Shooting for a Consistent Look Across Eras with the Sony F55, Soft Light, and Lots of Diffusion

The Crown has been very good to its subjects. The lauded and beloved Netflix series led by director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter and playwright Peter Morgan set in motion a powerhouse production with Game of Thrones legs that shows no signs of slowing down. Left Bank Pictures, the company producing the show at Elstree Studios just north of London, recently got a 10-year greenlight to build and expand sets that recreate period London streets and locales on its backlot. Season 3 begins shooting this summer. While we’ll continue to see familiar Buckingham Palace stand-in locations, like Wilton House’s Double Cube Room (above), the new season will introduce a new cast and many more modern details.

For Brazilian cinematographer Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC (Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre, Xingu, Trash), the series’ film-like atmosphere on a television schedule has given him the chance to work the way he’d hoped with Daldry: long enough to develop a creative partnership that nudges cast and crew to their personal bests. Goldman’s tone-setting work on “Smoke and Mirrors” (S1E5), the episode that swept the Emmys and Golden Globes last year, brought him his first ASC Award this winter.

We reached Goldman via telephone “somewhere in Wales at a very funny hotel,” where he is tech-scouting and shooting camera tests for Season 3. Goldman, The Crown’s series DP, was behind the camera for five episodes of Season 2 and will shoot the first four episodes of the upcoming season. We spoke with him about how he arrived at the right combination of analog and digital tools to conjure a period look, the stylistic rules he’s set for a rotating creative team, and why he believes his camera and kit will be what connects the previous seasons with the vastly different one ahead.

How did you and Stephen Daldry first connect in the early stages of the project?

Adriano Goldman: We first worked together on his film Trash [2013] in Rio and before that met through a mutual friend, line producer Mairi Bett, who I worked with on Jane Eyre [2010]. But I have to say that, for me, it really all started with Billy Elliot, which I saw years ago. I remember vividly the impact Stephen’s first film had on me. I love when you mix film and music and dance and I was stunned by how simple yet moving and emotional and just well done the whole thing was. So immediately I began researching him because I had no idea who he was. Fast forward 10 years and Mairi got in touch with me while I was shooting Xingu [2011], the last film I shot in Brazil. She had come to Rio with Daldry on a first scout for Trash, even before they had a script. Mairi got in touch and I had a very long conversation with Daldry, not in person, but on the phone. It wasn’t until a few years later, when they came back to Rio, that they offered me the job. I instantly fell for his style of directing and his personality and we got on so well. He’s a theater man, so his choreography is very, very specific, and he always wants the actors to be able to move around.

When he came back to Rio for the Trash premiere a year later I had already heard that he was somehow involved in this Netflix Originals project. I just asked asked him about it directly. He was pretty ironic and said, “Adriano, this is a television project.” But I didn’t care and asked him if he’d consider me. “Of course I would,” he said. Then, “So, would you like to do it?” “Stephen, I just want to keep working with you, and develop a proper partnership,” I told him. “Well then,” he said, “If you want it, it’s yours.” It was that easy.

Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby prepare for a scene in S2E4, “Beryl,” shot by Goldman.

Now that you mention it, the choreography and ensemble cast on this show is a direct descendant of his first movie, except this is a grand ballet staged with exacting details on a magnificent scale.

That’s definitely something that Stephen really enjoys doing. Also, the scripts are just so amazing and I’ve grown to admire more and more what Peter Morgan does with his dialogue. It was very much on Stephen to actually take that story, which had its origins in the theater [Morgan’s play The Audience traces the life of the Queen through her weekly meetings with Great Britain’s prime ministers], and make it more cinematic. For Stephen, it’s all about rhythm. It’s about rhythm within a specific scene but also overall rhythm, by translating something for the audience through the rhythm of his images and the way the interconnected characters move within a world that would otherwise be so dense and too wordy. Stephen has turned it into one long, episodic film by improving on what we get from Peter Morgan, translating those words into images and blocking and choreography and cuts and music, and the results are scenes that, although we could never actually witness them throughout history, feel historic but also intimate and relatable. I think he does it all so brilliantly. That makes The Crown a work of fiction, of course, but it is heavily based on research — lots and lots of research.

How did you establish the look of the series with him?

Ironically, because he’s so so busy, Stephen was not directing, per se, at the beginning of production the first season. We know, of course, that he directed episodes 1 and 2 of season 1, but we actually started production with episode 5, “Smoke and Mirrors.” I had 12 weeks of prep on season 1, and I basically spent my time with episodes 3 and 5 director Philip Martin. Of course Stephen was there for all the production meetings and scouts offering his tastes and experience, and Martin Childs’ incredible production design and understanding of great interiors, and Michele Clapton’s and now Jane Petrie’s costumes contribute so much, but Philip and I basically developed a style in all the tests without him. We were, based on the material, trying to be very classic in our approach and deliver this very specific period look. When he stepped in, I said, “Look Stephen, I know you have a very different style and this might feel a little too stiff to your tastes. Are you OK with that?” He’d been watching all the dailies and said he was absolutely in love with everything we were doing. “Lucky you,” I told him, “you get to start in Africa in episode 2, so you can feel absolutely free to exercise a different style because it’s supposed to feel different. You get the excitement of the honeymoon, the warm, strong light and all those outside locations.” He embraced that juxtaposition. “Good point,” he said. “I want you to keep the style you’ve developed in London and every time we intercut with Africa, we just deliver a warmer, more exciting and more energetic feel.”

