Sundance 2017 Q+A — Cinematographer And Director Jim Frohna

Kathryn Hahn and Kevin Bacon appear in I Love Dick by Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold, Kimberly Peirce and Jim Frohna, an official selection of the Special Events program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jessica Brooks.
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Sundance Film Festival 2017 Q+A — TIME & DATE & LOCATION — Cinematographer Jim Frohna Interview — I Love Dick

2:45 PM
MON 1/23

9:00 PM
WED 1/25

Sundance Film Festival 2017 Q+A — Cinematographer Jim Frohna Interview — I Love Dick

David Alexander Willis: A lot of episodics will have multiple directors across a season. In the case of I Love Dick, you’re working with three incredibly talented directors: Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold and Kimberly Peirce. How much creative control over the look of the series did you have and what is the process of working with multiple directors like when there is an ongoing crew? What is it like to work with so many chefs-in-the-kitchen from a cinematographer’s perspective?

Cinematographer Jim Frohna: As a DP, I love the opportunity to collaborate with such smart, passionate and skilled directors— it pushes me to new places as an artist, having to quickly adapt to different directing styles and communication styles and reminds me to stay open and limber. I’ve worked for four years with Jill Soloway and it’s been an amazing creative and personal journey. With Jill, it’s to the point now that we are so in sync that we almost don’t need to speak, there’s trust and ease and yet Jill constantly encourages me and all of us collectively to grow, to go deeper into how we bring story to life.

Back in Season 2 of Transparent, Jill asked Andrea Arnold to come direct on that show, which was a big deal for us— given that Andrea’s style and her film Fish Tank served as a source of inspiration for Jill’s first feature Afternoon Delight— and Andrea’s been a part of family since. It’s a joy shooting for Andrea as she brings a combination of deep sensitivity and playfulness to the set that draws out the best in the actors and crew. While Kimberley Peirce was new to Amazon/Topple, the two of us clicked right away. She’s incredibly passionate about cinema and storytelling and pushed me in new ways to consider how the camera and camera movement can reflect the journey of the characters. Throughout production, we all had an open, ongoing dialogue about the look, given that this was the first season and we were very much in the act of discovering the show as it unfolded.

David Alexander Willis: You also worked on the Amazon show Transparent. What do you think it is about your camera work that has made you such a reliable DoP for off-center comedy? Do you have any tips for capturing for comedy?

Jim Frohna, director and cinematographer on <i>I Love Dick</i>, an official selection of the Special Events program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marc Vanocur.
Jim Frohna, director and cinematographer on I Love Dick, an official selection of the Special Events program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marc Vanocur.

Cinematographer Jim Frohna: Transparent, like so many shows out there on streaming and non-network channels, does not adhere to the traditional notion of comedy, except perhaps in episode length. It’s probably time to let go of labels, of thinking of half-hour as comedy and hour as drama. Transparent is often hilarious, but also mines real relationships and real emotions. To me, the show works and resonates because it goes deep and then turns on a dime and you’re laughing or you’re really uncomfortable, then crying and then laughing again. It’s that mix that makes it a very human show and our goal is to capture or honor that. Jill and I developed a creative manifesto where we prioritize the actors and prioritize emotions as opposed to the machine of production.

On Transparent, whether it’s a comic or dramatic scene or a sex scene, my approach is the same: we’ll light for the whole space and not just any given camera angle or shot and also do whatever we can to avoid the use of actors’ marks, so the cast can move around, use the whole set, keep things as real and alive as possible. The camera needs to move with the actors and to not expect the same thing from take to take. It’s extremely challenging for our camera operators and certainly for our focus pullers, but ultimately it serves the goal of creating authenticity and also gives the feeling that the story is unfolding before our eyes. But when it comes to remarking on the comedy, you cannot forget the incredible cast; each actor has their own impeccable natural rhythm. Amy Landecker or Kathryn Hahn can make you laugh just with a look of an eye. The same goes for all the Transparent and I Love Dick cast members – Jill casts people, not just actors, who are gifts to filmmaking. They are always on point and it’s my job to be intuitively in sync with their actions and the movement of the scene.

David Alexander Willis: Why was the Canon C300 Mark II chosen as the camera system for this extended series of half-hour shows? What was your lensing on the production?

Cinematographer Jim Frohna: From the time when Canon first introduced their Cinema EOS series of cameras, I was smitten. I gravitated toward the particular look and feel of the Canon image, which has always felt much less digital or antiseptic to me than other cameras. Given the amount of handheld work I’ll do, often going for twenty or thirty minute takes, the compact size is much appreciated. At a certain point Amazon dictated that all their original content be captured in 4K so it was a huge relief when the C300 Mark II came out and I was able to continue with the package I’ve really come to trust and rely on. The overall package is the same for Transparent as it is for I Love Dick, with the exception of the lenses. For I Love Dick we ended up shooting Baltars, which have what I’d describe as having a “cool, detached, yet bold and colorful” combo that really suited the story and characters. I also opted to go with Cookes for a few fantasy scenes, rather than an older, “softer” lens. It was a sort of experiment, to play with the idea that the main character’s fantasies were in a way more vivid and realized than her real life.

David Alexander Willis: We covered your work with the ARRI Alexa on Break Point. Do you find that episodics are much more demanding or differing in any way than full narratives? Or is it more project-by-project?

Cinematographer Jim Frohna: From the beginning of working on these shows for Amazon, we talked about them as something new and different than “television” as most of us thought of it. Joe Lewis, the Amazon executive who passionately believed in Transparent from the get go, and Jill would say that we were shooting a five hour indie film that happened to be broken up into thirty minute episodes. This speaks to the spirit and the approach we took in Season 1 forward and have applied it to I Love Dick as well. I also was a DP on a new Showtime series called I’m Dying Up Here, which, despite the budget and the studio involved still managed to have an indie film spirit. In this way, I see very little difference between traditional narrative or features and the fantastic playground that is Peak TV.