Fringe Cinematographer Casts Magic Spell On “The Kennedys”
September 10th may be the date David Moxness adds an Emmy to his impressive array of achievements. The “Fringe” cinematographer jumped on board the production of the mini series “The Kennedys” during the break between season two and three of “Fringe” for a little creative challenge and a different flavor from the hit science fiction series. His experimentation has so far earned him a Gemini Award and a nomination in the Emmy’s Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie category.
Moxness began working on “Fringe” during the show’s sophomore season. Having worked on previous science fiction programs such as “Smallville” and “Earth: Final Conflict,” Moxness has a well developed tool kit he refers to for creating moods and atmospheres that aid the evolving storylines of the paranormal based show, while being careful to maintain the look and style that was established during the first season.
Working closely with production designer Ian Thomas and his team, Moxness finds ways to enhance the color palette and lighting design to aid in telling the series’ complex parallel universe storylines. To help differentiate the two worlds the creative team has used colors and materials to subtly highlight the difference and Moxness shoots with a wider lens for the alternative universe.
Moxness was able to jump to yet another reality when the opportunity to shot “The Kennedys” arose. While the chance to work on the period piece was appealing, it was the script that really hooked Moxness.
“Who wouldn’t want to shoot a film about the Kennedys, an American royal family of sorts” said Moxness. “I was particularly intrigued by this script that dealt so much with the back story of the family and Joe Sr. I think we all know or feel we know, about the events and the times of John’s presidency and Bobby’s run, but know little about the family’s early history.”
Working with director and “Fringe” alum Jon Cassar to find a visual style that would accurately portray the time period, Moxness paid particular attention to incorporating the scripts many flashbacks that were to occur during the eight hour series. His solution to providing a visual aid to the flashbacks that wouldn’t become stale during the course of the series was to incorporate tones from the different eras into the flashbacks. The flashbacks that take place during the twenties were more de-saturated and yellow, for the 30s and 40s more amber tones were used, and for the 50s and 60s more neutral and saturated colors were used.
“In pre-production Jon, myself, production designer Rocco Mateo and costume designer Chris Hargadon collaborated very closely to ensure all tones we chose complemented each set, location, costume and time period to accurately depict the Kennedy’s life.”
Moxness was hopeful that the series could be shot on film, feeling that medium would best depict the proper emotion and aesthetic for that time period. In compliance to the budget, the crew tested a number of digital cameras before determining the Sony F35 provided the best quality for their production. To compliment his shots Moxness used Angenieux zooms and Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses. For many of the “home movie” sequences that take place throughout the script Moxness used a Canon5D MKII.
The goal of his shooting style was to present a window into the Kennedy world, a natural reality that allows the viewer to become an observer. He incorporated as much natural lighting as possible to enhance this sensibility.
“I chose a very naturalistic approach. Lots of natural big window light or motivated from chandeliers,” said Moxness. “It is such an opulent family living in ornate and beautiful places: the White House, Hyannisport, Georgetown – I wanted to portray that grandeur.”
Shooting with natural light does provide continuity challenges. The Hyannisport house had five sets that were shot in over the course of four months. Matching the lighting between the different sets and various locations and attaining consistency took great effort.
“Many of the transitions; one location/set to another, on moving shots are seamless and I’m quite proud of that,” said Moxness.