The American Society of Cinematographers

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The cinematographers behind How I Met Your Mother, True Detective and Sherlock: His Last Vow discuss their Emmy Award-winning work.

Images courtesy of CBS, HBO, Hartswood Films/PBS, Netflix and Discovery Channel. Emmy logo courtesy of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Three honorees in the field of cinematography at this year’s Creative Arts Emmy Awards were Christian La Fountaine, for the “Daisy” episode of the multi-camera CBS series How I Met Your Mother; Adam Arkapaw, for the “Who Goes There” episode of the single-camera HBO series True Detective; and Neville Kidd, for Episode 3 of Sherlock: His Last Vow in PBS’s Masterpiece series.

La Fountaine says he chose to submit the “Daisy” episode because “it required a variety of looks.” He explains, “This episode was definitely one of the more difficult shoots of our nine years on How I Met Your Mother. We had 13 swing sets, most with large casts; night and day scenes on planes, trains and automobiles; an immense hotel lobby; and even a haunted house. The sheer volume was quite a challenge. There were so many elements and so many different locations.”

With a three-day shooting schedule, La Fountaine and his team used four Sony F23 cameras in two-dolly two-pedestal configurations. “The peds were equipped with Panavision Batwings, Smart Lens displays for the 11:1 24-275mm Primos,” says La Fountaine, who praises his crew and director Pamela Fryman. “Fisher 9 dollies carried Primo SDZ9 8-72 mm lenses. For monitors, we employed Sony’s 25-inch PMV LEDs.

He says the most challenging scene shows Lily (Alyson Hannigan) in the bathroom, reading the results of a pregnancy test. “We tried to make it moody to give the feeling that she’s almost in despair. We keyed the window, bounced a tad of fill so we could see what she was going through, and isolated her with a Tweenie to give her a little kiss.

“It was a three-light setup — that’s it. A lot of times, the best solution is the simplest. When our show is romantic or sad, it’s so moving. Trying to further the story with cinematography is so much easier when you have a great story.”

La Fountaine also won the Emmy in this category for How I Met Your Mother last year, for the episode “The Final Page (Part 2).”

HBO’s True Detective got a lot of buzz in its freshman season, which Arkapaw shot for director Cary Fukunaga. The fourth episode, “Who Goes There,” featured “impressionistic” sequences set in 1995 and 2002. “We shot on Panaflex Millennium XLs,” says Arkapaw. “I like how those cameras feel solid and reliable in a production setup, but also break down into a comfortable, sexy handheld configuration.”

For the 1995 and 2002 sequences, Arkapaw used Panavision’s PVintage primes to achieve a “nostalgic period look.” He explains, “We wanted those sequences to feel as though they were being seen as a memory through a thin veil of time. This was achieved with the [lenses’] inherent flaring, which causes a softer contrast, and with the slight aberrations in the glass.” For sequences set in 2012, Arkapaw used Panavision Primo lenses, which “produce a more contrasty and sharp image that suggests the modern, more ‘present’ world to my eye,” he says.

A six-minute Steadicam shot took the most preparation of any setup in the episode. “That was the most fun I had on the series!” says Arkapaw. “The shot goes in and out of three different houses, across two streets, over a fence, through a vacant lot and into a getaway car. We had helicopters, a lot of weaponry, fight sequences, broken windows, gunshots, pyrotechnics and around 100 extras choreographed into the set piece.” The nighttime shot also required a lot of lighting. “We had many big lights and Condors out, and my electric team added about 100 fluorescents to the neighborhood also,” says Arkapaw.

Kidd was honored in the category of cinematography in a miniseries or movie with his work on Sherlock: His Last Vow. “It’s the best-looking show on British television, so the pressure was on to deliver a very high quality and add a new twist,” he says. “The lighting can be a little bit more extreme because of the way Sherlock sees the world.”

This conceit means that Sherlock is composed of “two layers of visuals,” continues Kidd. “We film the world Sherlock and Watson see, and also the specific world that Sherlock sees. That gives us an extra layer of visual tricks, which gave me the flexibility to push things a bit. I was able to do things that might look contrived in a normal drama.” This included being “a bit more extreme” with framing, camera tricks and rigs. “There aren’t many dramas where you can do that, because ordinarily, it takes you away from the story,” Kidd notes. “But with Sherlock, it adds to the storytelling. The show is unique in that way.

“We used two Arri Alexas for the majority of the show, as well as a Canon Cinema EOS C300,” the cinematographer continues. “To depict Sherlock’s mindset, we attached the C300 to Benedict [Cumberbatch] with a body rig. For taxi sequences, we attached the Canon to the side of the car, and we also used the Canon for shots of London reflected in the taxi’s glass with Sherlock in the background. It was important to get the personality of London across in the show as well.”

Charles Magnassen (played by Lars Mikkelsen) also wore a body rig. For the drug scene, says Kidd, he also used a crane and swing-and-tilt lenses.

When Sherlock is shot, Kidd used a Vision Research Phantom camera for some high-speed work, but he placed a smaller, lighter Sony NEX FS700 and a 14mm prime lens on a 360-degree spinning rig to capture the character’s collapse. “We had a bit of free rein to go into Sherlock’s mental zone at that moment,” says Kidd.

After Sherlock has been shot, the lighting starts to match his emotions as well. “There’s a scene in a padded cell, and the lighting is breathing with him,” says Kidd. “I put an intense light on his face and darkened the rest of the character and others in the room. I mixed a combination of LED and tungsten lighting to show key aspects of Sherlock’s world. I deliberately wanted it to feel disjointed.”

Although Kidd shot most of the show with Cooke lenses, he used extreme wide angles, mainly Zeiss 10mm and 12mm lenses, to convey Sherlock’s mindset at such moments.

Kidd says the most challenging aspect of the episode was the sheer number of shots he and the crew had to achieve. “I had a fantastic crew that always had a lot of cameras ready, and our great [A-camera] operator, Joe Russell, could shoot handheld for very long takes and never drop,” he says. “Visually, we were pushing it as far as we could. There was never a dull moment.”

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences also bestowed Emmy Awards on the camera teams behind the nonfiction program The Square, distributed by Netflix, and the reality series Deadliest Catch, produced by Discovery Channel.


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