Gregory Middleton, ASC, CSC appeared at the ASC Clubhouse on July 19 for a “Coffee and Conversation” event moderated by filmmaker and American Cinematographer contributor Jim Hemphill.
The discussion in front of a live audience focused on Middleton’s work on the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, for which the cinematographer was nominated for multiple Emmys and CSC awards. Middleton spoke about his decades-long collaboration with director Jeremy Podeswa, with whom he collaborated on the feature The Five Senses in 1999. That relationship led to Middleton’s work on Game of Thrones when Podeswa started directing on the series and brought Middleton on board.
Middleton talked about the complex logistics of shooting Game of Thrones, a show with multiple units spread out over locations in multiple countries. He explained the unusual structure behind the series’ production, in which scenes for the entire season are grouped according to location, with multiple episodes by multiple directors being shot simultaneously. Middleton addressed the challenges of this approach as well as the benefits – the benefits being greater time for prep and coordination with other departments. To this end, Middleton described the extremely close collaboration he has with the art department on the show and brought along a wealth of sketches and designs to share with the audience. He also showed documentation relating to the schedule to convey exactly how the episodes of Game of Thrones are planned in conjunction with each other.
Middleton brought along clips from the show, including a major sequence from the first episode of season 7, which recently premiered on HBO. He broke this sequence down into its various components, going into great detail about the integration of lighting and production design and the practical challenges of matching shots from different shooting days and different locations. Supplementing the clips with still photos from the set as well as previsualization files, Middleton explained which elements in the frame were practical, which were constructed on set, and which were digitally added after the shoot. He discussed the overall lighting philosophy on the show, in which everything is geared toward recreating a period look in an age without electrical lights.
Middleton also delved into the logistics of working on a show with multiple cinematographers whose work has to be coordinated without compromising each individual director of photography’s unique vision. His talk about Game of Thrones led to larger discussions about working in television in general, and about the director of photography’s collaboration with the crew and actors – and about navigating the line between planning and responding to the moment when unforeseen challenges arise on set. A lively round of audience questions covered Middleton’s use of color and integration of his lighting with visual effects work, and the cinematographer addressed influences ranging from Star Wars and European art house films to the paintings of Rembrandt and the beauty of the international locations in which he works.
The entire discussion and presentation was recorded and will be made available online to Friends of the ASC members, making it the latest entry in a multi-part series of interviews that includes ASC members Greig Fraser, Michael Goi, Edward Lachman, Matty Libatique, Seamus McGarvey, Reed Morano, Owen Roizman, Roberto Schaefer, Nancy Schreiber, Checco Varese, Amelia Vincent, Gordon Willis, Darius Wolski and many more.