Monday, April 23, 2018
  • Wednesday, Jul. 5, 2017
DP Perspectives On "Sherlock," "The Man in the High Castle"
Cinematographer Neville Kidd
Insights from Emmy-winning cinematographers Neville Kidd and James Hawkinson
  • --

Delving into the process of deduction has yielded a welcomed addition to the career of cinematographer Neville Kidd whose work on Sherlock, the BBC crime drama series that is part of PBS’ Masterpiece Theater, earned him his first Emmy nomination and win in 2014. Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the title role of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective Sherlock Holmes, a universally acknowledged master of deductive reasoning.

The Emmy for Sherlock--along with his work on Dr. Who (BBC)--helped Kidd to in turn land multiple episodes of Outlander (Starz) which earlier this year broke him into the ranks of ASC Award nominees on the strength of the episode “Outlander: Prestonpans.”

And Kidd now returns to being the subject of awards season banter for his ongoing cinematography on Sherlock, particularly for “The Lying Detective” episode featuring a sequence in which Holmes is in a drug-induced state. Kidd said he has been drawn to “seeing the world from Sherlock’s point of view--the cleverest, most creative world you can possibly be in as a DP. You can push the boundaries with the camera and lighting. Depending on the storyline, you sometimes take his interpretation of the world into very strange places. In this episode [‘The Lying Detective’], Sherlock falls into a drug trip trying to lure the criminal into his world. There’s a great eight-minute drug sequence, which has Sherlock in a state where he doesn’t know where he is anymore. We were able to constantly push what reality was, his interpretation of reality and fantasy.”

The delicate balancing act for Kidd was to keep viewers oriented while Holmes was disoriented. 

The aforementioned Dr. Who--including the 50th anniversary episode, which took a cinematic turn with John Hurt--is what led Kidd to Sherlock. The DP collaborated with director Nick Hurran and writer/producer Steven Moffat on Dr. Who. Moffat went on to create Sherlock while Hurran helmed multiple episodes of the series. Moffat took the initiative and brought Kidd into the Sherlock fold, based on the positive working relationship they enjoyed on Dr. Who. “It was a dream come true,” affirmed Kidd. Steven’s scripts are visually way out there from the very start. Sherlock presents an ideal opportunity to stretch yourself, your work and art creatively.” 

For Sherlock, Kidd has deployed the ARRI ALEXA along with Cooke S5 lenses. The ALEXA was also his camera of choice for Outlander. Currently he is breaking new ground, shooting with the ALEXA 65 on the new Netflix show Altered Carbon. This is believed to be the first use of the ALEXA large format camera system on a TV series.

Kidd is no stranger to Netflix. He shot the pilot for its original series Travelers, collaborating with director Hurran.

James Hawkinson
The Man in the High Castle has helped to elevate cinematographer James Hawkinson to a high industry place. Last year the series pilot, “The New World,” garnered Hawkinson his first Emmy win as well as his first ASC Award nomination.

Now the DP again finds himself in the awards season conversation for his work on season two of The Man in the High Castle. SHOOT caught up with him just prior to his heading to Vancouver, B.C., to embark on season three of the Amazon show which is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 alternative history novel. The Man in the High Castle explores what would have happened if the Allied Powers had been defeated in World War II. The U.S. and much of the world end up divided between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.  The eastern half of the U.S. is controlled by Germany while the Pacific Coast is under the aegis of Japan. The Rocky Mountains, though, have become a neutral zone and the headquarters for a resistance movement which is headed by a mysterious figure known as “The Man in the High Castle.”

Hawkinson observed that a major creative challenge posed by the series from a cinematography standpoint is “to create a vintage yet futuristic look.  My whole goal was for it to be nostalgic in terms of looking like the early 1960s while at the same time appearing futuristic with the impossible technologies that are featured in the show.” 

Building this new world entailed creating an authentic 1962 even though it’s a fake 1962--one that never really existed. It’s a retro-futuristic world, related Hawkinson.

The opportunity to delve into this world was afforded to Hawkinson by director David Semel who had earlier been a guest director on season two of Hannibal (NBC). When Semel took on the pilot for The Man in the High Castle, he sought out several artists he had worked with on different shows, including Hawkinson from Hannibal.

Hawkinson deployed the RED Dragon on season one of The Man in the High Castle, then shifted to ARRI’s ALEXA for seasons two and three. He’s enjoyed good results with both RED and ALEXA during his career.

Asked to define the look of The Man in the High Castle, Hawkinson came up with the phrase “expressionistic noir.” The DP recalled, “I came into this project thinking of Blade Runner and the world created for it by Ridley Scott--so full of texture, smoke, steam, light and haze. These were elements that factored into how we evolved the aesthetic of The Man in the High Castle.” 

In season two, continued Hawkinson, “We took advantage of any opportunity to heighten that expressionism, the noir-ish aspect while conveying a post-war American paranoia, imbuing the show’s look with the feeling of fear experienced in a totalitarian society.”

Hawkinson added that The Man in the High Castle is special to him personally and professionally not just for the Emmy and ASC recognition but also because “it’s the first period piece I’ve really done. It’s artistically significant for me, being able to explore the vintage aesthetic of a story.”

Helping in that exploration have been, he said, “wonderful production design, beautiful sets, great locations, inspired wardrobe and casting. All these elements contributed to the creation of new worlds which came into play in season two with different dimensions and realities opening up, and parallel universes emerging.”

This is the eighth installment of a 15-part series of feature stories that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, animation, visual effects and production design. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy ceremonies on September 9 and 10, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 17.