Colorist John Crowley collaborates
with ASC Award-winning cinematographer Jonathan Freeman.

NEW YORK—Post production
finishing for the fifth and final season of Boardwalk
Empire
was completed last fall at Technicolor PostWorks New York.
The HBO series, set in Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era, was one of the
most acclaimed television dramas of the past decade, earning a total of 18 Emmy
Awards over the course of its run, among many other accolades. Its latest honor
came at the recent American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards where
cinematographer Jonathan Freeman ASC won for Outstanding Achievement in
Cinematography in a Regular Series, his third ASC Award for the series
alongside two Emmys.
Freeman’s award came for the Season Five premiere, Golden Days for Boys and Girls. The
episode centers on a visit to Cuba by the show’s protagonist Enoch “Nucky”
Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and includes flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood in New
Jersey. Final color grading for the episode was completed at Technicolor
PostWorks by colorist John Crowley (who colored the entire fifth season) on
Baselight working under the direction of Freeman and director Timothy Van
Patten.

“There are so many moods to the show,” recalls Crowley. “My
role was to enhance Jonathan’s cinematic vision, to work with what was there
and enhance the moods.”
Boardwalk Empire’s
cinematic look is due, in part, to the fact that the show was shot on 35mm
film, one of the last television series to do so. Freeman notes that Martin
Scorsese, who directed the 2010 pilot, chose to shoot 35mm (the cinematographer
for the pilot was Stuart Dryburgh), and that film became a key part of the
show’s aesthetic. “With the pilot shot on film, we wanted to continue to shoot
on film,” Freeman recalls. “It was a big commitment for HBO and for us. The
texture of film is impossible to recreate digitally, so the opportunity to
shoot film was a true blessing. I can’t thank HBO enough for allowing us to do
that.”
Freeman adds that the show originally drew visual
inspiration from the Ashcan School, a group of artists based in New York during
the early years of the 20th century who portrayed scenes of daily
life in the city’s poor neighborhoods. “They were striking in their use of
light, contrast and light sources,” he says. “It was very inspiring and a
logical tie in to what we saw in the pilot. That became our template.
“Eventually, as the show became darker—Nucky’s descent into
the world of crime—we created more darkness, more contrast, more moodiness,
more half lighting, to evolve the tone of the series.”
The first episode of the fifth season introduced flashbacks
as a recurring narrative device. Freeman says that those flashbacks were
handled with considerable care. “We chose to treat the flashbacks subtly but
distinctly for the first few episodes,” he explains. “We wanted the audience to
feel a shift, but we didn’t want to go so far that it became obvious. If we had
chosen to go extreme, we would have lost some impact in terms of transition.
That said, we wanted to have a slightly different feeling so that the audience
would get used to it and know where they are. It was a delicate balance.”
One of the first flashback scenes shows a young Nucky diving
for coins off an Atlantic City pier. He isn’t as fast as the other boys and is
later punished by his father for coming home empty handed. “The flashbacks had
a very specific look,” notes Crowley. “It was desaturated, monochromatic. The
scenes with Nucky as an adult in Havana, by contrast, are warm, golden and
inviting. Mixing those two color palettes was really interesting.”
Freeman and Crowley also used color adjustments to guide the
viewer’s attention. “Baselight
offers an extensive toolset that is very powerful,” says Crowley. “We used shapes to modify skin
tones, create various vignettes, isolate highlights on faces and drop off
backgrounds. We wanted to focus on the characters and give more
dimension to the frame. We used vignettes in certain places, especially wide
shots, to shape the frame and draw attention to the characters.”
Crowley points to a scene in a restaurant where Lucky
Luciano (Vincent Piazza) assassinates Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi). “In the
background you see detail, but we make it fall off a bit, so your eye is drawn
to the middle of the frame,” he recalls. “I love the way Jonathan lit it, from
the highlights on the faces, to the way the background drops off. There is a
lot of dimension to it. It’s one of my favorite scenes.”
Freeman says that Crowley quickly grasped the general
aesthetic he was aiming for and that gave them more time to work on nuances. “John
gets the big picture. By the time you’re working on the next episode he’s
already making those big picture adjustments. It takes a talented artist to be
able to pick up and run with it. He did that in fine fashion.”
Crowley was equally impressed with Freeman’s work. “He knows
what he wants,” Crowley says, “but he listens and will take suggestions from a
colorist. He’s a true collaborator. It was an honor to work with him on this
project.”
About Technicolor
PostWorks New York
Technicolor
PostWorks New York is the East Coast’s most comprehensive digital motion
picture and post-production facility, employing an exceptional team of artists,
engineers and project managers to serve our clients through the film and TV
finishing process.
Technicolor
PostWorks New York offers one complete source for every post requirement,
including data workflows, telecine/scanning, non-linear editorial and HD
picture finishing, digital intermediate and film recording, high-volume
encoding and high-speed data transmission, as well as comprehensive film and TV
sound services on nine mix stages.
For more information,
visit http://www.technicolorpwny.com
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