Making TV: Waking Up Naked
Forever is about Henry Morgan, an immortal, who dies but always returns to life by awakening in a body of water—naked.
By Michael Fickes
David Moxness, ASC, CSC, on location setting up
Henry Morgan, the main character of Forever, cannot age and cannot die. Two hundred years ago, serving as a physician on a slave ship, he was murdered and thrown overboard. For some reason, he didn’t stay dead. He awakened in the water, uninjured, but naked.
Whenever he is killed, which happens more often than you would expect, Henry comes back to life, waking up naked in a nearby body of water. Always 35 years old, Henry Morgan is immortal. Presently, he is living in New York City and working as a medical examiner.
David Moxness, ASC, CSC, one of the show’s two cinematographers, says that it is challenging to keep Henry looking 35. Every show features flashbacks to Henry living in other eras in different period costumes, wearing different kinds of facial hair. “We’re always trying to find the right light for Ioan (Ioan Gruffudd, who plays Henry Morgan),” says Moxness. “The lighting has to fit the theme while keeping the look of a 35 year old man.”
The only person who knows Henry’s secret is Abe, played by Judd Hirsch of Taxi fame. Abe is an antiques dealer and Henry’s housemate. Abe also brings Henry’s clothes whenever he reappears after dying.
Moxness shoots Abe as a grizzled old man, which lends interest to a fun plot twist. While many assume that Abe is Henry’s father, a flashback in the first episode reveals that Henry adopted and raised Abe after rescuing him as a baby from a World War II concentration camp.
When shooting Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), a detective who comes to rely on Henry’s deductive powers, Moxness selects camera angles and lighting that show off her striking beauty.
Throughout the first season, Henry and Jo meet, build a working relationship and become friends. To portray the evolving relationship, Moxness has continually adjusted the way he shoots scenes in which both appear. “I find myself going to tighter and tighter eye-lines,” he says. “For example, when Henry looks at Jo, she is very close to the camera now.”
About half way through the first season, there was no sexual tension between the two lead characters, but they had become good friends.
Moxness shoots with an ARRI Alexa equipped with ARRI master prime lenses and two Angenieux Optimo zooms—a 17-80 and a 24-290. He also use three lightweight zooms—15-40, 28-76, and 45-120—for handheld and Steadicam shots.
“It is a comprehensive package,” he says. “My reasoning for this has to do with the large volume of episodic work I’ve done over the years. I’ve learned that each script is different and that sometimes you don’t get to see each location—so you never know when you’re going to get a curveball. With a complete package, we have the tools to handle anything thrown at us.”
Forever is set and shot in New York City, and Moxness works to give the city a naturalistic, real-world look and feel, with big-scope wide shots. “I really want to take advantage of shooting New York City as New York City,” he says. “So often we fudge the look when shooting in other cities, but here it is great to shoot the looks that the city has to offer.”
Whether he is shooting panoramic views of the city or medium and close-up interior scenes, Moxness attends to large and small details. “We like pops of color, glints or shiny objects in the background of the frame. Little accents like that catch the eye and help to keep the frame alive”—even when the shot is one of Henry’s many dying scenes.