A couple of months ago, we got the opportunity to sit down with Director of Photography, Robert Reed Altman. If that name sound familiar, it’s possibly due to him being the son of five-time Oscar-nominated Director Robert Altman.
However, Robert has served on an impressive number of award-winning feature films and television series himself, ever since the maverick days of American filmmaking in the 1970s. In the 90’s, Robert shifted gears and began working on acclaimed TV series like ‘Alien Nation’, Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’, ‘The Wonder Years’, and a host of his father’s films. That continued in the 00’s and beyond with work on ‘The OC’, ‘Bones’, ‘Chuck’, ‘Lost’ and the movie ‘Cloverfield’. Most recently, he shot breakout comedy-drama 'Good Girls', which can currently be found on Netflix in the UK.
GT: So, I usually start off the interview by asking a bit of background and how you got into the industry, but I’m guessing with your father, that explains how you got in the first place.
Yeah, I was pretty much born into the whole thing. I was supposed to go to summer camp when I was 14 and I had been going there every summer for a few years before that, so I was really excited to go there, I had a girlfriend, my whole life was focused on that throughout the school year and then my dad says, “Bobby, I never get to see you”, and I’m like, “Well, that’s your fault, not mine. You’re always working,” and he goes, “Well, I want you to come to Nashville”, and I said “What’s Nashville?”
[‘Nashville’ was a Robert Altman’s 1975 satirical musical comedy-drama starring David Arkin and Barbara Baxley]
And then, he goes, “Well, I want you to come there”, and I told him I couldn’t do it. Everything was planned to go to this camp and there’s no way, and then I saw a tear from his eye drop and he goes, “Okay. Well look, I’ll make you a deal, if you come out for two weeks, if you don’t like it then you can go back,” and I said, “Okay. Deal,” and we shook on it.
When I get to ‘Nashville’ it’s a complete zoo, I mean it’s crazy, people running all over, my dad, I could barely even see him he was moving around so fast. Two weeks went by really quick and I’m on the set with some of the other kids. I think the caterer had his kids there, Mickey Chonos, and there’s electricians with lights and cables screaming, “Get out of the way, kid! Are you a door or a window,” or whatever.
So, two weeks went by really fast and I was like, “This isn’t working.” Being the director’s kid, it just was weird, you know? So, I tried to find the right timing to get his attention, to talk to him about going back, or getting me a job there, or something. I couldn’t just be floating around and so I couldn’t get that timing down, I mean I tried for another week to try to find the right place, the right time.
Finally, I was like that’s it. So, we’re at the Nashville airport for that opening scene, and my dad comes around the corner with thirty people following him, and he’s pouring at this, and that, this, and that, and they’re kind of heading around to go out the security doors down onto the runway where they’re all setting up for the first big first shot, when Barbara Jean comes in.
I jump out in front of them, from behind a wall, and I’m like, “Dad! Dad! It’s an emergency! I have to talk to you right now,” and he’s like, “What! What is it?” And I say, “I can’t tell you in front of all these people,” and I look to my right and there’s a little video game room. I said, “Come here, follow me,” and we go in there, we’re alone, and that little ping-pong thing’s going beep, beep, you know, the old game machines.
He goes, “Well, what is it, what is it,” and I go, “Okay,” and then, I pause for like two beats to build the tension up a little more, and then I said, “I can’t just be here as the director’s kid getting in the way. Don’t you remember our deal? It’s been two weeks, so I can either go back or maybe you can help find me a job or something to do, so I don’t feel so useless around here?” And he’s like, “Oh, is that all? Is that all this is?” And I went, “Is that all? This is me and my whole life. That’s me!” Then, his eyes lifted up and then, I saw this light bulb pop over his head and his eyes popped out, and he was like, “I’ve got an idea, follow me.”
He goes out the door. Now, I’m in with the thirty people following him and we’re going straight out that door, down the stairs, down through where all the high school band kids were learning the whole thing for this big scene, and he keeps walking down to the right and off the set, towards the back. I see a pop-up tent or something and there’s some guy behind a bunch of cables, boxes, and wires in it. He could sense Bob [Robert Altman Snr] was coming, and halfway there he pops up and he, “Oh Bob, hi, how’s it going,”, totally sucking up, and I’m like, “Oh boy,” and so, we get over there and he’s like, “This is my other son Bobby. Do you have a job for him?” “Oh. Yes. Of course, Bob, anything you want. Great,” and then, literally the walkie-talkie goes off, and Tony [Lombardo – assistant editor] comes up, and he’s like, “Okay, we’re out of here. Bob, we’ve got to go. We’re ready to roll,” and I couldn’t even see them walking away. They were gone.
