Cinematographer Paul Cameron Talks Show Secrets, Unique Camera Movements, and that ‘Comedic’ Safe Heist

The DP helped defined the visual brilliance of the show

Westworld Episode 1_Safe Heist

There’s no denying that a major part of Westworld’s allure is the way in which the show beautifully captures the various interior and exterior settings featured throughout the series. Places like Moab, Utah and Santa Clarita, California do the job of providing appealing Western-esque aesthetics, but it’s up to the crew behind the camera to capture those landscapes in a way that highlights their unique looks, all the while staying within the boundaries of the story.

Cinematographer Paul Cameron, responsible for shooting Westworld’s pilot episode, is no stranger to the difficulties of visually capturing cinematic worlds. We first highlighted some of Cameron’s reflections of his time on Westworld a couple weeks ago, and now, he’s back to offer even more insight, having recently joined Deadline’s “Crew Call” podcast and host Anthony D’Alessandro.

With a series as closely guarded as Westworld, it makes sense that co-showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy would be cautious about divulging the show’s secrets to even the cast and crew. Cameron explains that, while Nolan and Joy were indeed careful with him as well, some secrets may have inadvertently slipped:

“Both John and Lisa gave me a couple clues here and there that other people weren’t privy to, so at least I had a bit of a roadmap of what was being set up. So, they’re very smart that way in terms of giving just enough information to department heads. And, you know, often times they would reveal something they didn’t necessarily want to reveal [laughs]. So, did I know what was going to happen in all the episodes? No. Was I privy to the information I needed to kind of photograph something at any given point? Yes. They were very clear about that.”

One of the things Cameron remained aware of while filming on location in Utah is how iconic many of the show’s locations are within the history of Western film. While Cameron admits that at times he couldn’t help but mimic some of the shots that old Westerns used while shooting at the same locations, he reveals he created a new camera movement, specifically for the show, that managed to break away from those molds:

“One of the biggest twists, though, you’ll see not only in the pilot, but [also] when they went back to shooting the series later on for a number of the episodes…You’ll see in the stuff that I photographed that they use throughout the episode is something that – it’s kind of this camera movement that we repeat in the park and we kind of repeat it at other times. It’s this kind of very mechanical searching feel. So you’ll see, you know, we’ll be coming across and there’s ground rush on the helicopter and then just a small mechanical tilt up to a butte in front. Or we’re going towards a landscape and then the camera just kind of pans off to the right towards another landscape. These are kind of camera movements that I developed in the pilot with Jonathan to kind of give this feeling of, you know, the park is watching. Somebody is watching.”

Westworld Episode 1_Bank Heist_2

Another highlight of Cameron’s time on Westworld was shooting the heist scene, during which Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and his band of outlaws steal the safe from Sweetwater’s saloon. Cameron recalls that a major part of building this sequence was making sure to maintain a comedic tone:

“The heist was interesting because we had that saloon and we were trying to figure out, where would the safe be? How are we going to get it out of there? How can we make it dramatic and interesting on one level, and then the other level is, how do we make it a bit comedic as well? So we came up with this idea of like, well what if the safe is on the second floor? And they pull it out, and when they’re going to drop it to the ground [Hector] actually pulls [Maeve (Thandie Newton)] out of the way and the safe crashes to the ground, and then they yank the safe out the front door. So it’s kind of a lighter, more realistic moment than just, you know, having a safe come out of the back door…so I think we took a boring heist and kind of made it a little more fun and playful.”

In my book, no Western-style safe heist could ever be boring, but hey, who am I to judge? The final sequence definitely achieves the comedic influence it was going for, offering a welcome change of pace among the episode’s mostly dramatic storylines.

Check out the full podcast below, and let us know what you think!

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