How ‘Yellowstone’ Visuals Blend Natural Splendor With Visceral Action
Taylor Sheridan’s modern western, “Yellowstone,” tells an epic story about characters trying to maintain rapidly changing values and way of life in an ever-changing world. The directing style the show adopted serves as the perfect cinematic corollary to its themes. Thoughtful and precise in its narrative and visual construction, “Yellowstone” has more in common with the classic Hollywood genre films of John Ford, George Stevens and Clint Eastwood than with most contemporary television series.
According to cinematographer Christina Alexandra Voros, this is entirely intentional. “Taylor’s mantra is we’re not doing a TV show, we’re doing a 10 hour movie, and that extends to every facet of the show’s making,” she told IndieWire. . “There is no model. The model is how to make the best show possible, which means that some episodes can run for eight days and others for 14 and there can be an episode that takes place entirely on the ranch and another that has 30 different locations. There’s something incredibly liberating about it, and there’s something incredibly intimidating about it.
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Much of the show’s power stems from its juxtaposition of intimate character study with epic sweep and grandeur, something that’s never far from Voros’ mind when filming. “It’s important to keep a sense of scope because the main character of the show is the earth,” she said. “It’s what everyone is fighting for and trying to protect, so it’s imperative to show this character in all its glory. We pay a lot of attention to the time of day and build around it more than I’ve done on other projects. Of course, everyone wants to shoot the magic hour all the time, but sometimes there are landscapes that are more impressive in backlight, or the effect is more emotional when the sun is two o’clock from sunset and hits the leaves of the trees in a certain way.”
Cam McLeod/Paramount Network
Voros credited Sheridan and season one cinematographer Ben Richardson with establishing an approach to lenses and camera placement that further showcases the beauty of the location. “We lean toward the longer end of the lens, which might seem counter-intuitive because on our iPhones we all want to reach as far as we can to capture as much space as possible,” he said. she stated. “But that’s not how our eyes see things, so rather than taking a wide view of a field with a 25mm lens, we’re going to step back a mile and take it with a long lens. It’s not uncommon for us to use a doubler on a 400mm. There’s something about the compression when you have all those layers of Montana’s topography that gives it added subjectivity – you feel like you’re in space.
Lyrical passages emphasizing the earth that provide some of the show’s most enjoyable moments are punctuated by their stylistic opposite, brutally violent sets that show exactly what the characters are willing to go through to cling to this earth. Season four, for example, opens with a nerve-wracking 13-minute sequence in which multiple characters are besieged in increasingly intense action, including bombs, car chases, and spread out gunfights. on several sites. For Voros, shooting such a sequence requires a delicate balance between planning and being responsive to any surprises that arise in the moment, a skill she acquired in her previous life as a documentary filmmaker. “The beauty of shooting with multiple cameras is that you have the ability to control and be incredibly precise, and you also have the reach to capture the magic when it happens,” she said. . “When you look at that first season, there are rooms that are very designed, and there are rooms where the sun is in the perfect place at the perfect angle and you couldn’t have gotten it if you had it planned for weeks. ”
Voros trusts its operators – who it claims are the best in the business – to capture those unexpected moments on the fly. “The idea is that once you’ve reached your goal, if you see something else happening, go get it,” she said. “I think adding those extra layers to what’s been scripted is what makes the show higher.” Voros also tries to extend this flexibility to the actors: “I always seek the balance between visual power and the freedom of choice of the actor. I like to light up spaces so the actors can move around in those spaces and not feel entangled with the technical requirements. I never want to say to Kevin Costner, “Oh, that was beautiful but you stepped out of your light.” The series is incredibly taxing for the cast, as we are blocking the filming of four episodes at a time. An actor could do episode three in the morning and episode six after lunch. I am very aware of giving them the opportunity to look into their craft.
Voros’ role in “Yellowstone” has evolved since season one, when she started as a cameraman. She was promoted to cinematographer during season two, then was unavailable to shoot season three but returned for two episodes as director. For season four, she photographed six episodes and did double duty on two of them, as director and cinematographer. (Cinematographer Dino Parks shot the other four episodes.) “It’s not something I would do in any other environment, but because we’ve basically had the same crew for four years, there’s a huge shortcut,” Voros said. “I know the show, and I feel like it takes less time to set up the cameras and design the lighting plans myself than it does to talk to another DP about what I want. But you know , we are a well-oiled machine. There is no learning curve to catch up with anyone.
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