In this significantly truncated awards season, feature film dominates seemingly even more than in the past as the public’s prime focus goes to the likes of the high-profile totem poles of the Golden Globes and the upcoming Oscars with less time in-between those two events. But within the Globes and varied other competitions, from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards to multiple guild competitions, TV remains prevalent, underscoring that the reward for excellence on the small screen, from broadcast to streaming, extends well beyond the Emmys. Here’s a look at a pair of ASC nominees whose TV exploits have raised the bar in terms of creativity and artistry:
M. David Mullen, ASC
M. David Mullen, ASC, has two career ASC Award nominations and they’ve come each of the past two years, both for his lensing of episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime). The most recent--in the ASC competition’s Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television category--is for the “Simone” episode which last year garnered him a primetime Emmy Award.
In “Simone,” Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) takes the stage for stand-up comedy in front of an audience overseas, a storyline which presented a challenge for Mullen who explained that traveling to France, putting together and working with a mostly foreign crew in Paris kept him on his toes. He had to find a focus puller, a key grip and others in his immediate ensemble, striking up a rapport with each.
While Mrs. Maisel adds to a body of TV work for Mullen which includes Westworld, Get Shorty, Mad Men, Big Love and the pilot for The Good Wife, the DP made his first mark in the indie feature arena. He was nominated for two Best Cinematography Independent Spirit Awards--for Twin Falls Idaho in 2000 and Northfork in 2004, both directed by Michael Polish.
His seque into TV began with Big Love. As for Mrs. Maisel, Mullen connected with series creator/director/writer Amy Sherman-Palladino through a mutual collaborator--director Jamie Babbitt who teamed with Sherman-Palladino on numerous episodes of
Gilmore Girls. Mullen had lensed a short film, a feature and episodic TV--including United States of Tara and Smash--for Babbitt. Sherman-Palladino had first considered Mullen for the return of Gilmore Girls on Netflix but he didn’t get that gig.
Still, the connection landed him an interview later for Mrs. Maisel, an opportunity that came to fruition for him.
Mullen was drawn to the Mrs. Maisel character and premise whereby a 1950s’ New York Jewish wife and mother pursues stand-up comedy--back then, hardly a woman’s province--following the breakup of her marriage. Mullen was particularly attracted to the challenges of lensing a period show, which has expanded beyond NYC to episodes entailing shooting in Paris, as well as in the Catskills region of upper New York State. In terms of recreating the 1950s, particularly in NY, Mullen credited the talent of several artisans, including production designer Bill Groom and costume designer Donna Zakowska.
Mullen also cited the contributions of camera operator Jim McConkey and key grip Charlie Sherron who help him pull off elaborate camera moves, and 360 perspectives, within the beautiful world created by Groom and Zakowska.
Mullen went with the ARRI Alexa for Mrs. Maisel, a camera he’s used for the lion’s share of his work in recent years. Paired with Panavision Primo lenses, the Alexa has given a film feel to the show, avoiding any suggestion of a sharp digital rendering that would be too jarring.
David Stockton, ASC
David Stockton, ASC recently garnered his seventh career ASC Award nomination on the strength of the “Ace Chemicals” episode of the series Gotham (Fox). This marks the third ASC nod Stockton has received for Gotham, the prior two directed by Danny Cannon. In fact, four of Stockton’s career ASC noms have come for work helmed by Cannon, the others being the pilot for Nikita in 2011, and the “Resurrection” episode of Eleventh Hour in 2009. For the latter, Stockton won the ASC Award.
Stockton’s latest ASC nomination, though, breaks from the Cannon norm. The DP lensed the “Ace Chemicals” episode for director John Stephens, Gotham showrunner and writer. However, Stockton’s long working relationship with Stephens made working with him as a director an easy transition. For one, Stockton had earlier shot a Stephens-helmed Gotham episode, “A Beautiful Darkness,” in 2018. So that is where Stockton first became acclimated to Stephens as a director.
The acclimation, though, was hardly revelatory, as Stockton already had a close personal rapport with and affinity for Stephens. Stockton shared, “I’m used to scouting with John, spending time in concept and tone meetings. The only difference is he’s in a different chair when he directs. But like Danny he doesn’t spend much time in the chair. He’s on the set, he’s by the monitors, all over, very hands-on. John’s sense of collaborative energy both as a writer and a showrunner merged seamlessly into his role as the director of the episodes we worked on. His inclusiveness and creative excitement about the whole process and his respect for all of the partners who come together to create a show never changed.”
Stockton attributes all his ASC Award nods to the collective talent he’s worked with, and that ensemble looms large on Gotham, from Stephens to Cannon to artisans including camera operator Gerard Sava, gaffer Frank McCormack, best boy Boris Cifuentes. programmer/board operator John Gilgar, generator operator Tod Olivieri, lamp operators Rob McCormack and Corey Fontana. This contingent made it possible to complete the heavy volume of work, for example, necessitated for the “Ace Chemicals” episode in the span of just nine days.
“Ace Chemicals” also provided Stockton with a bit of deja vu as for the Gotham pilot he lensed a depiction of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents when he was a youngster. Fast forward to this past season and we see a twisted re-creation of the Wayne parents’ murder through the eyes of the character Jeremiah, with the help of Jervis Tetch, aka Mad Hatter.
“It was interesting to take an event and then create a more theatrical staged version of it while still maintaining a sense of Gotham at night in an alley. In some respects it’s similar but with a theatrical flair.”
Stockton has deployed the ARRI Alexa on Gotham during his lauded tenure on the series. Over that time, the Gotham artisans have become a family away from home, affirmed the DP.