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Making TV: Let There Be Light

The stories told by Body of Proof journey from the dark side back to the light.

By Michael Fickes

Cinematographer Patrick Cady on the set of ABCís Body of Proof.
Cinematographer Patrick Cady on the set of ABC’s Body of Proof.

Body of Proof is a crime drama with a different look and feel. The stories are different because the main characters, medical examiners, are different. The path to solving the crime is different, too: The victim’s body reveals the clues that guide the police.

The cameras, special effects and lighting combine to create a look that complements this kind of story. “It’s important to find a look that ties to the story,” says Patrick Cady, the cinematographer on Body of Proof. “Good movies have that kind of look, and today, television dramas have to compete with the movies that people can watch on cable.”

Shooting Style

“The look of our show quickly settled in,” continues Cady. “On the set, the camera is always moving on a dolly, following the actors. That’s an important part of the show’s feel.”

Cady shoots with an ARRI ALEXA camera, calling it the first HD camera he’s liked. For action sequences, he uses wearable GoPro HD cameras. He also uses a Canon still camera – the EOS 60D with 70-300mm f/4 to 5.6L IS USM lens.

He selected a Panavision lens package that includes Primo primes, 11:1 zooms and compact 19-90mm zooms.

“The 19-90mm is new,” Cady says. “We switched to it halfway through this season. We use it for handheld or Steadicam shots. Sometimes when you use a zoom, you wish you had time to change out primes. Not with this lens – it looks fantastic.”

Special Effects

Cop show autopsies often are sterile. In Body of Proof, however, the audience sees compound fractures with bones breaking through the skin, bullet holes, scrapes, bruises and other kinds of trauma. When Dr. Hunt makes an incision, blood will sometimes ooze from the cut. After an autopsy, the body will have an arc of stitches from the right clavicle to the left.

Ninety-five percent of these effects are done with make-up. “We have a great special effects team,” Cady says. “They create the stitching, scarring, scraping, bruising, bleeding and broken bones with make-up.”

Incisions need a tiny bit of post. “When we show a knife cutting into the skin, the blood is physical,” Cady says. “Post makes the knife appear to cut deeper into the body than it really does.”

It is gory, but it also offers what seems like a realistic picture of the victim of a brutal murder.

Lighting the Way

The show features two female leads – Dana Delany as Dr. Megan Hunt and Jeri Ryan as Dr. Kate Murphy. Cady puts in a lot of time working out lighting plans for each – he calls the lighting concept “beauty lighting.”

“We plan the lighting while scouting,” Cady says. “We schedule the time of day for the shoot so the sun can help. If that doesn’t work out, we light to make it seem like the sun is where we planned.”

The lighting for the lead characters plays into a lighting theme that adds to the show’s look and feel: The medical examiner’s work illuminates a dark and murky mystery.

The crime scenes are darkly lighted to communicate something about the fear felt by the victim, as well as the mystery that the medical examiners will illuminate. When Dana Delaney arrives at the scene as Dr. Hunt, Cady’s lighting concept for her brightens the scene.

The autopsy rooms – and most of the scenes in the medical examiner’s offices – are often brightly lighted because the work being done there is illuminating the mystery. Sometimes, the scene starts out dark and grows lighter.

Don’t misunderstand. The scenes aren’t extremely dark and then extremely bright. Cady does it subtly yet noticeably. “We do play with the light,” he says. “Clues often lead back to the scene of the crime where it’s dark. We light the lab brightly to contrast with the crime scene.”

Over the course of the show, the light from the lead characters and the lab illuminates the answer to the mystery.

November 9, 2012