Michael Goi, ASC, former president of the American Society of Cinematographers, has most recently shot half of the first and upcoming second seasons of American Horror Story, and seven episodes of Glee as well as the pilot of freshman TV sitcom The New Normal. His other TV work includes My Name is Earl, for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award as well as Web Therapy and The Mentalist. Goi also shot the ASC Award-nominated telefilms The Fixer (1998) and Judas (2004) for Paramount and ABC.
Michael Goi, ASC
His feature film work includes the Megan Is Missing (2011), which he wrote and directed and What Matters Most (2001) for which he received the first Best Cinematography Award given by the Portland Festival Of World Cinema.
Goi also has taught cinematography at IATSE Local 600, Cal State Northridge, the Maine Photographic Workshops and his alma mater Columbia College. He is actively involved in mentoring students interested in cinematography as a career. He spoke to Creative COW about shooting the pilot for The New Normal with the Sony F65.
The director Ryan Murphy and I have worked together on a lot of TV projects. I shot seven episodes of Glee
as well as half of the first season of American Horror Story
before I shot the pilot for The New Normal
. Ryan Murphy has done everything in his career on film, and this pilot was going to be his first digital production. I wanted to make the process of doing the pilot as smooth as possible and not make him aware that he was working in another medium.
I chose the Sony
F65 because it also allowed me to work in the manner I shoot film. I didn't have a black tent with a DIT and HD monitors. We had SD monitors for video village, and it was a fast process for me to glance at the waveform monitor, set the lens stop and then shoot, without a lot of cables and running around to adjust color. Another incentive for using the Sony F65 was that, at the time, nobody had used it on a TV production and that was attractive to Ryan, who likes to stay ahead of the curve.
I didn't have any misgivings about being the first to use the new camera on a TV production because I'd seen enough of its development and the early prototypes as Sony developed the camera. The camera still wasn't completely finished in terms of all the bells & whistles when we shot the pilot, but it didn't impact us. For example, at the time we shot, it wasn't capable of slo-mo, which it is now. For the couple of slo-mo shots we used, we shot on 35mm film. There were no other features that weren't ready at the time; it was pretty much there. Sony did make some adjustments to the positioning of the viewfinder so it's more comfortable for operators on handheld shots.
THE NEW NORMAL pilot, shot by Michael. "Sofa's Choice" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Nene Leakes as Rocky, Andrew Rannells as Bryan Collins. Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC. Aired Tuesday, September 11, 2012 on NBC.
Also, prior to choosing the F65, we did tests, with the F65, film and another digital camera. I felt the color space and resolution, even though we weren't using it at maximum resolution, really gave me a really clean look and afforded me the filtration and diffusion I would normally use with a digital cameras.
In fact, the F65 gave us a great amount of color and depth. We didn't work in the raw format because TV post production can't deal with the enormous file sizes we typically use on features. I knew with the Sony F65 that I could push it to the edge of acceptability and still get a great image.
I prefer to work with a dailies timer as opposed to a "lab-in-a-box" approach. I have always been most comfortable with having another pair of eyes in the dailies timing room on the footage that have been shot. That's a person working through the night who hasn't been part of the chaos of the set. I understand the reasons behind the lab-in-a-box approach; you want to have more control through the entire workflow of what the images will look like. For me, I like the input of other people whose opinions I trust. I have never been very comfortable with moving post processes on set. For me, it ends up taking more time if I have to color while I'm shooting.
THE NEW NORMAL pilot, shot by Michael. "Sofa's Choice" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Andrew Rannells as Bryan Collins, Justin Bartha as David Murray. Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC. Aired Tuesday, September 11, 2012 on NBC.
I'm the kind of person who likes to go in at 2 am and sit down with the dailies timer and talk about the footage and the artistic objectives. I did that every night on The New Normal
pilot. Julio Giron, the dailies colorist at Encore, has worked on a lot of Ryan productions. When they put the show together, they liked the look as it was and the production ended up using what were, in essence, the dailies.
What I do sometimes is establish a LUT based on tests and the qualities of that LUT are what I light to. I treat it like a film stock -- that is, with this much latitude, these colors will be punchier -- and then my gaffer and I light to that.
