Lensing "Mrs. Maisel," "Succession," "Pachinko" and "Hawkeye"
M. David Mullen, ASC
Cinematographers & Cameras Series features DPs M. David Mullen, ASC, Patrick Capone, Florian Hoffmeister, BSC and Eric Steelberg, ASC
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One DP has been nominated for the Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera One-Hour Series Emmy three times for the same show, winning twice.

Another has put his stamp on one of the most acclaimed dramatic series of all time.

Our next cinematographer--an Emmy, BAFTA and ASC Award winner--broke new ground on a U.S. series featuring a predominantly Asian cast, with characters speaking mostly Korean and Japanese.

And our fourth DP--who shot a pair of Best Picture Oscar nominees--made his first foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Here are insights from: M. David Mullen, ASC on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video); Patrick Capone on Succession (HBO); Florian Hoffmeister, BSC on Pachinko (Apple TV+); and Eric Steelberg, ASC on Hawkeye (Disney+).

M. David Mullen, ASC
Mullen got his start in independent film, making a major mark for his work with director Michael Polish. In fact, Mullen earned two Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Cinematography on the strength of two Polish-directed films--Twin Falls Idaho in 2000 and Northfork in 2004.

Mullen went on to diversify into television with HBO’s Big Love, noting that the door opened for him because the show was specifically looking for an indie feature cinematographer. This led to Mullen eventually taking on more episodic work for the likes of The Good Wife (the pilot), United States of Tara, Smash, Ascension, Hindsight (the pilot) and Westworld. But awards recognition didn’t come in the TV arena until Mullen garnered what has proven to be an ongoing plum assignment, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Mullen has earned three ASC Award nominations for Mrs. Maisel over the past three years (2019-’21). He’s also a three-time Emmy nominee in the Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera, One-Hour Series category (in 2018, ‘19 and ‘20) for Mrs. Maisel. He won the Emmy each of those last two years for the episodes “Simone” and “It’s Comedy or Cabbage,” respectively.

Now Mullen is again in the awards season running for Mrs. Maisel, this time for season 4 which had to adapt to the COVID pandemic while bringing a major new environ into the mix as production designer Bill Groom headed up the creation of a decaying Wolford strip club. It’s there that Midge Maisel (portrayed by Rachel Brosnahan) takes on emcee duties for a burlesque show which starts out with crude bare-bones acts that over time become more elaborate and choreographed. And over time the burlesque theater itself shapes up as a venue--with ambitious productions done on stage--at the behest of Maisel.

While the visual style and approach to the show has remained largely constant, season four brought some other new wrinkles. There was less location work than usual due to COVID concerns and restrictions though eventually they lensed outdoors in New York during the summer. Also season 4 shot more work out of chronological story order than usual. Dialogue scenes from three or four episodes where shot during the initial weeks of production, buying time to later go outdoors to shoot larger crowd sequences when COVID restrictions eased.

What has remained steady throughout for Mullen has been the authenticity of the time period for Mrs. Maisel, which opened in New York in the 1950s and has taken us in season four into the ‘60s. Capturing the truth of an era meant having to grapple with properly lighting elaborate musical numbers on stage at the burlesque theater, for example. So-called intelligent lighting didn’t exist then. So Mullen had to work with a Broadway lighting designer to accurately represent what was available in terms of lighting at the time, giving the show a look that would be accurate while still doing justice to the choreographed on-stage performances. 

In addition to the Wolford Theater, among the other special season 4 environs was a ‘60s game show set replete with studio audience--work firmly rooted in the script and extensive research.

At the same time, Mullen, Groom and their compatriots could not fall into a chronological trap. In 1950s’ NYC, for example, many New Yorkers were living in buildings constructed back during the turn of the century. These old upper Westside buildings had their own distinct character. If you were too literal in terms of what 1950s’ architecture was, you would be missing the reality of the setting. You had to depict how streets, buildings and interiors that were much older than the 1950s looked in the 1950s. And ironically you might similarly have more ‘50s style in later episodes’ environs when the show is set in the early ‘60s.

Mullen landed the Mrs. Maisel gig thanks in part to director Jamie Babbitt. Mullen initially connected with Mrs. Maisel creator/director/writer Amy Sherman-Palladino through Babbitt, a mutual collaborator. Babbitt teamed with Gilmore Girls creator Sherman-Palladino on numerous episodes of that series. Meanwhile Mullen had lensed a short film, a feature and episodic TV--including United States of Tara and Smash--for Babbitt.

