April 05, 2014

The Cinematography of Boardwalk Empire

I've been a big fan of this HBO series.
The 5th and final season premieres this coming September.
Each passing season has gotten better and better. The quality of the writing, story structure, character development, acting, editing, props, sets and costumes, have all been nothing short of stellar. But in my opinion, the cinematography has been especially astounding.

Here I've singled out episode 5, from season 4. It stood out to me as being notably exceptional in this category, it's titled "Erlkönig", directed by Tim Van Patten. You will see how well-placed props, specific angles, thoughtful framing and lighting, and well planned scene setups have all lead to some beautiful shot compositions. With careful and deliberate choices of color texture, perspective, depth of field, and lighting - these elements worked together to create an appealing and well-balanced image. Even the way actors are leaning or tilted in a shot, or effects like cigarette smoke, shadows, and highlights add to the purposeful way the viewers eyes are continually lead to the focal point.

In particular, this episode had interesting artistic and stylistic choices. A few sequences are shown with the characters' positions heavily favoring one side of the frame. To me this skillfully portrays the context of the situation the characters are in.

In all cases, the choice for this composition shows how vulnerable the characters are. The visual storytelling informs us the characters are feeling very alone, bleak, exposed, and desperate in the circumstances they find themselves in. The cinematography depicted this by creating lots of empty space away from where the characters were facing.

Loneliness, isolation, desperation, paranoia, seeking opportunities, gaining power, losing control; all these are common themes in the series, and the cinematography always compliments these themes, these moments, these emotions.

If you haven't watched season 4 yet, the following displays spoilers.

Cinematography is a process of continuous change created by the control of its three basic elements - placement of people and objects within the frame; movement of people and objects within a fixed frame; and movement of the frame itself. In Boardwalk Empire, these elements are designed and manipulated in a specific and masterful way, to draw the viewer’s attention towards the focus of the scene. The actors, objects and backgrounds are staged so that the shots and visual ideas are unmistakably clear, an action so that it is understood, an atmosphere that evokes a specific feeling, a personality so that it is recognizable, and a mood so that it can affect the audience.

David Franco is a Director of Photography for Boardwalk Empire. He has worked on the second, third and fourth seasons. He has been active since 1987 and has also worked on the films The Assignment (1997), The Whole Nine Yards (2000), and he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie in 2007 for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007).

1 comment:

Christina Yang said...

Thank you for sharing and compiling such a beautiful reference! :)