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Black and White and RED: Production on the AMC Web Series 'The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks'

Ask any group of cinematographers to describe a dream job and odds are strong that at least a couple will say they wish they could shoot something in black and white. Eric Koretz got that opportunity for the web series The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks, currently streaming on AMCTV.com and Hulu.com.

Arthur (Adam Goldberg) visits his therapist to talk about his night with Chloe (Fabianne Therese).

 Photo by Jordin Althaus/AMC

For his series of three 15-minute episodes, commercial director Peter Glanz wanted to pay homage to the glorious monochrome look of such Woody Allen films as Manhattan, Stardust Memories and Broadway Danny Rose. In the series, the title character (played by Adam Goldberg) is something of a nebbishy, neurotic playwright whose troubles with women and his own deep-seated angst get him into some humorous situations.

Koretz shot using a RED MX camera with Zeiss Super Speed lenses. Though he made use of all the color information in the RED raw (.r3d) files, there was no discussion of creating a color version deliverable for the series because he would be using lighting techniques that enhance black and white but could make a color version look overly “lit.”

Arthur's therapist (Jeffrey Tambor) listens as Arthur (Adam Goldberg) discusses his unwilling celibacy. Photo by 

Jordin Althaus/AMC

“The thing with black and white photography is that you have to do more with the lighting to separate the characters from the background. Obviously you don''t have the advantage of being able to let colors do that,” Koretz says. “We also wanted to do a bit of outlining characters with light more than I would ever do for something that was going to be seen in color.”

On set, the color image was not important. “We turned down the saturation on the monitors,” he says.

Peter Glanz (series creator, executive producer, director and co-writer). Photo by Juan Iglesias/AMC

Koretz credits the talent and efficiency of his minimal camera crew—a first and second AC and one intern—with helping facilitate the ambitious shoot. “Normally I would want a digital imaging technician for a RED shoot,” he says, “but we just didn''t have the budget for it.”

The cinematographer made use of many small lighting units for the show—China balls and LEDs—and is particularly enthusiastic about a set of lights he owns from LEDZ. “I love those little units for just popping some light in where I need it. Even if there''s very little room on the set, I can just put one of these someplace and I get a really nice backlight.”

Adam Goldberg. Photo by Juan Iglesias/AMC

He also made use of K5600 Joker HMI units, Kino Flos and ETC (Electronic Theatre Controls) Source Four units. Since color temperature wasn''t an issue, Koretz could mix and match tungsten- and daylight-balanced units entirely for the quality of light they put out, without having to factor in the effect on color.

Koretz, always an admirer of the work cinematographer Gordon Willis did with Woody Allen, found the experience rewarding. “I was eager to shoot for black and white,” he says. “That''s not something you''d normally get to do at the level where AMC is behind the project.”

The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks: Episode 1, "I Pulled a Polanski"
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