Mullen was drawn to Mrs. Maisel which stars Brosnahan in the title role as a New York Jewish wife and mother who pursues stand-up comedy following the breakup of her marriage. Back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, comedy was hardly a woman’s province. Mullen explained that he was particularly attracted to the challenges of lensing a period show in New York. Subsequent season work added the dimension, for example, of shooting in such locales as Paris and upper New York State’s Catskills region.

Mullen’s choice of camera was the ARRI Alexa for what he first described to SHOOT during an interview after the first season as “its pleasant dynamic range, which feels more like film to me. We tested extensively and found that the Alexa--with Panavision Primo lenses--gave us a look not ridiculously sharp but pleasantly sharp.” Mullen assessed that Alexa provides “film-like image quality, particularly in the highlights. It was important to me that the show have a traditional film look to it in terms of dynamic range and colors.”

Mullen stressed that ultimately the cinematography has to do justice to the writing, story and actor performances which are stellar on Mrs. Maisel

At press time, Mullen was lensing season five of Mrs. Maisel, with production scheduled to run through October.

In addition to the two Emmy wins  along with a nomination--and three ASC Award nods--for Mrs. Maisel, and the two Spirit Award noms for Northfork and Twin Falls Idaho, Mullen won the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle Award for Best Feature Cinematography in 2017 for The Love Witch, which screened at many film festivals worldwide. Other Mullen-lensed features have hit the festival circuit over the years. Twin Falls Idaho, Northfork, Two Brothers & A Bride, Assassination of a High School President, Manure and Big Sur were shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Stay Cool played at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Jennifer’s Body at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Patrick Capone
Cinematographer Capone became involved in Succession in the very first season, as did fellow DP Chris Knorr. They succeeded Andrij Parekh--now one of the series’ directors--who shot the first three episodes. 

Asked how the show has taken shape from the first season to today, Capone observed, “It has evolved technically a little more than it has philosophically.” The biggest logistical change came in season three. “The pandemic challenged all of us. It restricted our ability to travel, to have a lot of extras.”

But in the big picture, continued Capone, the foundational orientation has remained steadfast. “It’s still very much the fly on the wall. The photojournalism aspect of Succession has not changed that much,” keeping the engaging, multi-layered characters in the spotlight with scenes captured from the first to the last word. Characters react to one another, with DPs also reacting--to little moments that add dimension to the story. 

The overriding emphasis is cinematography that doesn’t draw attention to itself, related Capone who noted that the lighting has to be natural to coincide with the vibe of the show. “Our billionaires don’t know how well they have it,” said Capone, explaining they thus don’t notice their posh surroundings and trappings, taking them for granted in a sense. “We try to do that with the cinematography,” related Capone. “We don’t hit the audience over the head showing the wardrobe, the food, the luxury. It’s all in the context of the script, with everything as natural [and everyday] as possible.”

Capone noted that during season two he started studying the work of White House photographers, including images of the Oval Office. He observed that they made images that looked “photojournalistic” and real as people go about their business. In that same spirit, said Capone, “We try not to be very cinema-like [in Succession] and yet we want it to still have a beautiful look.”

Succession is shot on film, marked with a unique softness and texture that’s a departure from today’s digital norm. The Arricam LT, a handheld film camera, is deployed with Leica Summilux primes and Angenieux Optimo zooms. The series is shot in 3-perf to attain a 1.78:1 frame.

Capone’s work on the Succession season three episode “Chiantishire” has been submitted for Emmy consideration in the Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One-Hour) category. “Chiantishire” is one of a couple season 3 episodes for which Capone was brought to picturesque Tuscany. The storyline has the Roys visiting Tuscany to attend the wedding of Logan’s second wife, Lady Caroline Collingwood, while negotiating to finalize Waystar’s mega-acquisition of streamer GoJo.

Capone recalled getting the instruction that this chapter in Tuscany “not look like a Merchant Ivory film.” In other words places that seem like paradise shouldn’t be played up as such. While the locations have the potential to be gorgeous backdrops as in a Merchant Ivory movie, Succession instead keeps the look a bit “off center,” said Capone who cited the priority as always staying true to the series tone even in the most lavish environs.

The “Chiantishire” title is a nickname used for a region of Tuscany in which affluent folks either reside or spend their holidays. This particular episode was written by Succession creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong and directed by Mark Mylod, a series EP who earlier this year won the DGA Award in the dramatic series category for the “All The Bells Say” episode. 

Beyond Succession, Capone has a body of work that includes shooting the opening season of Sara Bareille’s Little Voice for Apple TV and two seasons of Garry Trudeau’s Alpha House, a political satire streaming series produced by Amazon Studios. Capone also served as the second unit director for Tate Taylor on Girl on a Train.

