Wednesday, June 20, 2018
  • Friday, Jul. 8, 2016
DP Rodrigo Prieto Reflects On Working With Martin Scorsese
Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC, on the set of the pilot for "Vinyl" (photo courtesy of HBO)
Production designer Mark Worthington discusses teaming with showrunner/series creator Ryan Murphy

While shooting his first collaboration with director Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC found the filmmaker talking about a couple other projects which they could (and eventually would) also team on--one being the upcoming feature film Silence (a 17th century drama set in Japan and based on the novel by Shûsaku Endô); the other being an untitled rock ‘n roll project.

The latter turned out to be the HBO series Vinyl created by Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter. Vinyl is set in 1970s New York, bringing viewers into the sex- and drug-addled music business as rock ‘n roll was playing against the dawn of punk, disco and hip-hop. Much is seen through the eyes of record label president Richie Finestra, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale, who is trying to save his company and his soul. Others in the cast include Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Ato Essandoh, Max Casella, P.J. Byrne, J.C. MacKenzie, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Juno Temple, Jack Quaid, James Jagger and Paul Ben-Victor.

“It doesn’t get any better than filming rock ‘n roll in the 1970s,” said Prieto. “Visually it’s a very interesting era. Reproducing the look of the concerts and New York at that time was amazing for a cinematographer. And Marty [Scorsese] was right in the middle of that era. The feel of how he saw those times and then to put that vision on screen was extremely exciting for me. He's always pushing to bring more to the story. He is such a great teacher and student of film, a wonderful collaborator.”

At first the plans for Vinyl, recalled Prieto, entailed plans to shoot 16mm film to get the grain structure and to reflect “the grittiness” of that time and to emulate documentaries we had seen....When we talked to HBO, we found out that we could do whatever we wanted for the pilot [directed by Scorsese] but the rest of the series had to be shot digitally. As a company HBO was heading towards digital capture for its shows, which was kind of a bummer for us. We didn’t want to have the pilot look a certain way and the rest of the series not be the same.”

After extensive testing, Prieto gravitated toward the Sony F55 in tandem with Live Grain, a technology which introduces grain to the digital image. Prieto said he was drawn to the F55 in large part because he “liked the reproduction of color on that camera, what it did for skin tones and the overall color palette. We originally tried to emulate film but this became its own thing. It looked different than film but we were excited by this new look. It’s like we cooked up all these ingredients--including filtration--and made this new dish which fit what we were trying to create for Vinyl.”

Prieto’s work with Scorsese adds to a body of work for the cinematographer which also spans notable collaborations with other filmmakers, including directors Ben Affleck on Argo, Alejandro G. Iñárritu on Amores Perros, Biutiful, 21 Grams and Babel, Julie Taymor on Frida, and Ang Lee on Brokeback Mountain. On the strength of Brokeback Mountain, Prieto was nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar, an ASC Award and a BAFTA Film Award in 2006. Prieto earned another BAFTA nom the next year for Babel, as well as a BSC Award nomination. Frida garnered Prieto his first career ASC Award nod in 2003.

Prieto has also broken into the directorial ranks, helming and shooting Likeness, nominated for Best Narrative Short at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. Likeness starred Elle Fanning as a girl struggling with an eating disorder, putting her in a world where her self-perceived worth rises as her weight falls. The film challenged viewers to consider the role of society in presenting an idealized image of the female body. 

Prieto is represented by production house Little Minx as a director for commercials and branded content.

Mark Worthington
For production designer Mark Worthington to be in the Emmy conversation is hardly a revelation. He has been nominated for American Horror Story (FX Networks) four times (in 2012, twice in 2013 and in 2014), and on a couple of occasions for Ugly Betty (in 2007 and 2008). Worthington has served as production designer for the first five seasons of American Horror Story, working on all the episodes during that stretch except for the pilot (done by production designer Beth A. Rubino).

Citing the dramatically changing nature of the show from one season to the next--tantamount to a completely new series each year--Worthington described American Horror Story as the ultimate rush and addiction for a production designer, noting that its creator Ryan Murphy “changed my thinking about the anthology format on television...Ryan has revived the anthology format. One year I’m designing freak show entertainment in a circus followed this past season by focusing on an older art deco hotel interior [American Horror Story: Hotel].”

Worthington said of showrunner/EP/director Murphy, “He’s creating other worlds. For years television was done on a certain scale with certain expectations. That has changed rapidly with American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards. The kinds of worlds being created for TV now are bigger than those in a lot of feature films--but we have to create them within a tighter time frame. You have to do it at twice the speed you would normally do in a feature film. Plus in film you know the action. You know you won’t need that additional wall, for example. In TV you don’t necessarily know because you don’t have all the episodes in hand. Our worlds have to be more complete, allowing for more changes and contingencies.”

While admittedly addicted to American Horror Story, Worthington is bracing for withdrawal symptoms. He is moving on from the show after five years to design the Star Trek reboot on CBS. “I’m not a Trekkie in terms of the minutiae. But I am a Trekkie when it comes to the drama and its contemporary ideas--racial issues, the Vietnam War, topics that are tackled by science fiction in the traditional sense of that genre.”’’

Andrew Murdock has succeeded Worthington as production designer on American Horror Story. Murdock has served as art director on the show, sharing in several of the aforementioned Emmy nominations as well as Art Directors Guild Award nods. Worthington has been nominated 10 times for the Art Directors Guild’s Excellence in Production Design Award, winning in 2007 for Ugly Betty, and in 2013, 2015 and 2016 for American Horror Story. The latter was for the “Checking In” episode of American Horror Story: Hotel.

This is the eighth 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.