MAKING OF THE MOB
THE MAKING OF THE MOB tells the remarkable story of the formation of the modern mafia through the legendary figures Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese and Meyer Lansky. From executive producer Stephen David, the show follows on the heels of the Emmy Award-winning miniseries THE MEN WHO BUILT AMERICA and Emmy-nominated THE WORLD WARS, further developing David’s style of docudrama.
This docudrama format presented a unique challenge to the storytelling team of director John Ealer, cinematographer Andrew Huebscher and 2nd unit director/DP Johnny St. Ours. The filmmakers needed to craft a dramatic story spanning four decades of American history, while also creating compelling imagery for connective passages of voice-over.
"When you’re making a mob show," says Ealer, "you know you’ll be compared to masters of the craft, whether it be Coppola or Scorsese, Gordon Willis or Robert Richardson. That’s pretty intimidating." The comparison is far from abstract: as part of its "Mob Mondays" programming, AMC is airing classics like THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS before each episode of THE MAKING OF THE MOB.
Huebscher says, "When I first met with John, he cautioned me from his experiences on THE MEN WHO BUILT AMERICA and THE WORLD WARS that we'd have to move fast. And let me tell you, when John says fast – he means fast. When you’re doing seven to ten pages a day, the math is terrifying."
Though Ealer has shot earlier projects on the ARRI ALEXA, Huebscher lobbied for the AMIRA – which had just been released. Its lighter weight, smaller form factor, built-in ND's, and a higher max frame rate of 200 fps were all important selling points. What convinced Ealer to make the change was the AMIRA's unique color tool.
Huebscher says, "One of the draws of the AMIRA was its built-in color correction abilities. We would capture a still from the camera onto a memory stick, import into the AMIRA Color Tool program on a laptop, design a look using ASC CDL parameters, save that, and re-import back into the cameras. This look would then be applied to viewing monitors for John, Stephen and the network, as well attach itself to the ProRes 4444 files as non-destructive metadata, all while actually recording in Log C gamma. No additional hardware or LUT boxes were required on set. The editors could then access this look info with ease in the Avid for the offline edit."
Ealer adds, "Having this ability to track looks throughout 40 years of story space, from turn-of-the-century Manhattan to post-war Cuba – and have those looks follow all the way through post, from offline to final color – was critical in trying to maintain the look we wanted. Especially given how fast we had to move on set."
To facilitate post and finishing, an HD aspect ratio (1920x1080) was used. While H. 264 dailies had the look baked-in for executives and the network, Huebscher, St. Ours and Ealer met regularly to screen the ProRes 4444 camera original files. "I would load the footage into the latest version of Premiere Pro, which immediately attached the color metadata to the clips on a timeline," says the DP. The footage played back from G-RAID USB 3 drives to a MacBook Pro Retina, into Premiere, then outputted to a FSI 24" monitor via a Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Monitor.
Ealer says, "The added benefit of this workflow was that we could watch our footage in a conference room in a local coffee shop. Which was really important, considered how sleep-deprived we all got as production moved forward."
Ealer and Huebscher devised a naturalistic yet dramatic look that emphasized window sources and practicals, a paradigm that minimized time for re-lights to help the actors stay in character. Says Huebscher, "We had a demanding schedule, but from this came many happy accidents, to borrow from the great Conrad L. Hall. We were constantly in motion, and in this regard we relied heavily on our documentary skillset."
Complicating Huebscher’s lighting challenge even more was Ealer’s love of deploying his A & B cameras at 90 degree angles instead of stacking them. Having come to directing from a DP background, Ealer knows how tricky this made lighting for Huebscher. "But when you’re doing a docudrama show like this, though, you can't just think about covering the scene," Ealer remarked. "You always have to think about how you can get a variety of shots that can be used outside the scene. Yes, it makes lighting tricky. But it also opens up some interesting aesthetic opportunities. A lot of beautiful work using silhouettes came out of the necessity of working this way."
While the docudrama genre is challenging, Ealer and Huebscher both agree that it offers an unparalleled chance to be creative, offering endless opportunities to find new ways to tell stories and bring history to life.