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Making TV: Re-Inventing Hawaii Five-O

How to make a re-make work.

By Michael Fickes

Alan Caso (standing) on the set of Hawaii Five-0.  Photo: Norman Shapiro, normanshapiro.com
Alan Caso (standing) on the set of Hawaii Five-0.
Photo: Norman Shapiro, normanshapiro.com

In a world of failed remakes, Hawaii Five-O is making it. The remake of the original hit cop show that ran from 1968 through 1980 is moving through its second season. Last February, the show ranked 29th on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the season’s top 50 shows. Top 30. Pretty good.

Credit the producers, writers, cinematographers and cast. Together, they have given the show a fun, unique and contemporary sensibility, a sensibility they tweak each season.

Second Season Tweaks
Before shooting the second season, Peter M. Lenkov, Five-O’s executive producer, convened a meeting at Encore Hollywood, the program’s post house, to discuss changes. Attendees included Co-executive Producer Steve Boyum; Co-producer Tony Palermo; Colorist Johnny Kirkwood; Producer Jeff Downer; and the show’s odd and even episode directors of photography, James L. Carter, ASC; and Alan Caso, ASC.
The first season featured a lot of bright, saturated colors. “We decided to adjust that and to enhance the colors already there with natural light,” Caso said. “The natural light coupled with more density creates more saturation without the addition of artificial color.”

But Keep the Fun
Cop shows have been slow to adopt the irreverent and sometimes rebellious tone of the rising Gen-X generation. Five-O gets it right. The cops, led by Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), son of the original show’s boss, are smart, competent Gen-Xers, complete with lots of technology, big tattoos and, in the case of the guys, unshaven faces.

While McGarrett is the boss, the four main characters needle each other, point out each other’s mistakes and support each other. Unlike most police procedurals, part of the appeal is getting to know the characters. “That isn’t changing,” Caso says. “But we are trying to soften the skin tones and use more natural lighting styles – light coming in through windows, for instance, which can create edgier scenes.

“And it’s fun for me. The material is different from what I’ve shot in the past. It enables me to make use of enhanced color, a new style for me.”

Coloring Hawaii
Hawaii continues to co-star in Five-O as the bright, multi-colored paradise all of us mainlanders want it to be. Caso and Carter shoot most of the scenes with ARRI ALEXA Cameras and Panavision 12:1 zoom lenses or short Optima zooms. The ALEXA uses a 35mm sensor to capture images in Log-C, a format that requires more complex processing in post, but provides more color correction options.

“On set we create color LUTs [Look-Up-Tables] to simulate what we intend for final color correction,” Casa says. “The LUTs aren’t baked in on the Log-C master file, but we use them to view dailies. The colorist uses them to interpret the cinematographer’s intent.”

LUTs provide settings that enable production and post people to adjust different display devices – that see colors differently – to the precise colors specified by the cinematographer.

Material Dictates Technique
Caso and Carter employ a variety of shooting techniques and equipment. “We probably use a wider set of tools than other shows,” Caso says. “For a cinematographer, the material should dictate the technique. The writing for this show is strong and varied and provides opportunities to employ an array of devices and shooting techniques.”

In one show, for instance, McGarrett finds himself in an extreme fight match, and Caso used a 45-degree shutter, which shortens film exposure and produces a staccato look. “The audience loves the banter among the main characters,” Caso says. “We play off of that and try to enhance the relationships and the camaraderie.”

Helicopters handle the establishing shots, but some of the airborne scenes give a nod to costs, using the poor man’s process to shoot the helicopters and planes on the ground. It takes eight shooting days of just under 12 hours each to lens an episode, Caso says. The team shoots about six script pages per day. Assistant Director Michael Neumann handles the shoot scheduling and sequencing.

Five-O has had a good 2011. The show won a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite New TV Drama,” while earning nominations for a Golden Globe and an Emmy.

Pretty good for a remake.

November 26, 2012