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United States of Tara Season Two


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 01:30 AM

I very briefly covered some of the production in this thread:
http://www.cinematog...showtopic=40982

But these days, it's hard to talk much about a show in production unless it is an independent feature and thus not yet under the control of a studio...

In December, Season Two came out on DVD -- for some reason, only the Showtime shows produced by Lionsgate (Weeds, Nurse Jackie) come out on Blu-Ray as well. That bites, I'd love to have my work come out on Blu-Ray.

Season Two was interesting for two reasons, one is that I had to shoot that season on the Genesis with the camera switched from PanaLog to Rec.709, mainly as a cost-saver, they wanted to make straight dubs from the camera tapes to dailies and editorial. Showtime's argument was that "Weeds" was shot that way, using a paintbox on the F35 to color-correct on set in Rec.709, and it had won an Emmy for its cinematography. Showtime was really in the forefront in regards to digital, requiring HD origination for their shows years before anyone else, but because of that, my theory is that they were used to the Rec.709 HD cameras in the beginning, like the F900 and the Varicam, and now we have all of these new Log and RAW cameras requiring some sort of conversion to Rec.709 for dailies, a new budgetary addition rather than subtraction, so now the costs of shooting digitally were creeping up again. Of course, the quality is now much higher as well with these new cameras, but they come with certain new costs that didn't exist several years back when a digital show was shot, let's say, on the F900 in Rec.709 to HDCAM tape.

Personally, I don't like baking in color-correction on set in the uncontrolled environment of a busy shoot, and also, even with knee compression and whatnot, you can't get the same dynamic range as when you shoot in Log. If the whole point of shooting digital for TV was that it was much closer to a film look these days, then shooting Log makes a lot more sense because it behaves and looks more like a film image than Rec.709 capture does.

Since the Genesis doesn't have Hypergamma as an option, I found a workable compromise where I created a flatter gamma within Rec.709 in the Genesis camera's menu, though at the end of the season, when faced with a daytime exterior that was so windy that I couldn't fly silks or barely even use lights, I shot the scene in PanaLog... and no one particularly said anything to me about the dailies looking much flatter. I probably could have done that more often in retrospect.

For Season Three, I was allowed to go back to shooting in PanaLog, our post supervisor worked out a deal with the post house to apply a simple LUT for dailies that didn't add too much to the costs. Since Showtime is also shooting "Shameless" on the Red and dealing with all those RAW transcoding issues, I guess they have come to accept that these new cameras have new workflows that require a conversion step to Rec.709 at some point.

Which brings us to the second interesting aspect of Season Two, a subplot involving the next-door neighbor's house. In Episode One, we find out that he killed himself in this house and that it was now deserted and up for sale. There is a mystery as to why he killed himself and Tara finds herself drawn to this "dead" house, and while there, experiences a whole slew of buried memories. Tara's husband Max decides to buy the house and renovate it, and then sell it. So over the course of the season, the house goes from this old musty, yellow-ish "trapped in the 1970's" vibe to becoming clean and new (and unfortunately for me, less moody and mysterious, especially when the house is stripped bare with no curtains on the windows.) So the first couple of episodes were great for me, photographically, because of this dark old house and the flashbacks that happen inside. There was also a later episode that was interesting for me because most of it took place in a basement during a tornado.

I pulled some of the chroma down in the camera for these house scenes, lit it very warm, so when desaturated it would take on a sepia feeling. I was allowed to use smoke for most of the scenes in the house, something we don't do much of in general, especially on a TV schedule (not to mention, no one wants to breathe smoke every day for four months...) I also used an old-fashoned Fog Filter for these scenes, though very light (#1/4). Here as some frames from the DVD when Tara first explores the house... we cut back later in the episode at dusk to find her still sitting inside the back office in the house, not knowing what she is thinking.

The scene had a great David Lynch vibe, no dialogue, and most of these shots had a slow creep-in on the dolly:

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Hours later...
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The script suggested that we weren't sure if she had transitioned into one of her alters, that her emotional state was unreadable... I recall suggesting that when we find her still sitting in the house, in the dim light of dusk, that she have her back to camera, I felt that was more evocative.

The interiors were all shot on a soundstage.

