Cinematographers Michelle Lawler and Jonathan Furmanski are joined by interviewer Patti Lee, ASC to discuss their camerawork in this true-life Hulu miniseries depicting corporate greed and deception in Silicon Valley.
The Dropout depicts the meteoric rise and fall of self-styled biotech inventor Elizabeth Holmes (played by Amanda Seyfried, below), whose overly ambitious dream of creating a do-all digital blood-test device leads to investor interest. Years of stalling and delays later, with millions spent and the prototype still glitchy, she and her COO and secret lover, Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews), hatch a desperate plan to defraud their backers and customers.
Initially, Lawler (below) was to shoot the entire eight-episode show, but extensive location shooting and company moves made the production more complex than initially planned in prep. Herself handling the first four episodes, the cinematographer called in Furmanski and then Blake McClure to shoot two each.
One primary challenge of the shoot was to make drab offices and lab spaces — where much of the drama takes place — seem visually interesting while also building a sense of dramatic tension. Others included subtly “aging” Seyfried through the course of the 15-year-spanning story, using lighting and contrast, and doubling Los Angeles locations for Beijing, China.
Michelle Lawler is a Los Angeles-based cinematographer working in film and television. Michelle has shot several shows, including HBO’s Emmy Award-winning Insecure (2020) and Lena Waithe’s Twenties (2020). More recently Lawler shot eight episodes of The Shrink Next Door for Apple TV based on the popular podcast. The show was directed by Michael Showalter and stars Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Kathryn Hahn. In 2020, Michelle was included in Variety’s “10 Cinematographers to Watch.” She has an MFA in Cinematography from The American Film Institute (AFI) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University.
Furmanski grew up in Colorado and graduated with a BFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He has an extensive background in documentary shooting around the world — on massive glaciers, active volcanos and rolling oceans, as well as in international combat zones — on six of seven continents. His non-fiction credits include The Family Business: Trump and Taxes, May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers and Big Men. His other narrative projects include the Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer; the Showtime comedy I Love That For You, starring Vanessa Bayer, Molly Shannon, and Jenifer Lewis; the Hulu series Life & Beth, also starring Schumer; four seasons of the HBO Max series Search Party; and the feature comedy Good Boys for Universal Pictures.
Born in Los Angles, interviewer Patti Lee attended he UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Her break came when she was hired as a gaffer on Season 3 of The Bernie Mac Show and finished Seasons 4 and 5 as director of photography. In the decade since, Lee has served as director of photography on more than 25 television shows, pilots and features. In 2018, she made history as the first woman ever nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series for her work on the television series Superior Donuts. She has been a member of the ASC since 2018.