Now, I’m standing there alone with this guy and he dropped immediately back behind his stuff when Dad’s gone and he doesn’t even notice I’m there, and so, I’m like, okay I’ll just wait here because I know timing is everything, and so, ten minutes, a certain long amount of time goes by and I go, “Well, what do you want me.” I mean, I’m like saying, “what should I ask him?”, to myself. “Hey Jim, can I get you a Coca-Cola,” and he jumps up, “No, I’m diabetic,” and he goes back down. “Okay…” and he’s stressed out too, I guess. Well, he was doing that multi-track, track sound thing and he had two giant one-inch decks and 16 radio mics and back then, they were huge, and millions of wires coming out the back.
So, anyway I just stood there and waited, and then I thought, well I’ll just take a break and see what happens. And then, I think, well, maybe if I ask him a technical question… but I don’t know any technical questions to ask. So, I look at the back of the panels and all the wires coming out, and one of them was red, so I ask him what that one is. I go up and I point towards to it, my fingers coming closer and closer to the back of this deck and he shouts, “Don’t touch that!” He jumps up, “Don’t touch that,” and I could feel everyone on the set looking at me like I did something wrong.
I go back to my mark, I throw my look off to the left, I focus to infinity, and there’s this big white truck, and coming out of the back are all these white cases, people carrying white cases. It looked like spaceships stuff going around behind the truck. Next thing I knew, I was over there. I had to see what that stuff was and I don’t even remember walking over there, but I was there and these guys were pulling all these cameras out of these cases and I could tell there were different kinds of cameras. And so, I said, “So, can these lenses go on any of these different kinds of cameras,” and they go, “Good question, kid!”
So, I kept asking these questions and because it interested me. I always loved my dad’s Nikons when I was little, all the buttons, and dials, and stuff. Here I was with these guys and I’m like, “Well, what are these?” They say, “Camera reports.” I go, “Why don’t I fill out the name of the movie, the director, all the things I know, and I’ll just fill out as many as I can just so you don’t have to fill them out later, that part of them?” And they’re like, “Great!” I probably filled a thousand of them. Then, I went home that night and I told my dad that I was really excited and wanted to work with these camera people, and he says “Perfect.”
Then, I come in the next day to the back of that camera truck, ready to go, and they’re all standing there where they’re staring at me like “what the hells?”… So I’m thinking, what happened? I ask “What’s wrong with you guys? You told me yesterday the first thing we do when we come in is we take the filters, and the batteries, and put one by each camera position, and you’re not moving,” and they’re like, “well, uh, uh, well, uh,” and I’m like, “Well, uh, what?” They’re like “Well uh,” I’m like, “Come on, spit it out! What’s wrong?” And they say, “Well, we didn’t know. We thought you were a kid just from the neighbourhood, we didn’t know you were Robert Altman’s son.” “Oh. Well, that’s your problem, not mine,” and I grab the filters and I ran out the door. From then on, I worked with them.
Through most of my life, every summer vacation lined up on a different Altman film for me until I got out of school. I went to boarding school up in Vancouver Island at Brentwood College, and I get out of school. I had all English teachers. I loved that place, though. It was great. I played rugby and all that, but I always had to work twice as hard maybe or a lot harder than I would’ve if I didn’t have to protect my dad. I didn’t want to take any focus … I didn’t want to have him to have to do more production than he had to. Everyone looked at me like, “We know how you got in there because of your dad. Nepotism.” So I felt I could prove myself, so I didn’t have to deal with that shit.
GT: Yeah, yeah, I mean, that Nashville, which is I mean to look at your IMDb page, it’s what? 1975, so you were 14 back then?
GT: Each movie is pretty much every year after that.
Right. Yeah. I think it was a ‘Nashville’, ‘A Wedding’, ‘Buffalo Bill’ and ‘The Indians’, and ‘Quintet’. Yeah. Grade 11, I only worked in the art department, and I wanted to quit school and work on that in Montreal, but I couldn’t do that, but I did help design. I pretty much designed those ‘Quintet’, those three game pieces that each character had?
