Cinematographer Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC details the visual approach to his forward-looking Showtime sci-fi series to interviewer Patrick Cady, ASC in this new 60-minute episode.
The 10-part sequel series The Man Who Fell to Earth picks up 45 years after Thomas Jerome Newton (played by David Bowie in the 1976 feature film of the same name) arrived on our world seeking to save his own. Because Newton failed in his mission, a second alien from the planet Anthea — Faraday (Chiwetel Ejiofor, seen above and below) — has come to acquire the precious resource necessary to revive their dying planet: water.
Maddox-Upshaw was the director of photography on the first four episodes and half of the show’s finale. He has also long been a sci-fi fan, yet never before worked in the genre: “I’ve been a sucker for sci-fi ever since seeing [the 1985 space adventure] Explorers. Now to be able to lens it is fricking awesome.”
Neither the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis nor the 1976 film had much bearing on the new series’ look. “We’re now at a different chapter of where Newton is, and the home planet, too,” Maddox-Upshaw told American Cinematographer. “We had to world-build and show that time has passed. That required us to differentiate ourselves from that work for the most part.”
This was also the cinematographer’s first time working with executive producer and director Alex Kurtzman (seen together above, Maddox-Upshaw on left), who is best known for his many recent voyages in the Star Trek universe, both in television and the feature realm.
Composing for a 2.39:1 frame, Maddox-Upshaw primarily shot the show with Sony Venice cameras and Panavision optics, mostly with a set of prototype spherical lenses and G Series anamorphics — selected to create visual contrast between different sets of characters. He also employed the Venus Optics Laowa 24mm probe lens for key scenes, to render unusual perspectives, sometimes also using the Sony Rialto extension system to capture unique angles.
Maddox-Upshaw grew up in the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan but was schooled in the Boston suburb Newton. Since there was no film department at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he focused on shooting black-and-white still photography as well as student video projects. When he was 18, he was hired as a production assistant and worked on sets in Boston and New York City.
He gained practical experience in the grip and electric departments, Maddox-Upshaw attended the American Film Institute and earned an MFA in cinematography. After graduation, he served as a gaffer on music videos and commercials for clients including Ford, Allstate and HBO, among others, earning opportunities to serve as a cinematographer from people including Spike Lee and Matthew Libatique, ASC.
He photographed the L.A. unit of the Michael Jackson documentary Bad 25, directed by Lee, and VFX additional photography on A Star Is Born as well as second unit on Straight Outta Compton, both shot by Libatique. He also shot additional photography on the features Grown Ups 2, Beyond the Lights and The Circle.
His feature credits include Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, Hello Beautiful: Interludes with John Legend, Hype Nation 3D, A Very Larry Christmas, The Perfect Match, 48 Hours to Live and Fixed. Other television credits include Empire, On My Block and Huge in France, and he won a 2022 ASC Award for his work on the series Snowfall.
Interviewer Patrick Cady was raised in rural New York and attended Ithaca College, later studying cinematography and directing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “My middle-school teachers encouraged me that a country kid could actually end up working in the movie business,” he told American Cinematographer. “I then learned from a slew of wonderful cinematographers in the Nineties when I was a gaffer. Sol Negrin, ASC and [honorary ASC member] Larry Parker have mentored me in both film and family.” His career took a turn in 2000 after shooting his first feature, director Karen Kusama’s award-winning drama Girlfight.
His extensive television credits include Cold Case, Make It or Break It, Suits, Rizzoli & Isles, Body of Proof, Betrayal, Rectify and Bosch. He earned a 2018 Emmy Award nomination for his work on the series Insecure. He has been a member of the ASC since 2011.
Additional reporting by Patricia Thomson. This series will also be covered in the July 2022 issue of AC.