Making TV: Filming Castle
By Michael Fickes
Bill Roe, ASC & Daryn Okada, ASC
A scene from “An Embarrassment of Bitches.” | ©Karen Neal/American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
If you’re a fan of Castle, the popular ABC police drama, you may have noticed that the show’s terrific production values somehow look a little different than other shows with terrific production values.
The difference is that the show is shot not in high-definition digital video, but on film, with two Panavision Platinum 35mm cameras using Kodak 3-perf 5219 film. The lens package consists of Primo zooms and primes. The zooms include several 25-75mm lenses, one 17.5-75mm and one 135-420mm. There are two prime lenses, a 14.5mm and a 65mm.
The gear includes two dollies. The production team shies away from cranes. “We’re careful about using cranes,” says Daryn Okada, ASC, the cinematographer on 13 Castle episodes. “When you’re on a television schedule – eight days for an hour episode – there must be a story point that justifies the time and expense of a crane shot.”
Feature Film Sensibility
That’s especially true when you’re aiming for feature film production values on episodic television budgets. Feature film sensibility always has been part of the show. The primary cinematographer, Bill Roe, ASC, set the tone in the first shows shot in 2009. Since 2010, Okada has been stepping in when Roe directs or takes a week off. (Roe has shot 68 episodes.)
The two cinematographers are longtime friends. Both have significant feature film experience. Roe was camera operator on numerous features, including Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Dave (1993). He was the cinematographer for Elektra (2005) and The X Files (2008), having shot 84 episodes of the television series.
Okada’s feature cinematography credits include Mean Girls (2004), Baby Mama (2008), and this year’s American Reunion.
Executive producers Rob Bowman and Andrew Marlowe (who has written 77 episodes to date), as well as Roe, all came from the feature film world. So film was a natural choice for Castle.
“There have been pitches to change to digital,” Okada said. “We’ve done tests. You can get a great looking image digitally. But for this show, we use extremely dramatic lighting, and film gives it a great look.
“On locations in buildings, for instance, we don’t put neutral density filters on the windows,” he continued. “We use the natural light. In fact, we schedule so the natural light is in the position we want. The 5219 film has incredible dynamic range that enables us to make wide lighting contrasts work to our advantage.”
Castle stars Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion from the episode, “Headhunters.” | ©Randy Holmes/American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
“We don’t need HMIs when we do daylight locations,” Okada said. “If we’re shooting an exterior during the day, we’ll shoot in the shadow of a building or in backlight. If we get caught in overhead daylight, we have 20-foot square diffusers – called fly swatters – that soften the light.”
To recreate strong light, Okada’s crew uses Maxi-Brutes, a tungsten light with a dozen 1,000-watt globes arranged in rows of three. “We can place these further away and the beam feels more like the sun,” he said.
Castle sets are designed with windows in mind. Outside of the precinct office, for instance, there are three trusses filled with Maxi-Brutes. “We raise and lower them to get sunlight into the precinct,” Okada said. “If we’re lighting the actors in the foreground, we’ll let the light come through the windows and lower it to, say, seven stops overexposed. That gives the precinct a real sense of life, and the ambient bounce we get looks natural. With HD, you couldn’t do that with just one source.”
In the end, though, isn’t shooting on film overkill for television? “We’ve done tests asking that question,” Okada said, “and we find that it gets through to the audience. The look of the show is a combination of the creative, writing, directing and the work that Bill and I do. And it ends up on the screen.”