Walt Fraser, DP for ABC’s new series Desperate Housewives, knew that achieving a soft, sparkling-clean image meant everything to a show that presented a veneer of perfection. "The beautiful images play up the problems that lie underneath," he explains.
The show is shot on a backlot resembling a colonial street. Production designer Tom Walsh created actual living spaces inside the houses (which began as just facades), so shots could travel from a brilliant exterior to a darker interior or vice versa. Fraser’s biggest challenge became balancing this contrast.
"A lot of the day is spent with the sun being very high, which is not flattering. I don’t like to light to a high level inside – it creates an odd atmosphere for the actors. So rather than build the inside up too much, I try to get the outside darker." Fraser uses neutral-density gels on the windows and 20X double nets outside to reduce the exposure outside by the necessary level – "never less than two stops and sometimes as many as four," he says. "The trick is not to make the outside too dark – then it starts to look artificial. If you keep the outside approximately three stops hotter than the inside, you still see detail out there, and it will still look believable."
Fraser was brought in for the series after the network asked for re-shoots of the pilot, which he hadn’t originally shot. "The pilot looked excellent," said Fraser. "They just wanted to see a little more detail out of all the windows and minimize the blown-out look."
Fraser shoots the 35mm series with two Panavision G2 cameras with 11:1 Primo Zooms, using Primo Primes for night work and Steadicam shots, and "no filters whatsoever."