Monday, May 21, 2018
  • Wednesday, Jun. 1, 2016
DP John Guleserian Sets “Casual” Tone For Hulu Series
John Guleserian (photo by Greg Lewis/courtesy of Hulu)
Feature cinematographer, known for his collaborations with director Drake Doremus, successfully diversifies into episodic TV

The first season of Hulu’s Casual marks cinematographer John Guleserian’s initial foray into full-fledged series television. Created by EP/writer Zander Lehmann working in collaboration with, among others, EP/director Jason Reitman who's helmed multiple episodes, Casual centers on a recently divorced single mom, Valerie (portrayed by Michaela Watkins), and her brother Alex (Tommy Dewey) who live together in Alex’s house with Valerie’s teenage daughter (Tara Lynne Barr). We see this family unit go through its mini-triumphs, travails and tribulations, in the process providing insights into how people cope with life and try to heal, sometimes not so successfully.

With a feature filmography highlighted by repeat notable endeavors with director Drake Doremus--from Spooner to Like Crazy (a Sundance Grand Jury Dramatic Prize winner) to Breathe In and Equals (which made its U.S. debut a couple of months ago at the Tribeca Film Festival)--Guleserian agreed to test the TV waters upon reading the script for the Casual pilot. “It was almost like being able to shoot the first 30 minutes of a Woody Allen movie,” related the DP. “The writing was terrific. You had a sense of these characters right away. Writing is at the heart of the show and that’s what drew me in.”

As for what drew the Casual creative contingent to Guleserian to shoot all 10 episodes of season one, the DP said that he and Reitman had crossed paths before without getting the chance to work together. “A few years ago we met and talked about a different project but that ended up not happening,” recalled Guleserian. “When he was prepping Casual, I got a call. I had already known Jason a little bit even earlier. One of the first movies I shot was Like Crazy. Jason was on the Sundance jury that saw that film and he liked it so I think that helped me as well with Casual.”

Regarding his transition from features to TV--which has since also encompassed episodes of Amazon’s lauded Transparent--Guleserian observed, “TV moves a lot quicker than movies but you have to keep the aesthetic and quality up without sacrificing that movie feel.”

Additionally the TV series modus operandi had Guleserian working with several different directors during the course of season one. “That’s something I had never done before. When you go into a movie, you work with that single director. For Casual, I knew Jason right away but none of the other directors. I was lucky that we had such a great team of producers who selected great directors. To have a new director every two weeks could have been a bit nerve wracking otherwise.”

Those other directors in season one included Max Winkler, Michael Weaver, Fred Savage and Tricia Brock. (Both Doremus and Brock direct commercials and branded content via Hey Wonderful, a recently launched production house within the RSA family of companies.)

Camera choice
Guleserian went with the ARRI ALEXA to shoot Casual. “I’ve done eight or nine movies with the ALEXA. I find it to have a really simple workflow. It’s a very intuitive camera, very easy to deal with in postproduction to create a naturalistic look. We also used ARRI/ZEISS master prime lenses, a very cinematic looking lens. To be able with Alexa to shoot a lot of stuff in really low light added to the naturalism we wanted for Casual.”

That “naturalism,” continued Guleserian was “essential for the feel of the show and its characters. We were shooting on set but wanted that set to feel like an actual location--that was especially true for Alex’s house which is in and of itself a character in the show.”

Guleserian added that working with Hulu was a positive experience. “I feel they really cared about the vision of the filmmakers and have allowed us quite a bit of freedom to make these shows. That’s one of the reasons Casual is what it is.”

In addition to Doremus, Guleserian’s feature lensing includes work for such directors as Patrick Brice (The Overnight), Chris Evans (Before We Go), Richard Curtis (About Time) and Jeff Probst (Kiss Me).

This is the third installment of a 15-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, animation and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony on September 10 and 11, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 18.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Zander Lehmann, series creator/EP/writer; Jason Reitman, EP/director; John Guleserian, DP.