One aspect that I like about the show is that it is mostly shot single-camera with prime lenses (Primos), mostly in the 27mm to 50mm range, so it has a very controlled-look, compositionally, compared to most TV shows shot on multiple cameras with zooms.
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#2 Alex Lindblom

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 05:10 AM

Great write up as always David thank you.

Some additional questions if you have time, I'm always interested in the practicalities so...

1. Lenses, primes or zooms?
Most used/favorite focal length and T stop of course.
2.Shooting days per episode, and how many hours per day?
And can you remember how many setups you got per day?

Keep up the good work and keep posting David.

Best
Alex

Edited by Alex Lindblom, 05 March 2011 - 05:11 AM.

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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 10:59 AM

Great write up as always David thank you.

Some additional questions if you have time, I'm always interested in the practicalities so...

1. Lenses, primes or zooms?
Most used/favorite focal length and T stop of course.
2.Shooting days per episode, and how many hours per day?
And can you remember how many setups you got per day?

Keep up the good work and keep posting David.

Best
Alex


We mostly shoot on Primo primes, the 35mm being the most common. Generally the sets end up being lit to around an f/4.0, or f/2.8-4.0 at night, but I've done some night scenes wide-open at f/2.0. We carry an 11:1 Primo zoom which I use when needed.

I use Schneider Classic Soft Black diffusion for some scenes, or Tiffen GlimmerGlass for others, but I also carry a #1/4 Fog and a #1/8 and 1/4 Black Frost as well. And a subtle net filter made from a sort of black tule I found in a fabric store. Season Two, however, I couldn't get the Classic Black Softs from Panavision so I got the Hollywood Black Magics, the only difference is that the Classic Soft Blacks are Classic Softs + #1/8 Black Frost, whereas the Hollywood Black Magics are HD Classic Softs + #1/8 Black Frost.

The Hollywood Black Magics are therefore more subtle because HD Classic Softs are more subtle, without the blurry bubble or ring around points of light that the Classic Softs create, because they use a smaller lenslet pattern. However, sometimes I like that bubble/ring artifact.

5 days per episode, 30 pages per script, so average is 6 pages per day.

I don't recall the number of set-ups, I tend to not think in those terms. This is a performance-driven show so we sometimes do a lot of takes just to get some variations (even though Toni Collette nails every take -- she's awesome), rather than shoot a lot of coverage -- the house style is to try to get things to work within a couple of set-ups, mostly in medium shot, rather than get a lot of close-ups and cut them up. Generally chest-up is the tightest size we go on people, which is one reason we tend to shoot on the 35mm lens.

On stage, I use 20K and 10K fresnels for sunlight effects, plus a 5K PAR. We also have spacelights hanging over each window and over the front and backyards you see through the doors. There is a hanging backing photo outside the front and back of the house set, all the sides, and all the upstair rooms, have day-blue cloth hanging outside with plants to break them up. In each room there is a muslin centered ceiling piece with either a spacelight, coop, or J-box hanging over it, though I mostly use that as a worklight during rehearsals, I don't like to toplight the actresses too much. We use a lot of Woodylights and Barger Baglites for keys, and i often fill from low with a tweenie scrimmed down, bounced into a 3'x3' or 4'x4' beadboard propped up on an apple box. I also use Source-4 Lekos a lot, bounced into beadboard or off of the ceiling or floor.

I try to play with color temp in the camera and on the lights with gels to create some of the feeling of different times of day -- for that dusk scene in the back home office, for example, I stapled Full CTB gel on the windows to blue-up all the light coming through. For the warm late afternoon scene, I set the camera to 4300K instead of 3200K so that all the tungsten lighting had a 1/2 CTO look.
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#4 georg lamshöft

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 02:12 AM

The biggest public TV-station in Germany bought the rights for "Taras Welten" (so they call it "Tara's worlds") and started to show season 1.
Ratings are horrible - guess why... Because it's shot on digital... just kidding ;-)
No, they dare to show it at 2am in the morning!
They've tried showing popular, new Hollywood-series in primetime - but older audiences prefer crappy local productions and private TV-stations said it would be unfair competition, because they don't squetch 15min commercials into it...
A sorry for the stupid Germans not appreciating your work, but I hope it goes well at home!
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