It goes without saying that our look developed even more over time as Stephen added his own taste and that unique rhythm of his. We need that consistency, even though the episodes work like independent films. I think this is the overall style, that you can somehow follow across two full seasons. This also has relevance to the start of season two. Although I was coming back at the start of season two as series DP to somehow safeguard and protect the look, it still felt better to the entire team that I should also be behind the camera on Ben Caron’s and Stephen Daldry’s episodes this past season. I didn’t shoot the first three episodes. I basically upgraded my beloved camera operator, Stuart Howell, who did Season 1 with me, so he became DP for those first three episodes. I shot three with Ben Caron and two with Daldry.

Goldman, left, discussing a scene from S2E8, “Dear Mrs. Kennedy,” with Daldry and actor Harry Hadden-Paton on location at Wilton House.

Netflix requires a 4K end-to-end workflow for its Originals production, so that eliminated the Arri Alexa and Amira right out of the gate. But I know the Alexa is still a pretty popular camera in UK film and broadcast productions. Which 4K cameras did you bring in to test?

Throughout all of my initial tests I had the main 4K cameras, including the Red Dragon, the Sony F55 and the Sony F65. But I also brought in the Alexa. How could I not?! You’re right, it’s what I know. I really wanted to make a point and I really wanted to be able to go back to the Netflix guys saying, “Come on, these images do not look different. At all.” We’ve been using Alexas for the big screen for a long time, so what is the issue with television? The images look as good as each other. I wanted to sell my point. We can even now upres the material from 3.2 to 4K and nobody will ever notice. But they basically said, “Sorry, this is our policy and we demand a 4K workflow. We’re really sorry that you can’t use your favorite camera, but that’s the way it is.” So. We had to get serious about our other options. We eventually came to love the F55. I have to say, the combination of the F55 sensor and some rehoused vintage Cooke Panchros with a bunch of diffusion filters, including Glimmerglass, and then very soft light sources gave us exactly what we were after. Also lots of haze and smoke machines. It’s a combination of elements that extends to the grading, which is heavily desaturated. All of those extras made me feel confident about using an unfamiliar camera on this project. We eliminated the Red Dragon pretty quickly. They are amazing cameras, but it was too sharp, and too modern, for this show. It’s also a little too noisy for my taste.

Why did you go with the F55 over the F65?

For the Sony cameras, it was about being nimble, which takes me back to Stephen’s style as a director. The F65 was a little too big and the F55, with the vintage Cookes, just delivered something that I consider a similar look to what the Alexas would have given us. After two seasons I feel way more confident with it now, and I’m keeping the F55s for Season 3. Sure, there’s now a new Alexa LF and a new Sony Venice, but there is so much that we’re changing about Season 3. We’ve got a whole new cast, an edgier period (late 1960s, early 1970s), and a completely different color palette. I felt that I should somehow deliver some sort of consistency. It’s gonna look so different anyway.

In a scene from “Marionettes” (S2E5), Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II recreates the monarch’s first televised Christmas address by performing directly to the Sony F55.

What are you most looking forward to during next season’s production?

We’re going to finally be able to go outside in London and embrace its more modern architecture and start injecting a kind of rock-and-roll sensibility. It’s gonna feel different no matter what. Also, at this point, I don’t want to introduce any headaches to the production by bringing in a new camera and/or lenses. Equipment wise, we’re staying consistent.

What about the lighting, to get those bolder colors you’re suggesting are coming our way?

No, even lighting-wise, we’re going to keep it consistent. Everybody who comes on board, all the operators and DPs and new directors, they need to follow a very short list of rules that we established at the start. It begins with the camera and lenses and continues through the shots. Luckily for them, creatively, every episode is a different story. There’s always room to try your own stuff, as long as you follow these rules: 1) never shoot close-ups on wide-angle lenses; 2) keep using haze whenever you can; 3) don’t try any funny angles on faces. We don’t want to suddenly see a sharp angle looking up from the floor on one of the characters’ faces, or looking down from above. The subject matter required we come up with this visual language. The biggest thing we talked about was how the viewers would react when they come back next fall and find a whole new cast. Some of them will react viscerally, and say, “What is this that I’m watching?!” It’s a different queen. But if you deliver the same look, I know that, two minutes in, you just buy it. They will embrace this new cast and get sucked right back in.

This starkly modern scene in S2E4, featuring Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, makes winking use of spotlights and other photo and film equipment.

Have you already run camera tests with the new cast?

Oh yes, we’ve done a few with Olivia Colman [Queen Elizabeth] and Tobias Menzies [Prince Philip] and they look simply amazing. The saga continues. But come to think of it, I realize now that we may upgrade our lenses this season after all. I’ve been thinking recently about changing my lens set to Zeiss Super Speeds. They’re still vintage, but a little bit more modern to keep up with the times. Just the other day we did some tests comparing the Cookes and Zeiss, so I haven’t actually decided yet. That might be the one little thing that I change.

What will you miss the most about working with the previous cast, particularly with Claire Foy?

I have to say, Claire is a young Meryl Streep. I worked with Meryl once, filming August: Osage County, and I had never seen anything like that from an actor before. It is about the level of commitment, dedication and professionalism. Meryl was absolutely on time, and ready every time, and she’s so kind and she understands what everybody does on the set. She’s so respectful. And Claire was very much like that. She never, ever, had any issues with her lines. She was always so prepared, but also so kind and enthusiastic about being a part of this show and performing the queen. The way the crew perceived her set the tone. The second she stepped on set, very much like the role she was playing, we knew we had to keep up to her standards. It just elevates the whole experience. I was so impressed. Of course, Claire and I are now good friends and I’m so happy that she’s this lead actress now with a huge future ahead of her. She’s really special. And gorgeous. The camera does not lie.

Matt Smith as Prince Philip and Foy in a scene from S2E7, “Matrimonium.”