Anyway. So and then, what, ‘3 Women’ in Palm Springs. We did all the painting and the pools, we painted the back of those pools in 120-degree weather and stuff. It’s been amazing.
GT: Yeah, yeah, you did ‘Popeye’, and you eventually moved from doing film stuff into doing TV.
Yeah, so I’d do a movie with my dad, and then, I would jump back over through the union and my contacts, and work TV shows. Yeah, I would always clear everything to do my dad’s films, but I’d have my own TV thing going here.
GT: So you did things like ‘Alien Nation’, the TV series. You did ‘The Wonder Years’, as well which, it was a great show.
‘The Wonder Years’, where Ken Topolsky, the line producer, came up to me, and he goes, “You’ve been doing this focus stuff a long time. You’re ready to move up, right?” I go, “Yes,” because it’s really hard to move up, and he says, “Okay, I’m moving you up,” and I go, “Okay!” He was bringing in feature DPs, and when they got another movie, then, he’d let them go and bring another one. People like, Russ Carpenter, Tim Sirsta, Rene Ohashi… Rene Ohashi was the DP when Ken said I’m moving you up, and he was like, “Okay. Jump on the dolly. There’s the wheels. I want you to start here and do a 180. Bring that guy around,” and I went for it. I guess I did okay with it. We got through it, so that was cool. Then, from ‘The Wonder Years’, I drop back down to focus puller for ‘The Player’ because I wasn’t ready to operate for him on that and also that was the only way I could work on it.
Now, he’s moved John Lappin up to DP, because Pierre Mignon’s back went out with that jib arm thing that my dad loved. John’s the operating DP. He was one of the best focus puller’s I’d ever known, and we’re on ten to one, and the opening shot of ‘The Player’ was probably the easiest shot I ever pulled focus on because everything was marked. The Titan crane would roll in, hit a mark, the grips would drop right over a mark, we’d be zooming into 250 through a window. Then, we’d zoom back out, and it’d come around and hit another mark, and then we’d zoom into the postcard. So, you didn’t have monitors to look at it, so it was really me pulling focus, and the operator DP telling me if I was off a little. He would just slide the wheel a little as he went in, but that was pretty amazing. Then, the rest of that movie, whenever we were on that jib arm thing that my dad loved because it gave him that floating feeling with the zoom. It was just going crazy. At one point I’m like, “I’m done, I can’t do this”, and John said, “You American’s are lazy, you put a mark here, and then, you put a mark there. You don’t even know how far those marks really are. You need to learn the barrel size of the lens, and you need to, just think plywood, you know what those are right? Four by eight feet, just think plywood.” So, I did and a couple of days, it looked in and I was on it.
GT: Following on from doing TV shows you say you jumped backwards and forwards between TV and movies. You worked with Kevin Smith on ‘Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’. That must have been such a fun film to do.
Well, I came in to do added scenes for about three weeks, and we showed all kinds of stuff, and it was really interesting. We had that Scooby animatron dog in the van and all that stuff. Yeah, it was hilarious.
GT: I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan, so I love things like that. ‘Boston Legal’ you worked on.
Yeah, I worked a little bit on Boston Legal and that’s when I was on the lockdown in Redondo Beach at Manhattan Beach Studios. That’s where my friend Buzz was over there on ‘The OC’, so I went over and said, “Hey, what’s up?” Buzzy and I, he’s a DP, Buzz Feitshans, and he bought a house right by Universal and I rented a room from that house. I met him on the set of ‘Knight Rider’, I came in at [inaudible 00:15:54], and we had 13 Arri 3 cameras and all 400-foot mags.
We’re setting up and there’s all these people, operators and cam, and they were getting their cameras and their assignments, and then, I’m like, “Buzz, there’s no film in this truck. Just the mags.” He’s like, “Oh, fuck,” so he said. He calls and he goes, “Just wait. As soon as it comes in, load 13 mags as fast as you can and run under these cameras because we’re going to get all setup, and hopefully, we don’t have to wait.”
