Clubhouse Conversations — Watchmen

Executive producers/directors Nicole Kassell and Stephen Williams; director Steph Green; and cinematographers Xavier Perez Grobet, ASC, AMC; Andrij Parekh, ASC; and Greg Middleton, ASC, CSC discuss their work in this Emmy-nominated sci-fi fantasy series. 

The HBO show was the most-nominated this year, with 26 in total, including 15 in the crafts categories alone. Here, the filmmakers discuss the respective contributions to the series and walk us through a number of impressive shots and scenes, detailing the creative process and collaboration necessary to accomplish them.

Each cinematographer employed a unique camera/lens package, seeking the proper tools to serve the visual approach to their respective episodes.

Grobet, nominated for his cinematography in the episode “Little Fear Of Lightning” (directed by Green, also nominated for her work) paired Arri Alexa Mini cameras with Cooke S5/i primes, Panavision T series anamorphics, Optimo short zooms and specialty optics including an Arri Tilt & Shift system and a P+S Technik Skater Scope compact snorkel lens. He also employed ND grads, polarizers and sliding diopters when necessary.

Some example frames from his nominated episode:

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Parekh, who photographed the episode “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” (directed by Kassell, also nominated for her work), combined Arri Alexas with Leica Summilux C lenses, shooting clean with just standard ND when needed.

Some example frames from his nominated episode:

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Middleton, nominated for his camerawork in the episode “This Extraordinary Being” (directed by Williams, nominated for his work), also relied upon Alexa Mini cameras, but paired with Cooke S5/i primes, Angénieux zooms and Panavison T and C series anamorphics. 

Some example frames from his nominated episode:

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Subjects

Nicole Kassell has become a sought-after director in television following her work in several critically praised series, including Westworld, The Leftovers, The Killing, The Americans, The Following and Rectify. She won a 2020 DGA Award for her work on the Watchmen pilot, and also directed episodes two and eight of the HBO series, which was honored with a 2020 Peabody Award, recognized as one of AFI’s TV Programs of the Year and nominated for a Critics Choice Award for Best Drama Series. The show recently earned a total of 26 Emmy nominations, the most of any show this year, including Outstanding Limited Series and an individual nomination for Kassell in the category of Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special. She will next direct the feature film Silver Seas, and she is attached to direct and executive produce The Last Of The Mohicans series for HBO Max, alongside the writers Cary Joji Fukunaga and Nick Osborne. 

Watchmen-Producers-Directors.jpg?mtime=20200826140714#asset:95081From left, Green, Kassell and Williams.

Stephen Williams was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and educated in England. Shortly after his arrival in Hollywood, executive producer J.J. Abrams saw Stephen's work and hired him to direct and co-executive produce the Emmy-winning series Lost. Since then, Stephen has worked on a number of pilots and shows, including The Walking Dead, Ray Donovan, The Americans, and Westworld. He was also nominated by the DGA for his extraordinary achievement in directing for the Watchmen episode "This Extraordinary Being."

Steph Green is an L.A.-based, Oscar-nominated filmmaker and commercial director. Her short film New Boy was nominated for Best Live Action Short at the 2009 Academy Awards. Her debut feature, Run & Jump was developed at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriter’s Lab and released by IFC/Sundance Selects in 2014. Green is currently serving as a producing director on The Dropout for Hulu. Recently, she directed and executive-produced the pilot of Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q. She directed episode five of HBO’s Watchmen, for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Limited Series. Her other directorial credits include episodes of the series American Crime, The Americans, The Deuce, The Man in The High Castle, Billions, Bates Motel, Luke Cage, Preacher, You're The Worst, and Strange Angel.

Watchmen-Xavier-Grobet-on-Set-LOOKING.1.jpg?mtime=20200826092122#asset:95060Xavier Perez Grobet, ASC, AMC

Xavier Perez Grobet launched his career as a cinematographer in his native Mexico, and after shooting Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (Sex, Shame & Tears), the third-highest grossing Mexican film of 1999, he relocated to Los Angeles. Soon after, he photographed features including The Woodsman, Nine Lives and Monster House. A big break came after he approached artist and director Julian Schnabel after hearing of his plan to make a film about exiled Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas. The resulting picture, Before Night Falls, went on to collect numerous accolades, a Best Cinematography nomination at the 2001 Independent Spirit Awards. His numerous other feature credits include I Love You Phillip Morris, Music & Lyrics, Nacho LibreMother and Child, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Focus, Enough Said andWhat to Expect When You’re Expecting His other television credits include the pilot for Jane the VirginMarco Polo, and HBO’s Enlightened, created by and starring Laura Dern. Recently, he also photographed Amazon Studios’ Them: Covenant, following a black family that moves to an all-white neighborhood in 1950s Los Angeles. He also shot the Netflix original series Unbelievable for director Michael Dinner; the Facebook Watch series Sorry For Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen; and the lavish Dynasty pilot for The CW and director Brad Silberling.  

Watchmen-Gregory-Middleton.jpg?mtime=20200826092113#asset:95056Greg Middleton, ASC, CSC

Greg Middleton’s diverse body of work includes many art-house films, mainstream features and television projects. Born in Montreal, Quebec, he began filmmaking with the family Super 8 camera. He followed that into high school and college starting various clubs with other student filmmakers. Travelling to Vancouver to attend University of British Columbia was when he decided to let his passion guide him into a career in cinematography. His first feature was the award-winning art-house hit Kissed starring Molly Parker. His other credits include The Five Senses, Better than Chocolate, James Gunn’s horror/comedy Slither, Eduardo Ponti’s Between Strangers starring Sophia Loren, and the multi-award-winning Fugitive Pieces, based on the novel by Anne Michaels. He was honored with CSC and Genie Awards for Fugitive Pieces and the WW1 drama Passchendaele, respectively. His television credits include Fringe, The Killing and Game of Thrones, for which he earned two Emmy Awards nominations and an ASC Award nomination.

Watchmen-Andrij-Parekh-HS.jpeg?mtime=20200826092110#asset:95055Andrij Parekh, ASC

Andrij Parekh (also an Emmy nominee this year, for his directorial work in the series Succession) is of Ukrainian and Indian descent. After graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota, the Minneapolis native enrolled into the graduate film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study cinematography and directing. Early in his career, Parekh photographed a number of music videos, commercials, shorts and features. He was nominated for the 1998 Kodak Eastman Award for Excellence in Cinematography, apprenticed with Harris Savides, ASC on The Yardsand received an honorable mention for the 2001 ASC Arthur Miller and 2003 ASC John Seitz Heritage Awards for Excellence in Cinematography. Throughout his 20-year career as a cinematographer, Parekh has shot more than 20 features, including Half Nelson, Sugar, Blue Valentine, Madame Bovary, The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Catcher Was a Spy. For his work on Cold Souls, the cinematographer was nominated for a 2010 Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography. He has also worked on the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero and the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

Interviewer

A native of Chicago, Lieberman is a self-taught cinematographer who learned on the job while shooting documentaries, shorts and industrial films before photographing his first feature, the horror classic Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer. After relocating to Los Angeles, he began working in television, shooting a series of stand-out network series, including My So-Called Life, Once and Again, Joan of Arcadia and Heroes. He is also the chair of the ASC Photo Gallery committee. 

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You’ll find more episodes in this discussion series here

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