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‘Homeland’: Capturing Tension and Apprehension for the Showtime Series

On September 29, the Showtime dramatic series Homeland will return for a third season. Season three begins in the aftermath of a massive and horrific terror attack. A global manhunt ensues.

Damian Lewis as Nicholas “Nick” Brody. Photo by Kent Smith

In its first two seasons, the show proved to be a phenomenon with a quickly expanding audience. Its trophy case holds Emmy and Golden Globe awards, including best dramatic television series two years in a row, and last year Homeland tied for the most Emmys, with six. Originally based on an Israeli show, Homeland stars Claire Danes as a CIA operative with bipolar disorder and Damian Lewis as a Marine sniper she suspects has been turned into an enemy of the state. Mandy Patinkin also stars.

Director of photography David Klein, ASC (@ThatDavidKlein), came aboard for season three, taking over for Nelson Cragg, who established the look over the first 24 episodes and then chose to move on. Klein broke onto the scene in the mid-1990s. He had attended Vancouver Film School with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, and together the trio made Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy. When Smith graduated to studio pictures, the powers that be decided he needed more experienced cinematographers, and Klein followed a different path. Klein and Smith reconnected for Clerks II, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Cop Out and Red State. In the television arena, Klein shot the network series Pushing Daisies and has been alternating with Romeo Tirone, ASC (@RomeoTi), on the elegantly morbid True Blood.

On True Blood, Klein generally has 14 to 18 days to shoot an episode. Because he alternates, he has more time for prep as well. Homeland is produced on a relatively tight eight- or nine-day schedule. While the pace is quick, the relative lack of special effects and visual effects on Homeland, compared to True Blood, helps him make up the difference. He says that the urgency adds a certain flavor that works for the show.

“Because of my background, I do approach Homeland like a feature, except you don’t have nearly as much time,” says Klein. “We move equally fast on True Blood if we’re shooting dialogue rather than effects work. Television moves quickly, but I try to maintain a feature film standard in the images. With Homeland, we benefit from the fact that the story itself flows very naturally and is very gritty, and we’ll go into many situations using the existing lighting of a location because it fits the overall aesthetic. If it articulates and looks real, I’m perfectly happy to shoot natural light, whereas on True Blood we’re often shooting night exteriors in the middle of nowhere, so I’m responsible for all of the light in the frame. Homeland inhabits a much more urban environment. Even for night exteriors, we show up and the ambient light from street lamps might start us off.”

Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn. Photo by Kent Smith

The first two seasons of Homeland were shot on the ARRI Alexa. Klein has no trouble going back and forth from film to digital. “Once you know these camera systems, it’s a pretty seamless transition from one to the other,” he says. “It’s a different set of rules when you’re shooting digital versus film just as it’s a different set of rules when you’re shooting RED versus Alexa. Ultimately my job is the same: to create a look, no matter what format I’m using.”

The stage work for Homeland takes place in a converted factory/warehouse in Charlotte, N.C. The ratio of practical locations to stage work varies widely depending on the script. Some episodes are shot 75 percent on stages and others are 75 percent location work.

There are usually two Alexa Plus cameras for a given setup, and they are configured to record ProRes 4444 to onboard SxS cards. Klein says he has done comparison tests, which revealed that solid-state drives give him a negligible improvement in image quality on television screens. On the set, he lights using his light meter.

“I know that at 800 ASA, I have a certain amount of range on the high end and the low end, and I use my light meter to keep it in that range or put it where I want it to be,” he says. “I love the False Color Exposure Check in the Alexa’s viewfinder. It assigns a specific color to a specific exposure in terms of the IRE value—so I can light to my eye and then, at the last minute, I will get out my light meter. I generally use False Color as a last-minute guide if I’m second-guessing myself, just to make sure everything’s where I want it to be. I think it beats the hell out of a waveform monitor because it puts an exposure value on every pixel.

David Klein,


season three director of photography, on the Puerto Rico set.

“I try to stick with 800 ASA on the camera—I like to shoot somewhere between a 2 and a 2.8—but I found that I can adjust that up to 1280 safely for night work, and I’ve taken it down as low as 200,” he says. “I think that range is completely acceptable on the Alexa.”

Homeland is generally a handheld show, but the lens package includes some big glass: an Angenieux Optimo 12:1 and all of the new Canon PL zooms. Currently there is an entire set on the show, and they are used extensively. When the lens gets too big to handhold, Klein has some methods that achieve a similar look without appearing unnatural. For example, he sometimes sets the camera on a sandbag that is in turn set on a dolly.

The extreme close-up is often employed. “We’re not afraid to get into the character’s head on Homeland, to really get in there close,” says Klein. “It depends on the director, too. Some directors don’t really like those super-tight close-ups and some directors love them—and as long as what they’re after fits within the style and taste of the show, I’m happy to accommodate. We like to get into our characters’ faces with a 27mm close up, which can create some tension and uneasiness.”

When it comes to lighting, Klein’s feature film mindset holds. “I’m still a huge fan of tungsten,” he says. “I don’t think anything makes people look as good as tungsten, even within the parameters of our rough, gritty look on Homeland. Tungsten is probably my favorite type of light to work with. Nothing cuts quite as nicely as a Mole-Richardson 20K Fresnel.

“But we do mix it up a lot,” he continues. “There are a lot of fluorescent environments, so I’ll stay true to the environment and use fluorescent lights sometimes, if I have to. You have to stay authentic to the world you’re in. I like to light a space and let the actors kind of do what they do, but I’ll also get in there and go big with grip and electric to make it feel natural and real. I’ll usually start with a big source that’s double-diffused or bounced. I use a lot of soft light. Sometimes I overlight to underlight, if you know what I mean. When going daylight, the Mole-Richardson 24K HMI Fresnel is the only HMI that ever tricked me into thinking it was actual sunlight. I think it’s due to the Fresnel—that is the most amazing lens that any light has ever had.”

David Klein on the Puerto Rico set

Regarding on-set color, Klein says he follows a film model. “We do it right here,” he says. “I have a LUT that I plug into the cameras so that when we’re viewing the image, it looks close to how I want the final image. But then we go through a dailies timer. All of our footage goes to FotoKem and Keep Me Posted. Howard Brodersen is our dailies timer. He does the dailies color correction just as if we were shooting film or any other format, implementing any notes I send to him. That color correction travels with the footage into the final color suite, where Keith Shaw is our final colorist. Keith can choose to start with that color correction and go from there, or he can turn it off and start from scratch. But to start with, we’re all looking at the same image. If I see something specific in the dailies—we use the DAX system online—I’ll send notes to Keith just prior to final color.”

Klein has developed a great relationship with the cast, beginning with Danes. He studied her close-ups in the first two seasons and concluded that she is “a very brave actress” when it comes to her lighting. He sat down with her before shooting commenced on season three to see if she had any concerns or preferences.

“She said, ‘I’m amazed at what you guys do and I’m just very appreciative when you’re good at it. You can light me however you like,’” Klein recalls. “If her character’s in a rough place and she needs to look rough, she’s going to. And she’s not afraid of it. I’m very happy to be shooting these brilliant actors playing out great scenes.”

Homeland airs on Showtime on Sundays at 9 p.m. Season three will consist of 12 one-hour episodes.