Season One DP Christian Sprenger and Season Two DP Adrian Peng Correia Talk Shooting on Red Dragon and Red Helium with Cooke Anamorphic/i Primes
In the mid-1980s, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) burst onto the television landscape with great success. Netflix latched onto a fictionalized serial about the rise of GLOW from Jenji Kohan, the executive producer of another hit Netflix series, Orange Is the New Black. With an eponymous title and a talented cast including stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron, Netflix’s GLOW racked up Emmy nominations, including one for Christian Sprenger’s cinematography on the pilot episode.
At first, Sprenger wasn’t looking to join another series but, after watching the 2012 documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, he was hooked. “The documentary about the original series was insanely moving and fun,” says the cinematographer, who also earned an Emmy Award for his work on the FX Network series Atlanta.
Guided by Netflix’s parameters for its shows, Sprenger felt that the Red camera and workflow would fit the bill. “In the interview, they explained Netflix’s acquisition and deliverable requirements,” he recalls. “I’ve shot a lot with the Red over the years, all the way back to the Red One, and I feel very comfortable with the camera system and its workflow. I’ve shot other series using Red, and Netflix and the producers were excited to hear that. It made everyone feel confident that we wouldn’t have any issues — shooting with Red was the right choice.
“I then pitched the idea of not shooting it like an overlit TV show, so that it didn’t scream, ‘Look, we’re in the ’80s,’” he adds. “I wanted it to feel natural, so the viewers would believe the world we were creating. When you cut to the GLOW show footage—the show in the show—it feels low-budget and has a handmade quality to it. This story was based on a lot of real women, and I wanted it to be as honest as possible.”
As his camera of choice, Sprenger selected the Red with a 6K Dragon sensor, but shot in 5K anamorphic mode. However, Netflix and the show’s EPs were not totally sold on the idea of GLOW being a 2.35:1 TV series. “I pitched doing 2:1 with an extraction from anamorphic and sold everyone on that idea,” he says. “I went on the hunt for anamorphics that had a vintage feel to them to achieve a dated look. When cropping, the sharpness and any inconsistencies or characteristics of the lens become a lot more prominent when extracting something other than 2.35. From previous experience, I knew I wouldn’t be happy with the result. Our rental house recommended the Cooke Anamorphic/i SF Primes as a nice balance because they resolve nicely but are also a little creamy. The Cookes won out on our lens tests. They provided an ’80s nostalgia but were modern enough for the image not to fall apart when cropping or re-framing in post and adding any set extensions or visual effects.”
Though larger crowd and fight scenes called for four Reds, Sprenger shot primarily with two cameras using Redcode Raw 3:1 compression. DIT Chris Hoyle built custom viewing LUTs that Sprenger would reference for lighting purposes. Hoyle also built the color decision list on the back of the LUTs, which followed the footage to Light Iron in Hollywood, who handled dailies and editorial files.
“I was very involved with the production design team and the set designers,” Sprenger says, “making sure windows were in the right places and soffits were hanged correctly. The idea was, when you are on set, you can look 360 degrees from any point and shoot. It helps move the day along, especially when we sometimes had 15 speaking roles in a scene.”
The latitude of the Red gave Sprenger confidence in his lighting scheme. “Red has surpassed the latitude of film stock,” he notes. Then Netflix threw a curve ball at them — high dynamic range. “We used what Netflix uses now on all their shows, Dolby Vision HDR, though we did not actually shoot with the camera in HDR mode,” he says. “I had never shot for an HDR finish before. Senior Colorist Ian Vertovec at Light Iron tutored me on everything he knew about how HDR works, things to consider while shooting and lighting and exposing, so that I protected myself for the HDR finish. I was glad to have his expertise in my back pocket. We can now display 16 stops of latitude. With the Red sensor, I had full confidence that I could let the exteriors be natural and not regret that decision when I went into the DI.”
GLOW was delivered in Rec. 2020, with its expanded latitude, color fidelity and exposure. “The Red in HDR is phenomenal in what it is able to achieve — a really beautiful combination,” Sprenger says. “We colored in HDR and then would have to watch it in standard dynamic range [SDR] the day after — it was such a letdown!”
For season two, Sprenger was tied up shooting Atlanta, so cinematographer Adrian Peng Correia stepped into the ring to take over the duties.
“You have to exercise your own sense of artistic creativity while coloring within the lines of an existing framework visually, and that’s not always an easy thing to do,” says Correia of joining an established show. “The producers wanted me to be able to do what I wanted to do but also honor what Christian established in the first season …. It was interesting when I came in with my color references and a 30-page look book — they responded to it positively and said, ‘let’s move forward!’”
The gym set with the wrestling ring featured much more action and brawling in the second season. “I had to honor the way they framed the first season, but they also wanted the second season to be more visceral and attuned to the athleticism of the women,” Correia says. “Also, all the actresses were formulating new ideas of their characters and, by extension, realizing it in themselves — thus the melding of those two worlds. I wanted to muddle the lines between their characters’ realities and the show world, so there is a bit of stylization that is rendered in their reality and more reality that finds its way into the show business element.”
To help accomplish this, Correia used heightened swaths of color in the real world with stylized elements, such as highlights, sprinkled in to illustrate a visual crossing of those two worlds. “It allowed me to travel in and out of those two worlds because they are intertwined psychologically in the characters,” he says.
Correia switched to the Red Helium sensor because of its highlight retention and color science. With high ambitions for the second season, the 8K Super 35 sensor also gave the production the ability to resize to provide more options to work with. “It also changes the field of view of the lenses,” Correia notes. “We lost about three percent but still shot with the Cooke Anamorphic/i Primes to honor what Christian did the first season.”
He did use Schneider MPTV Hollywood Black Filters (a marriage of HD Classic Soft and Black Frost) on the front of the Cookes to “detune” them a bit, but the new wrestling ring set was surrounded by showy, theatrical Par cans, causing problems. “When a highlight got in the center of the lens,” says Correia, “the image with that diffusion would go milky. I eventually pulled the filters during the wrestling stuff and had Ian (Vertovec) build the diffusion in post.
“So much of the look is created in post with the layers of diffusion and softening and texturing,” he explains. “If I made the faces look great and had a fat enough negative, then Light Iron could handle the heavy post process.”
The data rates with 8K were higher, but the workflow didn’t change. Correia was able to shoot Redcode Raw at 6:1 compression without compromise and actually saved a little money in post. There was a smaller budget for season two, which meant no DIT was on hand either. That didn’t seem to faze Correia. “I’m a big fan of the Red camera, which I’ve been shooting since 2008,” he says. “In fact, I had Red One camera #321 and had been shooting with that forever, so I understand Red exposure really well.”
Correia shot for HDR but monitored in HD SDR because of the tighter budget. “We were really careful with our day exteriors,” he mentions. “There aren’t any straight, naturally lit shots. Almost all of them have heavy bounces or negatives or overheads — the lighting is being manipulated. For our interiors, it was a healthy mix of every kind of tool in the book, because we had some that played on camera as actual ring or movie lights.”
Correia continues, “The Red Helium is so rewarding because the new sensor and color science are the closest I’ve ever seen to visually beautiful, textured skin tones that don’t feel plastic-y. The ability of that sensor to accept differing colors, textures, and temperatures of light and still hold on to pleasing, naturalistic skin tones gives us so much latitude creatively. It was really nice to get texts from Ali, Kia, Betty, Gale and the rest of the cast after the season about how happy they were.”
Season three of GLOW, expected to premiere in 2019, will see the ladies travel to Las Vegas.
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