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Panavision Salutes Emmy-Nominated Television

The 68th Primetime Emmy® Awards will be held this month in Los Angeles. It is the industry’s opportunity to celebrate extraordinary achievements in the television art form, which continues to be elevated by the storytellers and artists working in the genre. Panavision is proud to have collaborated with many of this year’s nominated cinematographers, including Crescenzo G.P. Notarile, ASC, AIC for Gotham, John S. Bartley, ASC for Bates Motel, and Steven V. Silver, ASC, who is double nominated for The Big Bang Theory and Mom. Below is a look at the nominated programs:

Gotham (FOX)

Crescenzo G.P. Notarile, ASC, AIC earns his first dramatic Primetime Emmy® nomination for the popular AND critically acclaimed FOX series Gotham, which follows Detective James Gordon's rise to prominence in Gotham City in the years before Batman's arrival. Notarile is being recognized in the Outstanding Cinematography for a Single Camera Series category for the “Azrael” episode.

Notarile, who alternates shooting Gotham with his partner, DP Chris Norr, describes the series’ look as haunting, fun and dramatic, with a sharply distinctive visual slant. “We are creating our own world here,” he notes enthusiastically. “We don’t have to adhere to the Batman franchise since our story comes before. Our look is bold and audacious, and, in itself, certifiably a principal character of the show. As a cinematographer, that is something to be very proud of.” 

Gotham is photographed on ARRI Alexa cameras and utilizes (Panavision) wide angle lenses to create visuals similar to that of graphic novels. “It makes the audience feel like they are there, connected in the heart of Gotham – and standing along with the characters directly,” adds Notarile.

“Lenses are the most important tool a DP has – the creative eyes – and the signature of our show is our vintage Panavision prime lenses,” he continues. “I’ve been with Panavision since day one of my 30-year career, and I am still exclusive to my beloved Panavision. I have wonderful relationships with their team in New York and L.A. They have beautifully designed ergonomic equipment – a no bullshit, simple system. But, ultimately for me, it’s all about their glass.”

Notarile says the “Azrael” episode was the most challenging episode he photographed last season because the story takes place during a dramatic blackout. “We were essentially castrated visually with no lights and scenes taking place on our massive, cathedral-like set (GCPD),” he recalls. “We had to surgically light the set, which takes the space of an entire soundstage, with moonlight coming through cracks, crevices, and windows.  

“The toughest part was choreographing those precise beams of light with the visceral sword fighting sequences. The audience had to see enough information to know what was happening, but it also had to evoke that the characters are in total darkness from the blackout. It was not so simple."

Gotham also earned Notarile accolades earlier this year when his peers nominated him for an ASC Outstanding Achievement Award. He stresses that his success would not be possible without the passion, hard work, and artistic contributions of his crew. “I cannot do what I do without my family, who is my crew in the cinema trenches. They are my backbone and fuel for my creative inspiration. I want to give gargantuan credit to my personal crew who I have great admiration for, and I adore and respect each one of them tremendously.”

Bates Motel (A&E)

This past May, A&E’s Bates Motel bowed its fourth season. Set in the small town of White Pine Bay in Oregon, Bates Motel serves as the origin story to the iconic Psycho and follows the mysterious happenings surrounding a troubled young man, Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore), and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga).

Bartley, a native of New Zealand, won his first Emmy® in 1996 for his work on The X-Files. He received his fourth Emmy® nomination this year for the Bates Motel’s episode “A Danger to Himself.” The story follows Norma as she searches for Norman, who awakens lost in the middle of a field, dirty and covered in blood.

Bartley is no stranger to mystery, having photographed series such as The X-Files and Lost. He brought his skill set to Bates Motel beginning with episode six of the first season. “The overall look of Bates Motel is realistic,” describes Bartley. “The story is set in a small town where the weather is what it is at the time of shooting, and the townspeople look normal, although maybe a little off.

“With episodic series, the look changes from time to time,” he says, explaining that he works to make the look suit the story, but also pushes to keep it interesting for both himself and the audience. Utilizing Panavision wide-angle lenses is one of the ways Bartley does just that.

