Emmys: 'Master of None' Cinematographer Reveals Secrets Behind the Black-and-White Episode

11:30 AM 6/5/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

Plus, cinematographers on more standout series — including 'Black Mirror,' 'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'The Night Of' and 'Taboo' — open up about how they played with light and composition to look deeper into a character, or literally keep viewers in the dark.

Black Mirror, Master of None and The Night Of Still - Split - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of HBO (Night), Netflix (Black, Master)

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

  • The Americans

    To capture the detachment of the Russian spies played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, Daniel Stoloff used framing and camera placement. "Within the safe house, we present the frame graphically, often from a distance, through doorways, archways and windows," he says. "Once established, we move the camera into the room and close to the characters, favoring wider focal lengths."

  • Black Mirror

    For his episode of this sci-fi anthology, "Nosedive," about a woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) obsessed with her popularity, director Joe Wright turned to Seamus McGarvey, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer on his films Atonement and Anna Karenina. "We wanted the film to have a candy- colored, saccharine feel, which would feel cloying and slightly at odds with reality," says McGarvey. "Every set and every costume had a very streamlined set of colors in pale peach and pistachio pastels. I shot with the Sony F55 camera using Primo lenses from Panavision Cape Town, where the episode was shot. I used Tiffen's Glimmer Glass filters to enhance the glow of the slightly overexposed South African summer sun. As things go awry for our main character, I shifted the look toward a much harsher, contrastier, grainy feel."

  • Genius

    Matthias Herndl used specific visual language for the World War II-era segments of this Albert Einstein series. "This was a time of chaos, destruction and uncertainty in Europe," he says. "I wanted to juxtapose this with very smooth and heavy camera motions and uneasy framing choices. This oppressive look represents when Einstein was confronted with the rise of Nazi Germany."

  • The Handmaid's Tale

    In this series, for which cinematographer turned director Reed Morano helmed the first three episodes, director of photography Colin Watkinson created two distinct looks driven by composition and lighting. One is informed by the current-day situation of the titular handmaid, Offred (Elisabeth Moss), the other by the flashbacks to her pre-Gilead life. "We have formal compositions for Gilead; the light is more painterly. We also used a lot of hard sun. The flashbacks are more visceral, cinema verite, with a naturalistic approach," explains Watkinson. Handmaid's Tale was shot in Toronto with an Arri Alexa. Of working with a director who is also a cinematographer, Watkinson says, "Two heads are better than one."

  • Master of None

    For the comedy's second season, production made the unusual choice to make the first episode, "The Thief," in black and white. "The style of Master of None originally leaned heavily on 1970s American movies," says cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard. "This season, [creator and star] Aziz [Ansari] got into Italian movies from the '40s through the '60s, especially ones by Vittorio De Sica and Michelangelo Antonioni. This episode was written as an homage to De Sica's 1948 film Bicycle Thieves. The black and white immediately points to the foreignness of the situation Dev [Ansari] has chosen [by moving to Italy and living] a life that's consciously at odds with the modernity he's always bumping up against." Shot with a Panasonic Varicam 35 4K camera, the episode was filmed on location in Modena, Italy.

  • The Night Of

    Cinematographer Igor Martinovic already has won an American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement Award for his work on this HBO limited series, about a mysterious murder that takes place in New York City. His approach to the visuals was based on the concept of reduction. "We consciously deprived the audience of crucial information in order to get them engaged," he says. "This concept derives directly from the storyline, in which no one knows what happened on the night of the crime. The main inspirations for the framing of the series were works by two of my favorite photographers, Robert Frank and Saul Leiter. They often use framing to create a mystery through obscuring scenes or protagonists in their photographs."

  • Taboo

    For the rich, painterly look of this dark period drama, in which Tom Hardy's James Keziah Delaney returns to London after spending a decade in Africa, cinematographer Mark Patten considered how light and color would be captured in 1814 if there had been cinematography at the time. Patten — previously a second unit cinematographer on Taboo executive producer Ridley Scott's features The Martian and Exodus: Gods and Kings — used Arri Alexa cameras to capture a look he describes as "naturalistic, without going too dark, using natural sources of light. We wanted one-source lighting through natural sources." As an example, Patten frequently used light coming through windows for day interior shots, adding that candlelight also was a "huge inspiration" for the interiors. "We wanted to follow the protagonist through his backstory in London, with a subjective point of view to try to understand where the mind of this man was," he says. The series was filmed in and around London.

  • Westworld

    "My main challenge in achieving the quality of work we were aiming for was helped by the discipline of shooting on film instead of digital," says Robert McLachlan. "This was [co-showrunner] Jonathan Nolan's idea. We also avoided greenscreen as much as we could to imbue the show with as real and unadulterated a feel as possible."