SALEM: Beyond the halfway point!

Salem, thus far… (April 5, 2015)

We are now into our 9th episode of Season 2 - (9 of 13) and I must say, this has been quite a journey. As the new Director of Photography, this project has tested my creativity, management skills and patience to levels I hadn’t contemplated. Most of the challenges have been met successfully and some simply are beyond my control. Such as, the fact that I shoot from episode to episode without any prep with the next director. We shoot 7-day schedules and the day after that – is the first shoot day of the next show. So not only am I bereft of the minute details the next director has planned, but I barely know the person. Sometimes I’ll spend half of one lunch break with them, but not always. Besides, people act very different in a meet and greet compared to how they act as directors on set. Shoot day one, hitting the ground running with a new director, is the hardest part of my job. I like most of their ideas but not all. Some just don’t fit the show and it’s tough to tell them that we don’t do that here. Usually I give in a little because a new idea isn’t always a bad idea, but I am responsible for the look of this series and that look has to be managed carefully.

My crew this year is quite competent and willing to work hard under occasionally difficult working conditions. The hours are long and the day exterior photographic demands are exhausting, particularly on sunny days. Salem is not supposed to feel sunny, so we make as much shade as possible and juggle certain scenes to keep our actresses out of harsh overhead direct sun. The crew now knows that if it’s sunny and clear, I’ll be showing up in a foul mood. We have had many more sunny days this season and if you watch the show, look for shaded areas that here to fore have never been shady, except on overcast days. Oh well, can’t control the weather can I.

We have invented small incandescent soft boxes that we use for our candle lit night interiors. They create the right kind of ambience without a directional feel. I’ll use these dimmed way down in concert with candles and set these levels by eye - as my meters are not sensitive enough for a reading. We are using Panavision Vintage Primes for these interiors and shooting them wide open - F 1.4 at 800, 1000, or 1600 ISO. This aperture and sensor setting mimics what the human eye sees in a candle lit rooms. I’ve waited my entire career for a chance to light completely by eye and this project and the Arri Alexa have made it finally possible.

Our shooting style is mostly steadicam masters followed by hand held coverage. We’ll do dolly shots every now and then, time permitting. It’s really all about getting as many shots in a day to grind through the 5-8 page schedule. I’m not that interested in set-up counts but I’m told we’re averaging around 40 setups a day. We use a second camera throughout the day and on occasion - outside or in the church, I’ll use three cameras.

Working closely with the actors has proven to be the real joy in an otherwise crazy and chaotic environment. They give me all the inspiration I need and after all, they’re the ones who don’t get any more rest than me – PLUS – they have to learn their lines. Especially Janet – wow – what a tireless professional she is.

The Salem Season 2 premieres tonight on WGN: 10 Eastern/9 Central – hope you enjoy it!

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