Capone has collaborated as a second unit DP of choice with such directors as Adam McKay (on The Big Short), Bong Joon-Ho (OKJA), Oliver Stone (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), John Wells (August: Osage County), Paul Feig (Ghostbusters), M. Night Shyamalan (The Village and Signs), John Patrick Stanley (Doubt) and Sam Mendes (Away We Go).

Capone, who attended the NYU graduate film program, assisted, operated for and learned in his early career from such lensing luminaries as Nestor Almendros, Laszlo Kovacs, Michael Chapman, Tak Fujimoto, Andrew Dunn and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki.

Florian Hoffmeister, BSC
Emmy, BAFTA and ASC Award winner Hoffmeister is again in the awards season conversation--this time for his work on Pachinko, a series which chronicles the hopes, dreams and experiences of a Korean immigrant family across four generations. Based on the epic novel, a New York Times bestseller, by Min Jin Lee, Pachinko spans multiple continents and nearly eight decades, exploring the meanings of heritage, identity and responsibility for future generations. Starring Yuh-Jung Youn (a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Minari), Lee Min-Ho, Jon Ho and introducing Minha Kim, Pachinko has a 95 percent Asian cast and breaks new ground as a U.S. show whose characters speak almost exclusively in Korean and Japanese (with English subtitles). The story’s primary protagonists are Koreans who came to Japan during Japanese colonial rule of Korea. They and their descendants had to cope with discrimination and marginalization yet led lives that speak to the resilience of the human spirit and our capacity for love and joy.

To chronicle such family bonds and the impact from one generation to the next, Hoffmeister had to bond with his Pachinko colleagues, most notably mono-monikered director Kogonada. The DP lensed the four Kogonada-helmed installments (episodes 1, 2, 3 and 7) of Pachinko. (Episodes 4, 5, 6 and 8 were lensed by Ante Cheng for director Justin Chon).

The beginnings of a bond between Hoffmeister and Kogonada existed even before the two actually worked together. Kogonada, noted Hoffmeister, “cherishes” the work of writer-director Terence Davis. Hoffmeister had shot two features for Davies--The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Rusell-Beale, as well as Davies’ Emily Dickinson project A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle.

Conversely, Hoffmeister had become a fan of Kogonada’s work, discovering his visual essays on Vimeo, including a British Film Institute piece on neo-realism, and a short sharing a “one-point perspective” on Stanley Kubrick’s work. Hoffmeister was also enamored with writer-director Kogonada’s feature film Columbus about a Korean man who finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his father is in a coma.

Hoffmeister found himself drawn to the Pachinko scripts yet a bit “overwhelmed by all the cultural insights.” He questioned whether he was the right person to take on the project. But ultimately Hoffmeister felt the need to shoot Pachinko, moved in particular by part of the storyline in which “very young people are in an existential crisis yet manage to navigate through it with such grace. When I read that scene, I realized how I so much wanted to do this.”

That feeling was reinforced when he came together with Kogonada. “We connected in a holistic way as hard-working cinephiles,” recalled Hoffmeister, describing it as “love at first sight.”

Hoffmeister also had the benefit of reuniting with Pachinko showrunner/creator/writer Soo Hugh. The two had collaborated earlier on the anthology series The Terror and built a mutual creative trust. Hugh sent Pachinko scripts to Hoffmeister and suggested he meet Kogonada. Hoffmeister also credited Hugh with bringing a new, moving dimension to Pachinko specifically with her writing of episode 7--which was not in the original novel. This added a character backstory and further cultural and emotional insights to the series.

Hoffmeister felt privileged to have been involved in such a rich “contemplation about different generations who have left Korea,” seeing how one generation has impacted the next spanning the globe. The cast itself, he observed, included Koreans of different backgrounds who all found themselves “contemplating what it meant to be Korean.” 

“To be a foreigner in that cultural environment--with such a rich history, a rich visual history--and to be able to contribute to their process was a remarkable experience,” related Hoffmeister who spent the better part of 2021 in South Korea, including Seoul and Busan. A typical week, he shared, would be divided up into certain days for DP Cheng to shoot director Chon’s episodes, and Hoffmeister to lens for Kogonada. “I was able to soak things in when not shooting,” recalled Hoffmeister, which added to the overall experience for him personally.

That personal gain also informed him professionally--on Pachinko and looking toward the future. “I base a lot of my work on a form of emotional resonance along with curiosity and intuition,” shared Hoffmeister, observing that his experiences when not behind the camera in Korea helped him when he was DP’ing the series. And the digital camera he and Cheng got behind for Pachinko was the Sony VENICE, coupled with large format Panavision lenses.  

