Film and television cinematographer Paul Cameron probably knows a thing or two about how to capture moving images that encapsulate not only the essence of each scene, but of the project as a whole. Along with working on such features as the latest Pirates of the Caribbean go and Tony Scott’s Man on Fire, Cameron was brought on to shoot Westworld’s pilot episode.
Shooting a pilot, however, isn’t like filming any ol’ episode in a television series. Along with capturing each beat in the script, the cinematographer is also tasked with establishing the tone and feel of the visuals that will define the series throughout its run. So, basically, the pressure is really on – creating the wrong tone for a show could spell disaster, regardless of how good the acting or writing proves to be.
Luckily, Cameron had the help of Westworld’s brilliant co-showrunners, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who seemed to know exactly what they wanted going into the pilot, but at the same time were flexible and open to creative collaboration. In a recent interview with studiodaily, Cameron discusses the creative process behind bringing Westworld’s premiere episode to life, and more specifically, how choosing to shoot the pilot on film proved to be the right idea in more ways than one.
When Cameron first sat down with Nolan to discuss the pilot, he says that within a couple minutes he floated the possibility of shooting the project on film, and it sounds like Nolan gave him the answer he was looking for:
“[Nolan] replied it wasn’t a possibility – we would definitely shoot on film. That was a major plus for the project. We’re at a point in time with the industry when there is largely a single mindset about shooting digital. Even though there are ways to approach visuals creatively, many projects become acclimated to ProRes. Shooting on film is archival, and you’ve got image quality that works for 4K in all manner of release.”
Cameron’s point about where the industry currently stands in the film vs. digital debate is a good one. Digitally capturing images certainly has its upside – it’s cheaper, the camera can roll for longer without switching out the memory cards (the digital equivalent of film stock), and it’s easier to capture low-light scenes – hence why the majority of projects these days default to it.
However, there’s something about film that raises a project to the next level. It could be the warmer feel of the finished product, or perhaps it’s some unconscious viewer appreciation of the fact that shooting on film is much more laborious and time consuming compared to digital. Cameron has his own reason for why he appreciated shooting Westworld on film, and it may not be what you think:
“As a DP, shooting film is such a different process. You’re still doing your lighting and matching and balancing on the day, which creates a certain level of reverence for the process. And that continues with the [Apple ProRes] dailies. We’d spent lunch in a trailer reviewing on a 65-inch plasma television. If we had captured digitally, there’d have been less people watching, and perhaps there wouldn’t even have been a trailer. Watching dailies on iPads and even on beautiful monitors from your home still nets a different response than the community feel that I got from our dailies.”
Basically, shooting on film created a sense of community when reviewing the dailies. Instead of having instantaneous feedback from shooting digitally via playback monitors around the set, the crew was forced to review the film dailies together in one place once the footage was processed. While we can only speculate about the kinds of conversations that went on during these viewings, one can assume that the atmosphere provided a means for productive discussions about what worked and what didn’t, which is essential to the successful execution of a television pilot.
Cameron goes on to discuss the reasons behind his choices for the types of cameras he used, and what drew him to shoot many of the pilot’s exterior shots in Moab, Utah. Check out his entire interview, and let us know what you think!