Unique Visual Style In “Gotham” Earns DP Crescenzo Notarile His First Emmy Nom
By: Marjorie Galas
A native New Yorker, director of photography Crescenzo Notarile looks forward to those jobs that will bring him back to the city he loves. He broke into production in NYC working as a camera operator on films including “Once Upon a Time in America.” To sustain himself professionally and creatively, he’s spent the past 35 years working primarily as a bi-coastal DP. He’s taking on LA-based TV series including “Ghost Whisperer” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” as well as traveled the globe working on film and video projects. When he learned “Gotham” was looking for a DP to craft a new visual direction for its second season, he was excited to jump on board the NY based series. The fact that it has led to his first Emmy nomination has been a unexpected but exciting bonus.
“As crew members we keep our head down and the pedal to the metal,” said Notarile. “You got to keep raising the bar. There is so much brilliant work out there. For us to get nominated is a testament to the creativity of this show.”
Prior to digging into the second season, Notarile meet with show runners Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon to get an understanding of the visual direction. While the aesthetics of the first season had a dark edge, Heller and Cannon wanted to take those darks to a new level. With an exploration of Gotham City’s villains, Notarile was excited to experiment with camera angles, provocative lighting and textural images to create a more menacing, haunting feel to the world his predecessors had placed on the map. During the earliest stages of pre-production he met with his fellow department heads, including production designer Richard Berg and costume designer John Glaser, to discuss color palettes and fabric textures that would, in collaboration with the lighting design and camera work, add to the fictional city’s visceral feel.
While DPs often select staff for their projects, Notarile found himself the freshman member on a seasoned crew. He was immediately attracted to the creative sensibilities each member of the camera department brought to the table, and the ensemble, including A camera operator Gerard Sava, B camera operator Alan Pierce, focus pullers Brendan Belmonte and George Tur; gaffer Frank McCormack and key grip Luis Colon rapidly gelled. Their collaboration was crucial to the production style of “Gotham” – there were no story boards and rarely, if ever, camera tests. Instead, Notarile would call his team together prior to shooting. Sitting around a large table, they would dissect the script scene by scene, breaking down shots and communally discussing their approach. To aid the visual language, Notarile shared collections of tear sheets to illustrate mood, tone and look.
“I’m a tear sheet freak,” said Notarile. “Colors, composition, textiles, locations. I pull images from all sources and put them together to (help build inspiration) in my head, then I bring them out (to the group) to share this inspiration.”
The result of this collaboration was on display in a basement scene that featured a new villian/monster. Notarile wanted the scene to feel like a forbidding, dark lab. Blinking lights in red and green played into the atmosphere. Overhead fluorescents blinked on and off. The floors were kept dark, and lights were placed to allow for long, drawn out shadows. The pre-production meeting with the camera department and tech members allowed the scene to be set and executed exactly as Notarile envisioned it.
Shot on the Arri Alexa, Notarile frequently uses wide angle lenses, a trait of “Gotham” that is quite unique to television. This capture style, per the recommendation of Heller and Cannon, pays tribute to the aesthetics of graphic novels. This style of capture allows the production design of the city to remain present more frequently, and allows for stylish framing, for instance high shots looking down, or low shots looking up. It also allows the audience to feel as if they are sharing the journey of the character.
“When you are up close to a face with a wide angle, the face becomes more spherical and bulbous. You feel like you are right there with them,” said Notarile.
Notarile has begun thinking of ways to lift the creative bar to an even higher standard with season three, developing a variation on the season’s visual style that will make it clearly unique from the previous two seasons. Before he jumps back on set, the DP is spending some time engaged in his primary passion – photography. He credits photography as an essential exercise every cinematographer should engage in to help find a new way of looking at the world. Regardless of his location – at his own home or miles across the globe on location – he sets aside time daily to pursue his photographic passion. In fact, a compliment he treasures to this day arose during an exhibit of his work that included photography he took while shooting a music video in India.
“My assistant said to me, “I was with you every second, and I didn’t see the things you have captured,’” said Notarile.