Hoffmeister has an awards pedigree. In 2012-’13, he became the first cinematographer to win an Emmy, a BAFTA and an ASC Award for the same program--the miniseries Great Expectations. Hoffmeister’s first Emmy nomination came in 2010 for his work on the “Checkmate” episode of The Prisoner miniseries.  The DP’s first BAFTA nod came in 2009 for House of Saddam. And in 2019, Hoffmeister was again an ASC Award nominee--this time for the “Go For Broke” episode of the aforementioned miniseries The Terror.

Eric Steelberg, ASC
Director Rhys Thomas’ vision for Hawkeye drew cinematographer Steelberg into the fold. Steelberg was attracted to chronicling a Marvel hero with extraordinary ability as an archer--but not with superhuman powers. 

Portrayed by Jeremy Renner (reprising his role from the Avengers movies), Hawkeye--aka Clint Barton--is a regular guy with a family. The character, said Steelberg, was “more grounded in reality than anything else. He might provide a new opportunity to do something in a way that hadn’t been explored before” in a superhero vehicle. Then there’s Hawkeye’s protege, Kate Bishop (portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld), trained to take over the Hawkeye mantle. She too is a master archer, another Hawkeye who is also all too human, complicating Barton’s life. Barton is a complex character with an inner strength. He is an imperfect hero, yet idolized by Bishop.

Steelberg said Thomas, who’s also an executive producer on Hawkeye, had a character study orientation that served to “elevate the idea of what a Marvel series could be. We had a couple of meetings. But I was sold after the first meeting.”

Steelberg lensed all three episodes directed by Thomas--the pilot, “Never Meet Your Heroes,” the second episode and the finale. The other three episodes in the miniseries were directed by the team of Amber Templemore and Katie Ellwood, aka Bert and Bertie, with cinematography by James Whitaker, ASC.

Steelberg and Whitaker wound up teaming to develop the look and feel of the show which has visual elements of noir and fun, which aligns with the narrative. Steelberg took the lead in that he came on board before Whitaker. And with the pilot slated first, Steelberg handled the lion’s share of crew hiring and setting the themes that were to be focused on. But then Whitaker became involved with Steelberg in contributing to the visual gist of the show when Steinfeld’s schedule changed, necessitating that all her scenes had to be shot first. (Steinfeld had to move on to her role as Emily Dickinson in the Dickinson series.) This meant that Steelberg and Whitaker were shooting for Hawkeye at the same time, a departure from the original plan which had Steelberg lensing the pilot and then the second episode, laying the visual foundation for the subsequent installments of the show.

Shooting out of chronological order meant that the DPs had to know exactly where they were headed in the big picture so that the visual grammar for the show would work properly spanning the beginning, middle and end.

Another prime challenge, said Steelberg, involved the expectations from studios and viewers. “Whether a TV show or a summer feature, there’s something people want from a Marvel product.” With Hawkeye, though, those expectations had to be met over the course of six hours on TV instead of two hours in a feature--for a fraction of the time and budget normally reserved for a marquee motion picture. “The taste level remains very high but it has to be spread out over a bigger time period and television canvas.”

The COVID pandemic also impacted the production. Steelberg noted that the timetable had lensing getting underway just as the lockdown was easing up. “We were the first project back for a lot of the crew. It was difficult to get people to sign onto it. People were unsure, How are we doing to do this, dealing with COVID and protocols?” 

Steelberg recalled reaching out to DP John Schwartzman, ASC who was doing the Jurassic Park movie in England. Schwartzman offered some helpful counsel, said Steelberg as protocols were put in place, adhered to and the work got done. During a later round of Hawkeye shooting in New York, the city hadn’t quite emerged from lockdown. Thankfully Rockefeller Center was somewhat decorated in December 2020, the Xmas tree was up, but the activity wasn’t what you would expect during that festive time. Hawkeye was in New York for that big city, full-of-people setting but it still had a bit of a ghost town vibe. A crowd dynamic was created via visual effects. At eight or nine in the evening, recalled Steelberg, “normally vibrant New York” was “completely empty.”

Steelberg noted that he and director/EP Thomas were drawn to the look of anamorphic lenses in movies from the mid and late 1970s. “New York is a vertical city but there something about that wide aspect ratio that gives this texture, a memorable visual style we grew up watching,” related Steelberg who ultimately went with the ARRI Alexa LF digital camera coupled with Panavision anamorphic lenses.

Steelberg’s body of work spans features and television. On the former score, he broke in with Quinceañera, an indie feature which earned both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. The DP has been a frequent collaborator with director Jason Reitman on films including Juno, Up in the Air, The Front Runner and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Juno and Up in the Air both earned Best Picture Oscar nominations. Steelberg also lensed the Spirit Award-nominated (500) Days of Summer. His television credits include Billions, The Good Doctor and Eastbound & Down.


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