Mighties up there, glowing it, but this year we added 8-foot and 4-foot fluorescents under the soffit. When it was just the Mighties, it was very toppy and a little sourcey, and we used it very sparingly, but with the fluorescents in the soffit, the toplight is actually very soft and amorphous, and you can’t tell where it’s coming from.   

This year we also have a lot of conference-room scenes in which people are using an overhead projector or looking at film — there are a lot of ‘lights on’ and ‘lights off’ cues, which are always tricky and a little time-consuming. There’s a scene where Don and Peggy [Elisabeth Moss] are looking at film, and when Matt came down for that rehearsal, he said, ‘When they turn off the projector, I don’t want them to turn the lights on. I want this whole scene to be in the dark.’ It’s daytime, and the curtains and blinds are closed. What do you do? I thought if they were both near the windows, they could talk to each other without looking at each other, and Don could turn to Peggy just at the end, and it would be elegant and simple. So Peggy turns off the projector, and the only light in the room is the soft light from the glowing curtains [created with a 20K on a stand outside]. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes of the year so far. I get most excited when I’ve done something really simple that looks fantastic.   

Have you made any tweaks to the lighting in Don Draper’s house?   

Manley: We’ve re-rigged some China balls in the ceiling of each room to add room tone for certain situations. [See diagram] They were rigged there in the first season, and Mike Ambrose said they never used them, so last year we didn’t put them in, and I found there were a few occasions where I wished we had some soft overhead ambience. They’re not one of our main tools in the house, but very often they’re the easiest way to add ambient fill. When you shoot on location, there’s always some bounce off the ceiling, but when you’re onstage and the ceiling is out, you have to create that soft, low-level, toplight ambience if you want to maintain a realistic look. We still use the Whiteys [batten strips with 100-watt household bulbs] that were rigged all over the house for season one. They’re a godsend, but I find the less I use them, the better the shot looks. I light the scene and then only start introducing Whiteys as the last step, when I need a little backlight or fill in a particular area. They only become key lights in big wide shots where we don’t have the room for anything else. Our key is usually a 20K or T-12 through the window for day scenes, and a Barger Baglite somewhere low, suggesting a practical lamp, for night.   

Are there areas of the house that are particularly challenging?   

Manley: The most difficult is the foyer, which is very confining and really feels like a location. The ceiling is very low there and doesn’t come out, and there’s a practical staircase just inside the front door, so for lighting we have to come from the stairwell upstairs, from the side rooms or through the front door. Also, the kitchen is a lot smaller than it looks on the screen. We have lights everywhere in there, but they’re never quite in the right place — we just don’t have the room — so we spend a lot of time wrestling with fixtures, trying to get them just outside frame.   

The kitchen is the setting for the flashback sequence that opens the first episode of this season, when Don envisions the circumstances surrounding his birth. How did you and [director] Phil Abraham work out the staging of those scenes?   

Manley: I think Mad Men has always taken a creative approach to flashbacks, going back to the first one in season one [in ‘Babylon’], when Don falls down the stairs at home and flashes back to the birth of his brother. When I read the script for this season’s first episode, I tried to think of movies that had done flashbacks in elegant, organic ways, and I came up with , Lone Star and Girl, Interrupted. We mixed some of the visual and aural techniques used in those movies.   

Do you often reference films when you’re devising an approach to a scene?   

Manley: Matt and the directors will often come to me with movie references. They’ll say, ‘For this episode, you should look at La Notte’ or ‘… Bye Bye Birdie,’ and then, when I read the script, I understand why. Matt is a huge film buff. I worked as a projectionist in revival houses in Philly for several years, so I’ve seen more than most people, but he’ll sometimes reference films I’ve never heard of.   

Is he often specific about how a given scene should be lit?   

Manley: I get notes from [co-executive producer] Scott Hornbacher and the directors, and sometimes from Matt, about how certain scenes should look or feel. Matt can get very specific, and the more specific he is, the further I can push something. If he says, ‘This scene needs to be very dark — there’s no light on in the house,’ I know exactly where to go. I don’t have to wonder whether ‘very dark’ means a little moonlight is filtering in or a practical lamp is on in the corner. Sometimes a script will say, ‘It’s very, very dark,’ and I have to ask people, ‘How dark is that?’ There’s ‘very, very dark,’ and there’s ‘You’re fired.’ [Laughs] I also have to have a lot of discussions about time-of-day lighting. For instance, recently there was a scene described as ‘night’ that took place in late June, so I had to clarify whether it was 9 p.m. night or 7:30 p.m. night, because it’s still light out in New York in late June at 7:30. The assistant directors always print out a one-line, a list of all the scenes in continuity, and I use that as a color and lighting reference. I also get a lot of help from the script supervisor, Kelly Leffler, and there’s always at least one writer on the set who can help us resolve [time-of-day] questions. Sometimes we’ll throw out a suggestion, such as asking if a scene can be twilight instead of night; sometimes it would just look better to glow the windows soft blue instead of having it be night, with nothing out there.   

Did you learn anything new about Matt’s process when he directed an episode last year?  

<< previous || next >>