Magazine article American Cinematographer

INSIGHT Timothy Van Patten of Prohibition and Posterity: Keeping History Alive on BOARDWALK EMPIRE

Magazine article American Cinematographer

INSIGHT Timothy Van Patten of Prohibition and Posterity: Keeping History Alive on BOARDWALK EMPIRE

Article excerpt

Actor. Writer. Director. Producer. There isn't much that Timothy Van Patten can't do. After getting his start in front of the camera on The White Shadow (1978), Van Patten went on to appear in a number of films and television shows, including The Master and True Blue.

In 1992, the Brooklyn native earned his first off-screen credit for directing an episode of Home Fires. Since then, Van Patten has become a fixture of the small screen, directing hit shows like Sex and the City and The Wire. He cut his teeth producing on Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' miniseries The Pacific. And his work on The Sopranos earned him five EMMY® nominations.

Today, Van Patten is the executive producer and oft-director of Boardwalk Empire. Here, Van Patten talks about the Prohibition-set hit, how to find beauty in violence, and the discipline film requires.

It's almost become a cliché to talk about film's 'cinematic' look, but it really seems the most appropriate way to describe Boardwalk Empire. While there's a consistency to the look, it also changes with each episode. How do you work with your cinematographer to match the story to the visuals?

In the best case scenario, we do have conversations before every episode begins. And this dates back to the first episode, when Jonathan Freeman (ASC) was our lead DP. We shaped the series through referencing art, photography and other films. As the episodes went on, we tried to attach a look to the theme of the episode - and yet stay within the overall theme for the series.

Television moves fast, so it's challenging. You don't always have the luxury of time to find the subtle nuances. But we really make our best attempt to do so and it's thrilling when it comes off.

From a visual standpoint, the show's recent season finale really stood out. There's a lot of violence in the episode but, like Raging Bull, the violence is beautiful to watch. Was there a specific reference for that episode?

Yes. That episode was shot by Bill Coleman, who came up as an operator; I worked with him on The Sopranos for many seasons. He's been a DP for two seasons now and the level of work he's doing Is astounding.

We had a very quick turnaround for that episode and had to think fast. So when it came to the montage of violence, I thought, I'm going to throw the kitchen sink at this thing! …

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