Mad Men and the ARRI AlexaMarc Ehrenbold
The highly-acclaimed period action-drama series Mad Men has ended just recently after seven successful seasons. Christopher Manley ASC was the show’s DP for six seasons and his brilliant cinematography raked in four EMMY nominations, including two ASC citations.
In 2012, Manley directed a few episodes for each season. Manley’s latest achievement was getting another nod from the Emmys for his outstanding cinematography on the show “The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.” ARRI sat down with Manley, and talked about Mad Men’s dramatic look, putting on the directorial hat, and why he switched to using the Alexa.
Describing the look and feel of the show, Manley explains that the film’s camera language was set by Phil Abraham during the first season to which Manley and his crew stuck with to a larger extent.
A great amount of low angles was employed to create a more heroic look to the characters as well. Wide shots were taken with 25mm lens, for close-ups, 75mm lenses were used, and 50mm lens for medium shots. Manley also liked the fact that cuts weren’t made very often, allowing the shots to just play out.
Camera movements were restricted to how cameras were moved in the 60’s, thus Steadicams weren’t used until season 6. These camera techniques afforded that authentic period feel of Mad Men.
When it came to lighting, Manley adhered to the the first season’s vintage Hollywood studio feel. Upon learning Matt’s preference for a more naturalistic look, he used softer lighting sources, and more window light. Interestingly enough, Manley employed the same lighting techniques being used during the 60’s.
Film stock were running faster, and people were using less of the harder Fresnels with bounce lights getting more attention – all these were cinematographic techniques in the 60’s which Manly worked hard to emulate for the show.
Manley switched to the ALEXA during season 5, which helped him further in achieving that naturalistic look and use better found lighting. The camera’s sensitive chip allowed more bounce lights and smaller units to be put into use.
When asked what ARRI fixtures were utilized in the show, Manley pointed out the ARRIMAX and M40 as his all time favorite.
For aspiring cinematographers, Manley strongly advises to shoot images as often as possible, and keep the overhead low. This way, they’ll be able to take on even the smallest paying DP jobs, instead of choosing them over a higher paying task.
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