Paul Cameron, ASC Hikes Up A Different "Westworld" Trail
Paul Cameron, ASC (photo by John P. Johnson/courtesy of HBO)
Having lensed the pilot for the HBO series, lauded DP takes his first turn in the director’s chair

Paul Cameron, ASC has a body of work spanning notable achievements in film and television. On the former front, Cameron and Dion Beebe, ASC, shared a Best Cinematography BAFTA Film Award in 2005, as well as an ASC Award nomination for the Michael Mann-directed Collateral. Other Cameron-lensed motion pictures include: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, directed by Joachim Roenning; Man on Fire and Deja Vu, both directed by Tony Scott; Gone in 60 Seconds, helmed by Dominic Sena; and last year’s release, 21 Bridges, directed by Brian Kirk.

As for TV, Cameron lensed the Westworld pilot, “The Original,” for series creator/director/writer Jonathan Nolan. The “Original” earned Cameron his first Emmy nomination in 2017, as well as ASC Award and Camerimage Jury Award nods. Cameron recently returned to the HBO series to shoot the recently debuted first episode of season three for director Nolan. 

But now his path to Westworld has taken him in another direction, literally as he’s directed this season’s fourth episode, “The Mother of Exiles,” which premiered on HBO earlier last month (4/5).

Cameron’s major directorial debut adds to a rich history he’s enjoyed with Westworld. His Emmy nomination for shooting the pilot was one of 22 earned by the HBO series in 2017 (tied with Saturday Night Live that year for the most Emmy nods). Cameron told SHOOT back then that within minutes of meeting with Nolan to discuss Westworld, he wanted to take on the pilot assignment, which called for a visual blend of sleek sci-fi with the gritty Wild West.

Cameron loved the original premise and story crafted by Nolan and his wife, Lisa Joy. Based on the 1973 feature film Westworld written and directed by Michael Crichton, HBO’s Westworld took us to a future in which artificial intelligence has become so advanced that an alternative world theme park populated by androids became a reality. Wealthy visitors paid a premium to immerse themselves in an Old West experience that often is decadent and illicit, raising questions about the state of humanity—and whether the androids are more human, moral and principled than the customers themselves. 

Also initially drawing in Cameron was Nathan Crowley, the production designer on the pilot, whose talent would bring the necessary scale and scope to the project. “I had probably the most collaborative location scouting I’ve ever experienced, working closely with Jonathan and Nathan,” assessed Cameron. “I showed them parts of Utah they hadn’t seen before—where we wound up doing some key shooting. We all came together in a most cinematic way. We all knew we were working on something that mattered, something that could be great.”

Seasons 2 and 3 have brought new turns to the story. Cameron reflects on what his duty as a cinematographer and then a director on the current season 3 of Westworld has meant to him. On the lensing front he used 35mm film for primary footage capture. As a director, he collaborated with John Grillo, the cinematographer who has the most episodes of Westworld to his credit. Grillo earned an Emmy nomination for his lensing of the season 2 episode “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” which was directed by Joy.

SHOOT: How did the opportunity to direct an episode of Westworld come about?

Cameron: I’m friends with Jonathan (Nolan) and Lisa (Joy). They approached me with the idea of shooting the first episode of season 3 and then directing the fourth episode. When they offered the directing opportunity, I was both ecstatic and daunted. They are truly visionaries and have set the bar so high in concept writing and execution on the show. Fortunately having shot the pilot and then the first episode of season 3, I was familiar with collaborating with both of them. Also, it was advantageous to already have an established trust with the actors from previous seasons. It gave me confidence to direct them and the actors new to season 3 (such as Aaron Paul and Vincent Cassel).

SHOOT: What was the process of selecting a cinematographer for the Westworld episode you directed?

Cameron: The show has a couple of prime director of photography this season--John Grillo and Zoe White. It was John’s turn in the rotation. I’ve known John for many years dating back to Collateral. He was one of the operators on Collateral. I’ve been following John’s work for some time. And this was a nice opportunity to work with him.

SHOOT: What was (were) the biggest creative challenge(s) that “The Mother of Exiles” episode posed to you as a director?

Cameron: The biggest creative challenge was the legacy of the show. The new season has a bit of a reboot factor to it. When I originally read the episode, it was right in my wheelhouse--great drama and action. As you get closer to prep, though, scripts can change. This became a wonderful, dramatic script, jumping into a very dialogue-heavy plot with a big twist. The benefit, though, was my familiarity with the actors like Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton and Ed Harris. I had been shooting them for a couple of years, getting to know them a bit. To have all these great actors on a great dramatic script is a dream.

We shot 12 days in Los Angeles, two in Singapore. To be at the famed Atlas Bar in Singapore, one of the most amazing locations in the world, with a big dialogue sequence was a terrific experience. Jonathan and Lisa are so supportive of everyone’s ideas on the show. They embrace what you can bring to it. I got to collaborate with Jordan Goldberg, the writer on the episode. I was able to suggest a couple of script changes. I had a couple of sequences written into the script. So I had a bit of a signature on the script.

SHOOT: Did the experience whet your appetite for directing other projects?

Cameron: I enjoyed directing the show. I’ve been a DP for awhile. The challenges of breaking the show down in a dramatic way, working in a different way with the actors, directing through post, and presenting a director’s cut was a new, fresh experience for me. I enjoyed the challenge and would look to do more if I get the opportunity on shows of this caliber. 

I was fortunate to be able to do this, to get my feet wet on a show like Westworld. It doesn’t get any bigger than Westworld. The expectations are as high as you can get. And to deal with that made me feel much more confident.

SHOOT: What’s next?

Cameron: Right after directing the Westworld episode, I went to shoot Lisa Joy’s movie in New Orleans. It was a great film to work on (a sci-fi thriller titled Reminiscence, marking Joy’s feature directorial debut and starring Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson).

MySHOOT Company Profiles