Comes in, pop out the 13 and I run to each camera and nobody knows. I worked with him for years and then, we worked together. We worked for a guy named Frank Lynn, not the other Frank Lynn, but this Frank Lynn was second unit DP. We did a lot of stuff with all the stunt people. They were tied together and that’s how I met Buzz. I go over to ‘The OC’ and I see Buzz again and he’s like, “Well, hey. Do you want to come and do B camera on ‘The OC’ because there’s a spot opening up,” and I’m like, “Yeah, that would be great.” I think I did three seasons of that or two and a half. That’s where I really started shooting, learning lighting, and learning his lighting, and being able to put it all … starting to put it all together.
GT: Yeah, so from there, you move on to ‘Lost’.
Right. ‘The OC’ came to an end, I get a phone call on that last day, “Hey! Can you come and do ‘Lost’, Season 3?” and I go, “Yeah!” My niece’s husband is Tommy Lohmann, steady cam operator, he was the A camera operator on ‘Lost’ at that time. Paul Lohmann [Tommy’s father] shot ‘Nashville’, ‘Buffalo Bill’, ‘The Indians’ and ‘California Splits’. They were little kids when I was a little kid. They were half as old as I was. Then, when I did ‘Kansas City’, I was the operator. That was my first big movie as an operator and with Oliver Stapleton and my dad, and then, I had hired Thomas as my assistant on that. Anyway, he ended up marrying my niece and they have a daughter together. They live in Venice and they’re great.
Now, he calls me to go to ‘Lost’, so I ended up doing two seasons of that as an operator. Then, when that ended, I came back and shot a web series for Josh Schwartz, the producer of ‘The OC’. I shot that on HBX 200s. We only had enough lights for the actors to go to three different marks or something like that. We pulled it off. We made a real production out of something where there was really no money to do it.
GT: The next big TV show you come to is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. ‘Chuck’.
Yeah. ‘Chuck’ was great. That was Buzzy again, so we get all shot in Super 16 and that was a very ambitious show, but what a great family, what a great group of people. That was really crazy, but when you’d think you’d be going home at around 13 hours in, that’s when you do the giant stunt scene with five cameras, an explosion, and 16 guys dropping out of helicopters!
After three years on that, when I went to any other show, I’m like, “These are really short hours!” 12 hours seem short compared to that, but we had to jump in and really put our heads together to get it done and do it because we were always on the bubble of being cancelled. We didn’t know if we were going to come back the next season. But Zac, Yvonne, and the whole group of people was amazing. There, I did all the double up days and shot all the second units. The same thing as with ‘The OC’ and that really got me started. That experience was what set me up for when I moved up on ‘Bones’.
GT: Yeah, ‘Chuck’ is the first place you officially get a series with a director of photography credit, rather than the camera credit.
Right because then, Buzz directed an episode and I got to shoot the one when he was prepping in his, and a couple more we split, and then he took some time off and I’d do another one, that kind of thing, so it was great. It was great.
GT: Yeah, and then, you do ‘Heart of Dixie’, then, you come on to ‘Bones’ which is another amazing show.
Yeah, I went on, with Buzz to ‘Heart of Dixie’ and the producers were a little like, “You have to shoot everything really long lens and you have to be wide open with foreground and we don’t want to know that we’re shooting on the backlot.” We never left Warner Brothers Studio. They were all worried about that and they really were testing Buzz in the beginning. To be on a peewee dolly, zoomed in to 290 and trying to keep it steady was ridiculous. They wouldn’t bump for the bigger dollies.
People think that’s digital. Everything’s getting smaller and easier, we don’t need any lights. Well, that’s not so true is it, but anyway. Yeah, I was pretty depressed. I was getting depressed there because I wasn’t shooting much, and it was like, okay… Then, after one season of that, I know I’m going back for two if I wanted, but the phone rings on hiatus and they ask me to come in to do ‘Bones’.
That was through Ian Toynton, who was the showrunner on ‘The OC’ and a great director from England who started in the BBC. Great guy, and he called me. During hiatus, I guess I went on day, played as an operator a little bit on ‘Bones’ and then, they called me to come in and operate A camera and shoot the double ups. I bumped right over there and that was amazing. That’s where a lot of great things started to happen for me.
GT: Yeah, you’re down as camera operator, director of photography. Did you direct an episode as well?
