Magazine article Variety

Smallscreen Series Get BIGSCREEN LOOK

Magazine article Variety

Smallscreen Series Get BIGSCREEN LOOK

Article excerpt

TV production designers raise their game for a high-res world

As worldwide distribution and co-production deals generate more coin for television drama production, they up the ante for production values as well as in the race for the Creative Arts Emmys. Captured on high-res cameras and using vfx to boost the physical design, many projects now look more like high-budget features than traditional smallscreen fare.

Take Behind the Candelabra, HBO's Liberace pic. "We shot it just like a film," says production designer Howard Cummings. "Steven (Soderbergh) did it like any of his movies," shooting on Red cameras at multiple locations and using digital effects as needed.

It took five years to get Behind the Candelabra off the ground, Cummings adds, because potential backers kept turning it down as "too gay." But once HBO greenlit the pic and production got under way, serendipity took over and many elements of its look and design fell magically into place.

It turned out, for example, that the owner of the building in Los Angeles where Liberace owned a penthouse was a Liberace fanatic who bought it right after the entertainer died in 1987; he shared pictures of the apartment with set decorator Barbara Munch.

And in Las Vegas, location manager Caleb Duffy persuaded Chase Bank to open up Liberace's long-foreclosed but still intact "French provincial ranch house with its powder-blue carpet, crazy Greek tub and Sistine Chapel bedroom ceiling," Cummings says. The filmmakers photographed and reconstructed everything.

Then came the hard part. True to Liberace's tastes, the walls had to be lined with multiple mirrors - acinematographer's nightmare. Thus on a show where big-scale effects were unnecessary, the vfx team spent lots of time digitally erasing reflected images of crew and equipment.

In Candelabra, an intimate film, the only other major use of effects was for digital head and hands replacements to make it look like Michael Douglas, who plays Liberace, was actually working the fast-moving ivories himself. But many of today's cable TV series are shot on far larger canvases - History's Vikings and Starz's Da Vinci's Demons, for example - and production designers rely heavily on visual effects to enhance and amplify interiors and exteriors. …

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