Notes on Salem

SALEM - season one is in the can - season two starts January 2015.

What a tremendous experience. Perfect? Nope – but what project is? There is always something – weather, shooting environment, personnel problems – equipment issues, scheduling and being away from home for 6 months. On a scale of 1 to 10 – lets give it an 8.75!

That’s not bad.

Working on a dramatic episodic series is new to me: the pace and expectations- i.e. short prep time, tight schedule, brief set up time and no room for error. Fortunately, handling each of these was within the crews skill set and I personally like the rhythm of this kind of production. Basically it’s pedal to the metal from “call” till “wrap”. Evidently, that’s how TV rolls.

We started January 13, 2014 and completed the 13th episode on June 3, 2014. There were no breaks between episodes. (Except when our lead actress had an emergency appendectomy!) If the last shoot day of an episode fell on a Thursday, day one of the next show started on Friday. Scripts usually showed up late and that is much harder on the actors than anyone else. Honestly, I don’t know how they memorized their lines so quickly!I had 4 different jobs on the show: additional camera operator, splinter unit DP/Operator, 2nd unit DP and 1st unit DP on “double up days and when filling in for the great Michael Goi, ASC. All of these different responsibilities kept me busy and challenged! Those of you who have operated and functioned as a cinematographer know what I mean. As camera people we all know the virtues of adaptability – and fortunately, I wasn’t asked to pull focus! David Leb did that job – and at a highly proficient level. Cody Gautreau was my valued 2nd A.C.

Equipment –

We shot with the ALEXA Plus and 4 Optimo zoom lenses, 15-40, 28-76, 45-120, and the 24-290. With the exception of a 10mm lens, we carried no other prime lens.We varied the ISO between 800 and 1600 and infrequently at 2250. When shooting outside on bright days we carried 2.10 ND’s and tried to stay under an f 8 whenever possible. Day exteriors were underexposed by at least one stop. Many night exteriors were shot wide open at either f 2.6 or f 2.8. I wished we had had some high-speed primes in some, extremely dark situations. The camera is very sensitive and often times we lit by eye at night. Our color temperature varied as well and was usually set to minimize warmth – Salem is not a warm place. Outside in daylight conditions we used 4800K and inside under tungsten and firelight, 2800K.We did use some diffusion for our lady actors in close-up: Mitchell, Hollywood black magic and homemade, (Goi) super frost.Incandescent and HMI lighting fixtures were used in a fairly conventional manner, additional fill was accomplished with a 1 X 1 bi-color LED panel lights or small LED “brick” lights. Moonlight was straight tungsten – NO BLUE GEL. We tried to avoid color contrast and liked the feel of a monochromatic moon. We frequently lit night interiors with only candle and firelight and when we didn’t see the sources, we put small incandescent fixtures on flicker boxes. Our Gaffer was John Magallon a truly exceptional C.L.T.

Style –

We mixed hand held, Steadicam and studio mode daily. It just depended on the feel of the scene and sometimes for no reason other than for time issues. Hand held is very fast and sometimes while losing the light we switched to that mode. We shot with two and three cameras whenever possible and single camera only when we used the Steadicam. Cameras were on dollies and sliders while in studio mode and we ran around or sat on butt dollies while in hand held mode. We had a crane for only two out of 80 days. My fellow camera operators were “A” - Michael Stumpf and “B” - Chip Schner. Both excellent operators and fun to be around! I enjoyed my collaboration with Michael Goi and learned many new tricks to make the day in television. He’s an amazing cinematographer.From director to director our coverage varied based on their style. We would protect those who “under” covered and endured those who “over” covered.

Salem’s art direction was excellent. Sets, set decorating, costumes, props, make-up, hair and special effect make-up was first rate. Wagon’s, animals, stunts, special effects and visual effects were top drawer as well. We went through several sound teams. The medic, locations team, catering and craft service were all top pros.

I enjoyed my time in Shreveport Louisiana and would gladly return to the chagrin of my family here in Montana.

Finally the actors – what a great bunch! Enthusiastic and well prepared, smart and talented – they are the reason for the series renewal. My heartfelt thanks and congratulations go to this excellent ensemble.

Hopefully I’ll be able to return to SALEM and maybe I’ll have a new job the next time around!

My thanks to Brannon Braga for recommending me to the producers, show runner and Michael Goi, ASC.

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