Yeah, I directed an episode as well. I went in. I get in there, it’s a really tense set. I’m the A operator. New season. The operator, Gordon Longsdale, left to go do ‘CSI: Miami’ or something, and then Greg Collier moved up to DP. They hired me to come in as the A operator. It was a very tense set. I mean there was a lot of pressure and stuff.
I came in, my personality, and I tried to lighten everything up a little bit, but still keep it serious and they eased everyone into a different energy field and we had a really good time. Then, Jan DeWitt, the line producer, says, “Hey Bobby. We need to do this cliff thing, so I’m going to have you come out.” Next thing I know, I’m shooting, set prepping, doing way more DP stuff throughout that season and the next one.
When I would shoot my second units, I would use the multiple cameras. If I could get three, I would always get three, especially if we had to get David [Boreanaz] out or we had to get a big scene done in a short amount of time. That’s my favourite part of this whole thing, is being creative, thinking outside of the box, trying to find ways to hide the cameras, use them together, get different angles and coverage. And if it’s the camera, the second camera, or third camera is not doing anything, I’ll always find some extra angle or off angle, single, something to give the director and editor more ways to cut around stuff.
David, I could tell, liked me. Emily was great, all the cast was amazing, so I started to fit right in. We did a western episode in season 11 and Chad Lowe was the director and it was really intense. We only had six hours with David for three days, at this western town up here, and it was very short hours, it was in the winter time.
I got them to give me four cameras and then, Jan’s like, “Why don’t you get a tightened crank,” because I told the reps and everybody we’re going to embrace this like it’s a western, we’re going to shoot it like it’s a western. We’re not going to cover the actors, we’re not going to do all the normal stuff we do. We’re going to let the sun blast down, I’ll talk to David and Emily, and let them know because they’re going to have their cowboy hats on when they’re outside anyway, and make sure they’re cool with it.
Then, we’ll bounce light in, we’ll get a bunch of 18k’s and do the western thing, which when that became the thing when we were doing that, it took so much pressure off me because I was like, “All right. This is fun.” Well, get a tightened crank because that’s what they used on westerns. I go, “Yeah!” So, we had the tightened crane for the master and then, I’d put a long lens underneath it.
Then, I’d have 250 foot dolly trucks on each side to get the cross angles, and I’d set each scene into the backlight at the right time of day, so we planned it all out. We go this scene, we do three a day, three giant scenes, that had about four scenes inside of them. Chad’s like, “Well, what are you doing,” and I go, “I’m setting up for this whole thing.” He goes, “No. No. Let’s just do the beginning first, then we’ll do …” and I go, “Well, okay…”
I’d still set it up for the whole thing and he goes, “What are you doing,” and I go, “Yeah. Well, we’re ready to do the beginning first,” but then, they can walk into the next thing and we can continue or we can stop and then, we can restart, but I’ll be ready. We bam, bam, bam, bam, did all that stuff. Then Randy Zisk came, the showrunner after Ian, and he started shooting all the pieces and little inserts and stuff that we needed to pull it all together, and we were out of there.
I think we did 10 hour days. We got everything and more. At that point, I’m like if I don’t let them know I want to direct, they’re not going to ask me, and I did. One of the writers, a friend of mine, I’m telling her that story, she goes, “You got to ask Michael Peterson [Producer]. You just gotta ask,” and she mentioned it to him. She goes, “I mentioned it to him. He’s excited, but you need to ask him,” so, I shot an email over, and he replied, “After what you’ve done on this show for us, you can have anything you want.” I’m like, “Right on!” We finish Season 11 and then I was booked directing an episode on Season 12.
GT: How was it making that transition from being the camera operator into the directing chair?
Well, it was very seamless for me. Subconsciously, I know way more than I even realise. I sat in that war room/prep room, and I was there 12/14 hours a day where normally, you’d be in and out of there pretty quick during prep time. But I had pictures of all the cast, I had pictures of all the derby cars, and I ended up getting ‘The Steel In The Wheels’, which was about a bank robber and a murderer, and then, Booth and Brennan go undercover as demolition derby drivers in a derby.
I remember that episode! Yeah.