“I have used Panavision Primo lenses for years, even before I went to work on Lost, which was a major Panavision show,” Bartley says. “Panavision zooms and prime lenses match very well together. And now, with ARRI digital cameras the results are always very good.”


The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

The Big Bang Theory, which will start its 10th season this fall, was conceived by Silver to be a very upbeat, richly saturated sitcom. “We strive for great saturation and sparkle to keep the show visually interesting,” says Silver. “It might not be obvious to the viewer, but we begin every episode with a new approach, allowing the script to guide us visually. I feel Big Bang Theory keeps a fresh look for viewers that is exciting from week to week.”

Silver credits Panavision with helping him to take advantage of new equipment to solidify that look. The show was the first series to switch to the Sony F55 four years ago. “Once the F55 came out with the full sensor it took the show to a greater visual place. There was less noise, and I could use different F-stops that suited the show, giving us greater depth of field. With two Angenieux 19-90 lenses and two 11-1 Panavision zoom lenses, it really makes for a great camera package. David Dodson at Panavision was instrumental in arranging our equipment package.”

In the nominated episode, “The Convergence Convergence,” Leonard and Penny are trying to have a wedding celebration that everyone can attend, but it creates serious conflict between Sheldon's mother and Leonard's divorced parents. Meanwhile, Howard and Raj become convinced the government is out to get them.

The episode included a unique car chase scene that was shot on stage. “In the front car, the characters are acting paranoid because they are being followed by another car, supposedly by a secret government agency,” explains Silver. “As the car behind is getting closer, I was able to use the idea of the chase vehicle’s headlights to create movement and drama. The fact that it was actually their friends trying to keep up with them made for a hilarious scene. The producers were concerned about building the tension appropriately in the scene so that the comedy unfolded as written. Chuck (Lorre) was very happy as he watched the scene play out on the monitors, so I knew the crew and I managed in helping enhance   the comedy.”


Mom (CBS)

Mom is a comedy that follows more serious storylines with themes about sobriety, loss and difficult choices. “I want the mood of the lighting to reflect the various emotional tones in the writing from scene to scene,” says Silver. “For the body of the show, I have assigned a more cinematic look than the standard situation comedy. The colors are more muted and desaturated. Serious moments are lit more like a drama by increasing contrast and lower light values. I direct the photography through these huge swings in the script. I like to think we’ve found a visual style that supports this material.”

In “Sticky Hands and a Walk on the Wild Side,” Christy, Jill and Wendy agree to help Bonnie smuggle an illegal substance – a 100-gallon barrel of maple syrup – across the Canadian border. The storyline is emotionally complex, because the Canadian vacation was intended to help Anna Faris’ character get over the suicide of a good friend.

In the penultimate scene, the main characters are in a car at the border station and afraid of being caught. They start talking about their lost friend and by the time they get to the customs checkpoint, they are all crying hysterically, prompting the officer to wave them through. The story then cuts to the women pulled over on the roadside at dawn, having an impromptu AA meeting. “As they say a Serenity Prayer, the sun begins to rise,” recalls Silver. “We created the sunrise on stage by pulling cool tones of gel, then transitioning to warmer color tones through our key light, creating the effect of the rising sun. The increasingly warmer visuals signal an optimistic change in the story when the characters finally realize they can’t run away from their feelings.”

For the Canadian border set, Silver doubled his lighting crew that day. The scene was shot with four Sony F55s rigged around the car. Three cameras were mounted on the hood of the SUV and one through the driver side window, requiring a split diopter in order to keep the driver and passenger in the same focus plane. Silver feels that’s a nice in-camera trick for these type of shots.

“What Panavision does to support Mom and The Big Bang Theory is priceless,” adds Silver. “In non-traditional camera situations, Panavision helps me set up, and supports us with personnel in order to facilitate our production seamlessly. (Panavision’s) David Dodson is like a trusted member of the crew. I don’t have to worry about anything – Panavision takes care of the details.”