A Day In The Life

Debuting in November 2001, 24 was perfectly positioned to capture the post-9/11 zeitgeist. While not as cerebral as the UK’s Spooks (known stateside as MI-5), which began airing a scant few months later, the FOX series offered up visceral excitement that kept it dominating the chat around watercoolers for much of its eight-season run. In its new incarnation as 24: Live Another Day, the thrills are still abundant, but with action taking place in England rather than America. In a marked departure from what had gone before, 24 modifies its trademark format: Instead of one televised hour equaling one hour in the day of agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), this season’s "day in the life" is covered in just 12 hourly installments.

Director of Photography Jeffrey C. Mygatt, fresh from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., was no stranger to the Bauer universe, having worked on it since the pilot, shooting extra camera and 2nd unit, and later serving as the show’s cinematographer for several episodes. While previous seasons originated on film, this time out, the studio, well satisfied with the ARRI ALEXA workflow, mandated a switch to that capture system, which Mygatt himself had already employed on five other series.

"FOX had first considered going HD a few years back," the cinematographer recalls. "I shot a teaser test for Season Six using the Sony F900, matching to the established shooting style. When they asked my opinion of the results, I said the problem with video arose when going 90º off-angle with our second camera, which is one of our stylistic go-to shots. One of those camera angles would wind up looking either dark or flat. Film had latitude that let you see into that darkness, with a falloff that didn’t make the shadows seem so heavy, but digital wasn’t quite there yet. It’s a different story today with ALEXA."

Visual standards for electronic capture have been subject to a bit of a rethink as image quality improved. "I started in video way back," Mygatt acknowledges, "so I’ve always known how to read a waveform. They used to say we had to light skin tones to read at 70% for broadcast standards. But on my last three series, I’ve had skin tones at 30%. Some of the time people might think a character looks really dark, but this isn’t just about exposing faces. We’re exposing scenes, and a face is only one component of that scene, with the end product looking good, closer to film in a lot of ways. Keeping my waveform set so nothing falls below 10 IRE works pretty well. If someone steps into shadow during a moment when we need to see his expression, we have the latitude to dig in there and get that."

Mygatt acknowledges that HD’s sharpness can be distracting at times. "I’ll use filters to take the edge off that crispness. I’m not talking about a window blown out with a halo, but faces can often do with a bit of softening, and it’s better to handle that on our end rather than in post. Nobody wants to spend money in post to fix a wrinkled face, so a [Tiffen] Black Pro-Mist or [Schneider Optics] Hollywood Black Magic [combining Black Magic with a Classic Soft] can solve that up front."

The studio’s policy for TV series doesn’t allow for DITs. "The mind-set is, if we have a DP who knows what he’s doing, we don’t need to spend on a DIT," reports Mygatt. "Rather than spend time coloring on set and then more time in the DI, the work can be done with less redundancy. I take stills and put them in a file, which I’ll send over so they know what direction I was headed and the color temperature I wanted. We’re still not paid for color correction, but I insist on remaining involved anyway."

Employing the Apple ProRes 4444 codec, shooting is done in Log C, with monitoring in Rec. 709. Capture is recorded to SxS cards for ease of use, with transfers done in London and sent with DAX to the States for editorial. LTOs are also created locally, with single copies also being sent back as a backup for post work.