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Monday, 25 April 2011 20:10

TV Show with an Indie Look

Written by  Iain Blair
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The popular TNT series “Men of a Certain Age,” starring Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula, doesn’t have the usual TV-show look. Instead of static camerawork and flat lighting, the show has an edgy, indie film look, thanks to Cinematographer Mark Davison and Director/Cinematographer David Boyd, ASC. “David was the original DP, and when he moved on to direct the show in the middle of the first season, I took over as DP,” reports Davison, whose previous TV credits include “Boston Legal” and “Entourage.”


Davison recently finished shooting seasons two and three of “Men of a Certain Age” with the latter set to air this summer. So how different is this show’s approach? “We shoot all handheld on 16mm with ARRI 416s, and use two or three cameras simultaneously so we can do the whole scene in one take as often as possible, and get both sides of every conversation,” explains Davison. “And we design the lighting so that scenes can flow uninterrupted, and we usually do a wide pass, then a tighter pass. That means placing our lights in hidden places quite often.” 

About 40 percent of the show is shot on the Paramount lot where the show’s standing sets  include a diner, Braugher’s house and Romano’s townhouse. “The diner set is all pre-lit with lights from Paramount, but some of the other sets needed tweaking,” notes Davison. “We’d have to see where the action takes place and then set the lights up as needed.” The other 60 percent of the show is shot on location. “[Location sets] can be trickier in terms of lighting, but we had a great electric and grip crew and very knowledgeable best boy electric and grip, as well as the rigging gaffer,” Davison explains. “They’d scout with Victor Hsu, the production manager, and the director for the upcoming episode, and if they had to rig or pre-light, it’d be pretty much set by the time we got there. Not always though. At a restaurant, for example, they’d rig some Kino Flos or other lights in strategic spots, and then we’d add some lighting through the windows.” Depending on the location, the DP used a lot of Maxi-Brutes, either bouncing off material or through windows. “We’d also use a lot of them on stage,” he adds. The show also uses a lot of customized lights designed and built by Gaffer Elan Yaari. “He used ETC [Electronic Theatre Controls] 1K PARs and put them in configurations so they can be individually focused,” Davison says. “One, called the Spider Light, has a four-light configuration, and the Diamond Light has 14 lights, so if you’re outside and it’s up in a Condor, he could rake a house and do the opposite side of the street simultaneously. So they’re very flexible and easy to use, and great for night shoots.” The DP adds that Key Grip Rocky Ford modeled the lights, “and did a great job.”

For one night party scene, the location was a home in the San Fernando Valley that had built-in ceiling sconces, which created pools of light and set a great contrast range. Outside the house they employed a balloon light from Skylight Balloon Lighting and hung it from a crane arm to light the yard and roof where one character climbs up for an important part of the scene. Later, they repositioned the balloon light a few blocks up the street for another piece of action and supplemented the scene with bounce light from the Diamond Light. That night the gaffer was Ken Cooper (who was filling in one night for Yaari), and he, along with Balloon Light Tech John Sevedra, made the blocks-long move very quickly. “That worked great,” notes Davison. The show’s crew also used a lot of Kino Flos — 4-banks and 2-banks — especially for interiors, both day and night. “We also used Mini-Flos for car scenes at night and to create a computer screen light,” adds the DP. All of Davison’s techniques have given “Men of a Certain Age” its own unique look. “We use a lot of different lights — 4K PARs, even 12Ks — through windows, and that helps give our show a distinctive look,” Davison says. “David Boyd was very instrumental in giving ‘Friday Night Lights’ its look, and this has the same very real, almost documentary-style approach to lighting and shooting.

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