Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor.
Cinematography that stands out from the TV crowd is now about more than looking better than most other shows—it’s about getting a look that meets the high standards once reserved only for feature films. But with television schedules and budgets typically only a fraction of their big-screen counterparts, cinematographers on shows such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Good Wife and Vikings use every lighting and camera tool or trick at their disposal to deliver the goods. Digital technology and the popularity of cameras like the Alexa, which operates well in low-light conditions, have helped immensely, but it still takes creativity to find camera moves and lighting techniques that truly stand out.
Going back to basics has paid off for AMC’s Mad Men. Cinematographer Christopher Manley likes, whenever possible, to drop the second camera typically used to ensure closeups and coverage of every scene. “We set up A shots, and if the B shot can work without compromising either shot, then we’ll use it. Otherwise, we don’t,” he explains. The result is more medium shots, giving the closeups more impact and evoking a classic big-screen style. “Doing closeups a lot of the time in television is more about a holdover style from when TVs were much smaller and people were sitting in their living room looking at a 20-inch screen 8 feet away,” says Manley. “Nowadays, everybody has a large 16:9 television that dominates their living room, so I think it’s OK to go back to a more old-fashioned scale of using wider shots.” (more…)