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Making TV: Crazy Fast Shooting

Necessary Roughness shoots travel from a football stadium to a bull-riding ring and other locations and sets.

By Michael Fickes

Marc Blucas plays Matthew Donnally, the New York Hawks trainer, who moves up to assistant general manager. Callie Thorne plays Dr. Dani Santino, the team psychologist.
Marc Blucas plays Matthew Donnally, the New York Hawks trainer, who moves up to assistant general manager. Callie Thorne plays Dr. Dani Santino, the team psychologist.
Top Photo: Wilford Harewood/USA Network
Bottom Photo: Richard DuCree/USA Network

Necessary Roughness, USA Network’s take on sports psychology, rolls out the couch for the New York Hawks, a team full of head-case football players.

“The show is shot in Atlanta,” says William Wages, ASC, the program’s cinematographer. “We use the Georgia Dome, where the [Atlanta] Falcons play.

“There are two types of coverage for football,” he continues. “First, looking down from above the action on the field, when you don’t show the stands. For sideline shots, we have 125 people that pile up into the seats. We shoot them with a long lens, and it fills up the background. When we change angles, we move the people.”

Atlanta doubles as New York City and Long Island. It isn’t a big stretch, says Wages, who recently received the 2012 ASC Career Achievement in Television Award. Well, sometimes it is. Football season – autumn – of course is different in the South and North.

Episodes shot in the fall use trees with fall-colored leaves mounted on platforms with wheels. “We move them around for exterior shots,” Wages says. “We also turn green leaves on real trees brown in post.”

Permanent sets include Dr. Dani Santino’s (Callie Thorne) house, home office and a sports facility with a locker room and team offices.

Camera and Lighting

Wages shoots with the ARRI ALEXA. “It is fluid and fast,” he says, “and it has thirteen stops of dynamic range.” He softens the HD look by fitting a piece of black mesh Tulle over the rear of the lenses (Panavision Primos). He special-ordered all of the lenses with rear mounts. “Putting the Tulle on the back of the lens diffuses images in a subtle way,” he says.

A fan of film, Wages loves the ALEXA. “It can do things a film camera cannot do,” he says. “We once shot a scene in a penthouse at night, and we wanted the lights and buildings from the surrounding city to be visible through the windows. But when they scouted, no one noticed that the Penthouse windows were heavily tinted. The glass was so dark that I had to light at an extremely low level – lower than I’ve ever lighted anything – to make the city visible through the windows. The ALEXA handled it, but a film camera couldn’t have done it.”

For scenes needing normal light levels, Wages bounces light off walls, ceilings and bed sheets. “I seldom shine lights at people,” he says.

The show’s lighting package includes Lekolights, ellipsoidal tungsten spotlights developed for the theater, and HMI Lekos, called Jo-Lekos. Both have blades in the back that can project a square of light on the wall. Finally, there are 1,800-watt HMI ARRI PARs and 12K PARs.

Subplots and VFX

Not all of Dr. Santino’s patients are Hawks. The Long Island single mother and psychotherapist, a character based on a real person, also treats a bull-rider, golfer, baseball slugger and other athletes, as well as a magician, news anchor, poker player and spelling bee champion.

The main story about the Hawks moves forward in every episode, sometimes in parallel with a subplot with a patient from a different sport or other field. In one episode, for instance, Santino treats a bull-rider who can’t let go of the rope – a real problem for a bull-rider. “We built the whole set for that show,” says Wages. “The character rides a mechanical bull. We used green screen and matched our shots with real footage of a real event so we could intercut green screen close ups and real long shots.”

A main story plus subplots makes for lots of locations, lots of sets and 40 to 50 set-ups for each of the seven shooting days per show – and for the eighth day, which is usually reserved for second unit work.

“We shoot eight or nine pages a day,” says Wages. “We have a full-time rigging crew that stays a step ahead of us laying cable and getting ready. We come in; we shoot; we move on.”

That’s not run and gun shooting. That’s crazy fast shooting!

November 14, 2012