A Tailor-Made Ensemble
HBO Max’s revamped Gossip Girl follows a group of privileged private schoolers as their not-so-teenaged drama is strategically shared on social media by the anonymous titular character. The series boasts a look that oozes the kind of affluence that’s unique to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, making the often-uncomfortable situational drama nevertheless a pleasure to watch.
Director of photography Jeffrey Waldron established the look with the first two episodes of Season 1, after which a group of cinematographers carried the visual style forward through the remainder of the first as well as the second seasons. “‘Lush and glamorous’ pretty much sums up the look of the show,” says cinematographer Tom Clancey, who has photographed nine episodes across the show’s two seasons.
With his fellow cinematographers on the show — Jamie Cairney; Crille Forsberg, FSF; JP Wakayama and Trevor Forrest — Clancey notes, “We’ve been following the lead of Jeff Waldron, the DP for the pilot episodes of Season 1. We chose the Primo 70s when comparing full-frame options, seeking an optical vibe similar to many of the fashion-film and perfume-commercial references we were studying. The Primo line is precise and modern but has a more human character than comparable primes, which we draw out by staying close to wide open much of the time, emphasizing shallow focus unless desired for a specific location or story point.”
The filmmakers pair the Primo 70 lenses with Panavised Alexa Mini LF cameras, with the equipment package provided out of Panavision New York. “Panavision has been my go-to company for the past 20 years,” Clancey shares. “Their expertise and customer service are without compare. They customized the lenses for us to lower the contrast, bloom the highlights a bit, and invite more flares, infusing some vintage characteristics to lift and soften the modern and contrasty nature of these primes — the best of both worlds.”
Dailies and final color for both seasons were provided by Light Iron, where senior colorist Sam Daley performed the final grade using DaVinci Resolve. “Season 2 continues with the elegant, 'fashiony' look established by cinematographer Jeff Waldron in the first season,” Daley observes, highlighting the look’s “warm, lush colors with a gentle contrast that mirrors the modified lenses from Panavision.”
Clancey adds, “Sam and our DIT Chloe Walker have been the keys for helping to maintain the look of the show across multiple DPs. Sam helped design a LUT that allowed us to light with large sources with very little fill. Our LUT lifts shadows, rolls down highlights, warms highlights, and adds a bit of coolness into the shadows.”
Reflecting on his experiences behind the camera for Gossip Girl, Clancey offers, “The thing that most attracted me to the project was showrunner and director Josh Safran. He really empowers us to make beautiful images without compromise.”