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Cinematography of "House of Cards"
  • Quite an interesting background article about the work behind the scenes on "House of Cards" (currently streaming on Netflix.) They use dual Red EPIC cameras with Arri primes, but no steadicam or handheld rigs.

    http://www.hdvideopro.com/display/tv/political-gains.html

  • 22 Replies sorted by
  • What I like about the cinematography on the show is how they let the faces go dark on so many shots. It really fits the mood and theme of the series, but it isn't what you'd usually expect on a TV series. Someone had some pull to get that through the focus groups.

  • I am blown away by every episode. I agree that much of the power of the look comes from allowing scenes to fall in to darkness.

  • Yes, it's pretty fantastic. It's similar to the naturalism in a few other shows like The Following, The Killing and True Detective. It's basically the opposite of the conventional and often contrived looking 3-point technique. Even though it's technically under-exposed, a lot of it, it's still beautiful and it lends a realism to situations that might not play as dramatic if conventional TV lighting was done.

    Hannibal has moments this natural, when Slade is directing an episode, but it tends to be a more heightened naturalism where he's manipulating the linearity of the image and punches up the micro-contrast.

  • Yep. The bright sides of faces are maybe 2/3 of a stop under what you'd expect? But there is something bright in every shot. It's not muddy or underexposed in that way.

    I have this crazy theory that we're all so inured to the standard look of TV and movies that just about anything that brakes that pattern--if done consistently and with some thought behind it--will grab more attention than the standard fare.

  • It really fits the mood and theme of the series, but it isn't what you'd usually expect on a TV series. Someone had some pull to get that through the focus groups.

    Yep... another reason why focus group and test audiences are kind of dumb... people tend to give feedback even if they don't understand the material. If this was a traditionally released project on network television it would have undoubtedly received comments like "maybe make it brighter?" and "add more color... people like color!"

    Great show though. Currently watching season 1...

  • Great show...midway thru Season 2.......We've come a long way from Universal Studios type TV series where everything is blanketed with light. In the 1964 Don Siegal remake of The Killers, which was supposed to be film-noir, I remember even the waste baskets under a desk were fully lit. Gotta keep all the gaffers busy on the backlot!

  • I would love to see raw footage though, prior to grading. Surprisingly, it's shot on the Epic. I would have guessed Alexa. Bravo. Anyway, for these shows that let the image go darker than convention I would love to see if that's in-camera or if they're pulling down in the grade.

    Conversely, on another RED show, Southland, Season 2 had a very hot, clean, over-exposed look for the daylight exteriors running around LA and from what I read the raw footage was exposed normally and the look was created in the grade. It just makes me curious here how much is grade and how much is in-camera and finding the one part of the frame that's not under.

    edit: they apparently shoot HDRx sometimes to control sky and windows. Didn't carry a lot of big lights. No DIT. Shot everything around 4000K and adjusted lighting rather than mess with the camera. Locations were pre-lit or chosen for their overall ambience and sets were created similarly. Lots of practicals designed with the art department and care spent on wall coloring so that with the overall ambience you got separation. Muslin used on ceilings. Practicals and laptop screens lighting actors sometimes. Fincher wasn't afraid to shoot T1.4 when needed. (Feb. 2013 American Cinematographer)

  • Wow, reading that article reminded me so much of how I like to work. Everything on dimmers, swapping bulbs and mixing colors and using a lot of flo lights so everything is cheap, portable and easy to get running in a few minutes. Lots of bounce with bleached muslin, etc. Love it.

    Oh and not using handheld or steadicam. I LOVE this. I can't stand all of the modern shaky footage and steadicam stuff that gets used in like every scene these days. Frame it well and lock that sucker off.

  • Tons of dolly shots (clean and unshaky) in the show. Not totally locked nor light and easy. The lighting is just perfect love it too

  • Even though Fincher isn't involved in every episode, the look he established with the DP is maintained through the entire series, no matter who's directing (TV directors tend to have less influence or power over individual episodes in general, compared to DP, producers and writers).

    It's like watching a mini Fincher movie every episode. From the overall lighting style to several key types of compositions and use of pans, tilt and depth, it's undeniably Fincher.

  • A pity the writing on this show is so hackneyed and formulaic -- completely at odds with the morbid solemnity of the cinematography. A near perfect example of form unsupported by its content. The best production value money can buy, but not the best writing.

    I know, it's a flame to say so. Just ignore me, everything's a masterpiece these days.

  • Just a solid show all around. My girlfriend even loves the lighting and she usually doesn't give a crap about it since she's a writer. Love the 4th wall stuff. Wasn't expecting it.

  • It beats The Newsroom and The West Wing handily in the writing department.

  • @BurnetRhoades

    No argument there, and no brief here for Aaron Sorkin.

  • Ah, you didn't bite on that...a fan of The Wire then?

  • @BurnetRhoades

    The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men. Not very original choices, but still.... Beyond the U.S., there's the Red Riding mini-series from UK. And Jane Campion's Top of the Lake, though it's not a favorite of mine. And I think one of the greatest of all time, the 16-part Berlin Alexanderplatz, from the 80s, which I believe PBS actually broadcast, before they were completely taken over by corporate American and the Republican party.

    Too bad Netflix, with all their resources, isn't more venturesome.

  • I see House of Cards as definitely no less of a show compared to Sopranos and Mad Men on writing. It's no less cliche than the former and far less meandering than the later.

  • They don't usually consult me on these questions, but my quarrel with House of Cards is that its narrative aesthetic comes from network TV -- plodding expository drama, a kind of Cliff Notes version of the teleplay which didn't actually get conceived or written. I'll take meandering any time, over that.

    It's also a bit aggravating that the real thing -- elected representatives up for sale and our American sociopathology in full evidence today in Washington -- is so much more pertinent, interesting and depraved than the cloak and dagger stuff they make up for House of Cards. But alas, they don't ask my opinion.....