Wednesday, June 20, 2018
  • Thursday, May. 26, 2016
Lensing "American Horror Story: Hotel"; Composing "Fargo"
Michael Goi, ASC, ISC
Reflections from cinematographer Michael Goi, ASC, ISC, and composer Jeff Russo

Cinematographer Michael Goi, ASC, ISC is no stranger to the Emmy Awards with four career nominations, two of which are for his lensing of American Horror Story with another also in collaboration with series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk--a nod for an episode of Glee in 2012. Goi’s first Emmy nomination came in 2008 for an episode of the sitcom My Name is Earl. In 2013 Goi was nominated for the “I Am Anne Frank” Part 2” episode of American Horror Story: Asylum. Two years later the DP garnered an Emmy nom for the “Monsters Among Us” episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show.

This time around Goi is again in the Emmy conversation for his work on American Horror Story: Hotel--not just for his shooting of all the episodes but also for directing a pair this past season. He got his first taste of directing American Horror Story the prior season with the “Magical Thinking” episode.

“I’m normally a big fan of working with other cinematographers when I direct,” said Goi who at press time was directing an episode of Pretty Little Liars with Larry Reibman serving as the DP. “But American Horror Story is its own animal and we found that when I both directed and shot the episodes of Hotel, it was in a way streamlining the process and making things more efficient for the crew. It’s the kind of involved series where I could conceive of how I wanted a scene to be and then how to technically achieve that as a cinematographer. Because I know the actors so well, it proved easier for me to shoot those episodes I directed.”

For Goi, the beauty of American Horror Story is that the series is “completely different from one year to the next in terms of storyline and aesthetic, from Asylum to Coven to Freak Show to Hotel. The sheer size of the hotel and the desire to create an atmosphere distinctly different from prior seasons was part of the challenge. More than any other season of American Horror Story, Hotel reflected my primary influence for an entire run of episodes, which stemmed from my love of silent movies and cinema from the 1920s. A lot of techniques came from silent movies going back to Hollywood in 1925. We made some visual connections to cinema of yesteryear to advance the look and story. For the Rudolph Valentino sequence, we captured the aura and atmosphere of black-and-white narrative filmmaking. The cinematography, costuming, art direction and acting had to come together to achieve this feel all the way down the line so it wouldn’t seem like a gimmick or joke but rather connected with the audience so that they could still associate with the characters.”

As in seasons past of American Horror Story, Goi continues to shoot on film. Over the years the show has deployed a mix of 35mm, 16mm and Super 8, color and black and white, creating different looks to great effect.

Goi said of American Horror Story and Glee creators Murphy and Falchuk, “They validated me as a cinematographer. I always knew that there were inspirations and visual things that were in my head that I could express but never seemed to get the projects to fully realize that vision. You can go your whole career and be working all the time but never feel like you’ve reached your artistic potential. Ryan and Brad have helped me reach that promise. They gave me a forum and a freedom to visual express myself in ways that the material demanded. They have always been very accepting and supportive of this. They introduced me to the industry as the cinematographer I always wanted to be.”

That should continue with the next iteration of American Horror Story, though no details have been disclosed. Goi only offered that it promises to be “another fairly bold reinvention.”

Goi’s track record of creative excellence with Murphy is also reflected in ASC Awards recognition over the years. Goi has earned four career ASC Award nominations, two of which were for Murphy shows: the pilot for The New Normal, and the “I Am Anne Frank: Part 2” installment of American Horror Story.

Goi is a board member and a past president of the ASC.

Composer Jeff Russo is a prior Emmy nominee, having earned his first for “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” episode of Fargo (FX network). Russo’s ongoing work for Fargo puts him back in the season’s Emmy discussion. 

“The kind of music I’m getting to write for Fargo represents a great opportunity,” observed Russo. “I’m able to stretch out and do things not necessarily done on a TV show. We try to treat a season of shows like a ten-hour movie. And for season two, we threw out most everything musically except for the main theme which promoted the feeling of being cold, lonesome and isolated. That main theme still works because the one character that doesn’t change from one season to the next is our geographical location. The rest of the musical themes and motifs, though, had to be all new because the characters are all new. Season two characters included this German family which took us in quite a different direction from the first season.”

Fargo is part of a fruitful ongoing collaboration between Russo and EP/show creator Noah Hawley which includes earlier series such as The Unusuals and My Generation, and the upcoming TV movie Legion (directed and written by Hawley) as well as an untitled miniseries.

Additionally Russo is in the midst of a telefilm, Blue Angel, starring Stanley Tucci. Russo also recently wrapped The Night Of, a miniseries for HBO.

On the awards front, in addition to the aforementioned Emmy nomination, Russo has won three ASCAP Awards for Top Television Series—Necessary Roughness in 2013, Hostages in 2014, and Fargo in 2015. As a founding member of the rock band Tonic, Russo also earned a Best Rock Album Grammy Award nomination for “Head on Straight.”

This is the second 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.