So, months before, I said, “Jan, there’s a derby.” He said, “The guys that are going to do our demolition derby, the guy’s name is this and they’re having a thing up in Mariposa, California. So I said, “I’m going over the weekend,’ and I flew up there, took my camera 87, and I shot all this footage and I interviewed them and I took my wife and daughter, and we tried to learn as much as we could about the whole crazy thing, because I had no idea. That really helped a lot. Yeah, it was amazing.
So, that war room, I had pictures of all the cars and I’d go to David and Emily and I’d say, “So what do you want your cars like? How’s this name? What colours do you like?” Well, David’s like, “Philly colours.” Emily’s like, “Vegan Green.” I made sure they were happy and they got to put their thing in with their characters. They’re great if you let them do what they do and be the characters they want to be, who they create, especially when they’re creating another character undercover. Everyone had so much fun.
Then, David had a scene. He got his wife, Jamie, in to play Delta Dawn, one of the derby drivers who is this beautiful model. So, there’s a scene where David’s son comes up to get an autograph. Hilary Graham, one of the co-writers, and the other writer was Michael’s brother, Ted Peterson, they came up to me and they’re like, “It’s a little weird that the 13-year-old boy’s going up to this model to get an autograph. If you had a little sister with him, that’ll balance out.” I’m like, “Great. My daughter, Cora, will be perfect.” They’re going, “Awesome!” Then, I’m thinking, “Aw man, she’s just going to be standing there without a line,” so I called Michael, “Can you give Cora a couple lines,” and he’s like, “Sure!” She got her couple of lines, so now, she’s got her SAG card up in there.
GT: [Laughs] That’s brilliant!
It was so much fun. I’ve never had more fun in my life. I was very planned, organised, I knew where the crane shots were going. In my head and on paper, I blocked every scene out, so I’d have somewhere to start, and no actor bumped on any of it. Everything happened the way I planned it. The only reason I like to plan it and have it all locked down in my head is it’s a place to start, but it’s also it’s extremely efficient because then, we can really fly through and do more takes if we need to or whatever.
GT: So you recently came off shooting ‘Valor’. That’s the thing you’ve been shooting recently for him.
Yeah. Randy Zisk, showrunner of ‘Bones’, says to Steve Robins, whose brother shot the pilot of ‘Valor’, “You got to hire Bobby as the DP.” I get the call, I go in and there’s two DPs. This is the first time I’ve alternated, so the other DP is Yaron Levy. He came in first and he set up everything. He was setting up the stages for the lighting and everything. Both of us said, in our interviews to the showrunners, to Kyle and Anna, was we watched the pilot “I watched the pilot and I think it’s a military thing. I feel like it needs to be more gritty,” and she goes, “That’s the keyword! We’ve been using that word! That’s what we all are thinking.”
To me, gritty is gritted, but still, the actors on a CW show are like the Barbie doll actors. They’re beautiful and young. Well, they love that. You got to have a key light and you got to give them some of that spunky lighting. Ron came in and he was going to go more rogue with it and go natural and let it fall off, dark, this and that.
What was great is Steve Robins comes to me. He goes, “You just do what you do. Don’t try to follow what he’s doing,” because he was different than me. He was playing with the colour temperatures, and doing all these things, and tricks, and games, but I came in and fell back on. That made me feel able. When Steve Robins told me that I could do what I do, it worked out great. It worked out.
Then you moved onto ‘Good Girls’?
‘Valor’ ended at Thanksgiving and the gaffer’s best boy went over to ‘Good Girls’ to gaff that. He’s over on ‘Good Girls’ and they were having an issue with their alternate DP that they hired, and so they asked me to shoot a scene on a Sunday because they were falling behind. I did that and then, I got called in to shoot episode seven and nine. Right before Christmas, I started prepping and I ended up doing two episodes.
That was a big gear shifting things because it went from ‘Valor’, military, seven-day episodes where we really have to do the chuck thing on that. “Give me three cameras, we can get it done,” and it’s go, go, go, go. I jump over there and it’s like, “Okay. We’re going to slow down. This is more like a feature.” We got big actors. The time we’re waiting is going to be because we’re waiting to get all three girls on the set at the same time. There’s all this politics going and the energy of the producers is completely different. It took me a minute to shift into it. But when I jump in, Jerzy Zielinski shot the pilot with Dean [Parisot], the director. They both do features together. They came in, and when the pilot got picked up, they shot that in LA. They recast one of the main roles and put in Christina [Hendricks], then they reshot all that pilot stuff, almost 90% of the pilot, in Atlanta, and then went into the episodes.
