A Little Knowledge

A while back I re-watched Firefly on DVD.

It’s a Western. With Spaceships.

It’s also bloody marvellous, and if you can’t cope with the collision of those two genres I’m sorry – but you’re missing out on a fantastically well-made TV show.

(This has no relevance at all to the content of this post. I just wanted to get it off my chest before we got onto the important stuff.)

So I’m watching the episode “Out of Gas”, and something’s bugging me about the picture. There’s a lot of strange colour in there, and more to the point, the grain on the picture – especially in the flashback sequences – is enormous.

And I’m thinking – was this shot on 16mm? I know the first two seasons of Buffy were, and that grain is so strong…

So I looked it up.

And it turns out that there are several pages on how the look-and-feel of the show was created at The American Society of Cinematographers website.

Turns out that most of the episode was shot on cross-processed Fuji 50D – basically they use processing chemicals to develop the film stock that weren’t designed for it – which gives it that lovely grainy, colour-shifted look.

Another of life’s little mysteries solved. Happiness ensues.

Here’s why this is important for writers:

Assuming you want to become a showrunner in the long-term (and why wouldn’t you?) you need to know a little about what all the department heads can do.

You’re not expected to know about the details of cinematography. The DP will handle all that. But you need to know what’s possible, and what’s easy, and what’s hard, and maybe be able to point to some examples of the-sort-of-thing you want.

A little knowledge, they say, is a dangerous thing.

But you don’t have to know about the details of the process. You do need to be able to have a conversation with your cinematographer about the basics, so that they can then deliver what you want.

I always try to know enough to be dangerous.