The New Normal
was primarily a location-driven production. I think there was maybe only one set on a stage and everything else was shot on location. We shot at Barneys, the high-end department store and a park in Beverly Hills, a house in West Hollywood and Santa Monica Beach. The last scene of the last day of the shoot was on Santa Monica beach. We were shooting a scene where Goldie (played by Georgia King) is talking with her daughter on the beach and the sun is setting in the background, so we're staring directly at the sun. I brought no lights out to the beach. I had an 8x8 diffusion frame and we set that up, and we also used it as a bounce for the little girl. And the footage came out beautiful. We worked very fast throughout the shoot; two of the days we actually finished a little after lunch and one day just before lunch. The way we worked helped things move quickly though it was a locations show.
One of my primary inspirations for the pilot was Steve Martin's L.A. Story
. One character moves here from Ohio and I wanted that L.A. to be the ultra-perfect Los Angeles that people who live here know doesn't exist. It's always golden sunlight and colorful. Taking that as the cue, when I established the LUT for the show, I pumped up the saturation of the colors slightly and we lit to those qualifies. Wardrobe and art department populated the settings with a lot of punchy bright colors and we went for warm effects. There were a few things we did lighting-wise to give people a little more sparkle. When Andrew Rannells (who plays Brian Collins) sees a baby at the department store for the first time and decides he wants a baby, I wanted this twinkle in his eye. We set the lights very low and the camera looks up at him, just so we could get the glimmer in his eye as it tears up.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: Episode 12: Afterbirth
Aired December 21, 2011. Dylan McDermott. CR: Prashant Gupta / FX.
I tried to find ways to emotionally access what the characters were going through, in subtle ways. With Ellen Barkins' character, Jane Forrest, we went with more rigid composition because she's someone with a set view of the world. She's also a real estate agent. We set up in a house that she was supposed to sell, without furniture, and we backed the camera way into the corner for an establishing shot. The shot was a big empty house, with her. Ryan loved it -- it showed the emptiness of the house and the emptiness of her existence, as an emotional void.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY Tricks and Treats, shot by MIchael -- Episode 202, airs Wednesday, October 24, 2012. Pictured: James Cromwell as Dr. Arden -- CR: Michael Becker/FX
There were no surprises shooting the pilot with the Sony F65. Workflow on any digital production takes a little bit of education on the part of the camera crew, who have to know the entire workflow and coordinate with post production, but also on the part of the electrical and grip crew. When they're plugged in to the capabilities or limitations of a particular digital media, they know what to do for each set up.
The advantage I had on The New Normal
was that I was working with my entire regular crew. For ten years we've been working together so we're like a well-oiled machine in terms of how we go forward.
Last season, I worked on all of Ryan's productions -- half the season of American Horror Story
and seven episodes of Glee
and the pilot of The New Normal
-- and what makes it work so well is when you have that connection and ESP with the crew where they know what you're thinking when you're thinking it. When I'm on the set, I tend to talk very, very little. This interview is the most talking I'll do all day.
When I'm communicating with my crew and watching the actors rehearse, I'll look at my gaffer and make a little gesture and he'll know what that means. It's that kind of familiarity that makes for an efficient production. Sometimes when you work with a producer you haven't worked with before, they want you to use their crew people, and it can take a bit of convincing that the fastest way to get the production done is to use the people I've worked with for ten years.
Every digital camera has different pluses and minuses, just like every film stock does. What I'm shooting right now is the new season of American Horror Story
on 35mm film. This season has been on film: We've shot Kodak
5219, Kodak 5222 Double X black and white, and Kodak Color Reversal 5285. We're running the gamut of what's available with film technology and the look and aesthetic is right for this show.
In the crush of people wanting to convert everything to digital, I hope we don't lose sight of the fact that it opens up creative options to have a toolbox that is more than just one medium. If you choose the right medium for the production, you can achieve what you want to do artistically with less reliance than having to fix it post. And that includes film, F65, the ARRI
Alexa, the RED
. They're all valid media.
Photos from The New Normal and American Horror Story ©2012 NBCUniversal Media, LLC