Jerzy loves Panavision Primos, he loves more natural lightning and stuff, so I’m like, “If they like what he’s doing, I’m going to follow them,” which is what I did. The only difference is, I used two cameras more and I have more of a TV sense of getting things done faster and as good as you can, which is always as good as a feature, but people don’t look at it that way.
I’m always into two cameras and then, when I finally felt at home enough, I crossed … There was a scene with Mae and her husband and it was a pretty intense scene where they’re drunk, and they have sex when they’re already divorced. Anyway, I cross covered them with the two cameras and got both their angles at the same time, wider, tighter, tight. She was so happy because they loved that and the editors love it. It’s easy to do if you keep all the light on the backside, so I hang a lot of lights, but I pulled that off and used multiple cameras. Then, they’re like, “Can you stay until the very end while we do episode 10. We need you to stay on because we have all this stuff for you to shoot that we haven’t got yet.” They love me and I had a great time.
My first director was Sharat Raju, he was a great guy. We had a great time. Then, my next director was Michael Weaver, who was the director of photography for years, and now is on the directing thing. So, he’s like, “You remind me of me when I was Dping,” but together, we had a really big episode where the three girls drive these three box trucks and do this shuffle thing on the freeway. We had a drone, we had a Russian arm, we had all kinds of stuff going on, and a lot of limitations, but we did it, so that was awesome.
My first director on ‘Valor’ was Mikael Salomon [DP turned Director of ‘Band Of Brothers’, ‘Rome’], and I’m like, “Oh my God. What a DP, the best!” He’s really intense and he’s really invested into the art of what he is doing, and I knew that I had to fall into his energy field and do it his way, what he wanted, because he was pretty much setting everything up into the best sunlight. I mean, I could never have been luckier because my first episode looked amazing because he was directing it. I didn’t have to say, “Can we just flip this scene around into that backlight?” “Oh, no. We can’t. The door is over there.” Whatever. It was cool. I got to working with the other DPs, when they’re directing, was really a great experience too.
GT: That’s awesome. Now for the last two questions which is we always ask everybody. The first question is, what TV shows are you watching at the moment?
Well, I’ll have to say ‘Stranger Things’, I loved the ‘Man in the High Castle’, and I try to look at a lot of the newer shows as they’re popping up to look at the lighting and stuff. Like my dad used to say, “See, I don’t really watch other’s people’s movies too much unless I’m on an aeroplane because I don’t want them to influence me.” Well, that’s a great thing to say. I don’t watch as much as I probably should. There are so many shows right now. I don’t think it’d be physically possible to work, have a family, my wife Barbara who’s amazing and my beautiful 11-year-old daughter Cora who’s now taking acting class.
I watch as much as I can, but some stick. One of them was the Donald Sutherland show, ‘Trust’. Dude, I did a pilot with him with Larry Sure as the DP a few years ago, and it was intense Donald Sutherland. The producers, they were all so worried if he got upset or this or that, but I watched that ‘Trust’. He’s an amazing actor and I think that’s quite a show, also.
GT: Finally, if you had the opportunity to work on any show, past, present, or future, not one that you’ve worked on, which show would it be?
I would say past, I’m happy with all the shows I did because look, I got to do all these Altman movies and I would never trade that for anything, so that’s hard for me to answer. I loved ‘Brazil’, that movie from years ago, those science fiction things. That would have been cool to do, so that would be past. Present, what I’m doing right now is perfect.
The future for me, right now, while I’m on this hiatus, I am writing a script with a younger person, a millennial [laughs]. I’m writing this film to direct it and my writer that I’m collaborating with Gabriela Costa de Nova. She’s an actress, director, choreographer, and a motivated person that’s really good at everything. That’s the person I need because I’m not a scriptwriter. I haven’t written scripts before, but I have this movie. It has about 20 characters, so it’s an ensemble cast, it’s “Altman-esque”, and it’s about the human condition and how people react under duress and pressure, watching what they do in a grid. I can’t really say what it is at this point, but for my future, I can’t wait to do that. That’s another thing, but I still will always DP. I love my job as a cinematographer, and I’m excited for whatever those next shows are going to be.