Cinematographer Lowell Peterson Reveals His Secret to Bonding With Stars and Crew

"We try to keep a family atmosphere" on set, says the 66-year-old California native, whose résumé includes 'Knots Landing,' 'Lois & Clark' and 'Jane the Virgin,' as he gets ready to receive a career achievement honor from the American Society of Cinematographers.
Courtesy of Scott Everett White/The CW
Rodriguez (left) and Yael Grobglas in 'Jane the Virgin.'

This story first appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From Knots Landing in the 1990a to the current Jane the Virgin, cinematographer Lowell Peterson, 66, has photographed hundreds of hours of television. His résumé includes multiple episodes of such series as Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Six Feet Under (for which he was nominated for an Emmy) and Desperate Housewives. And on Feb. 14, he'll be honored at the American Society of Cinematographers Awards with a Career Achievement in Television Award.

A California native who studied art and architecture at Yale University before earning a degree from UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, Peterson says: "One of the benefits of working on a TV series is you're there week after week. You do forge a relationship with the actors while they're developing characters over a long time. I try to create a relationship with them where they feel that they trust me and my crew, and we try to keep a family atmosphere on set so they feel comfortable."

In the case of Jane, The CW series starring Gina Rodriguez, that sense of family was immediate. As Peterson tells it, "The first time I met Gina when I was hired on the show, I walked down to introduce myself and she ran across the room and jumped into my arms."

Getting the right look for the show has been one of the keys to its success. "It's based on a telenovela feeling, but we never wanted to make it look like that. We wanted to make it seem like Jane is a real girl having real problems, so it's a mix between telenovela and reality," explains Peterson. "It's about the emotions of real characters as opposed to stereotypical characters. The photography needs to reflect reality."

Where he used to shoot on film, Peterson has adapted to the digital age. Asked about efforts to keep film alive, he says: "I think for television, the ship has sort of sailed. I had the option of finishing Desperate Housewives on film when we came to our eighth season, but I chose to try digital because I didn't want to send my crew out into the world as one of the last filmed shows. I miss film, but I think at this point we just need to move forward. We made the transition very easily — I have shot with the [Arri] Alexa pretty much ever since."

The 30th Annual ASC Awards will be held Feb. 14 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.

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