Cinematographer Robert Mclachlan
"I think most DPs in Hollywood are reluctant to admit how much of their work can be helped during the post process," says cinematographer Robert McLachlan. As DP for Fox's second-year show Millennium, McLachlan sees up close the advantage to working with facilities-Encore, Hollywood, handles the show's post chores-instead of around them. "We shoot almost everything on location in Vancouver, and we come up against a lot of problems because of the rain and the rough conditions," he explains. "But we don't worry about it. If the shots are too off-color, we know we can alter them. We shoot whatever we want, knowing it can always be fixed, and everyone gets involved with the process."
Much of the attention showered on the show is aimed straight at its "look," an effective combination of rough semblance and slick imagery. "We really wanted to capture the feel of David Fincher's Seven," explains McLachlan. "We felt that a dramatic intensity combined with weekly demands could really be a new approach to series television, and we felt we could create something fresh."
The show details the struggle between good and evil as the turn of the century approaches, and it contains several elements reflecting the aesthetic sense of creator Chris Carter (The X-Files). "Chris has introduced viewers to a new style of storytelling," says McLachlan. "Before The X-Files there was nothing to challenge viewers on emotional and visual levels. With Millennium, he has succeeded in developing further the potent mixture of content andform."
Though he is part of a profession that rewards uniqueness and celebrates individuality, McLachlan stays firm within his belief that the best cinematography is the most unobtrusive cinematography. "Excellence," he explains, "is when you can make something look just right, and when the viewer can't put a finger on why it looks special. Epic photography like The English Patient is wondrous, but interior shots with two characters can be equally spectacular." Indeed, McLachlan alludes to one specific, character-driven film as an achievement that defines current trends within his field. "Searching For Bobby Fischer has become a legend," he says. "Conrad [Hall, the film's DP] brought reality to a whole new level by mixing dark features with strategic hot spots. It's a film that has left a definite mark."
With over 200 episodic television and MOW credits-he has shot many of network TV's most popular shows like The Commish and MacGyver-McLachlan, in 1986, became the youngest cameraman ever awarded full membership into the Canadian Society of Cinematographers. Supporting his claim that sweeping grandeur isn't always necessary for recognition, McLachlan took home the 1993 CSC award in the feature film category for Impolite, a Canadian project whose indie-size budget (less than $1 million) seemed laughable compared to the higher-profile films against which it competed.
"That was a perfect example of how works can rise above their prohibitive costs if the right amount of preparation is spent," he says. And "preparation" is not just a trendy buzzword to McLachlan as it has become in many production circles. "I'm a big fan of knowing what's ahead of me and getting to things early," he says. "While we get a lot of recognition for our work on Millennium, it would look even better if we could have the time to go to every location beforehand and prepare every shot with patience and precision. But this is television, and the turnaround time is just too short."
McLachlan also admits that upcoming changes in the series' structural technique will affect the show's much-heralded appearance. While ratings for the series' first year were strong-they rivaled The X-Files' inaugural numbers-certain modifications are currently in the works while the series preps the 24 episodes Fox has ordered for the upcoming 1997-98 season. "We realized we were becoming a serial-killer-of-the-week show," he says. "When we sat down to prepare for the second year, we decided that good drama was engaging because of story arcs. It dawned on us that we didn't have to solve every problem at the end of each hour. That, in turn, allowed for consistency; in character, plot, and visuals. Consistency breeds familiarity, and it's that familiarity that leads to success."