Television creator Dick Wolf’s universe of Windy City-based dramas for NBC and Universal Television began with Chicago Fire, expanded with spinoffs Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med, and has grown again with the recent premiere of Chicago Justice. The series follows the exploits of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, led by prosecutor Peter Stone (played by Philip Winchester). Stone is the son of Michael Moriarty’s Ben Stone character from Wolf’s flagship Law & Order series; like that long-running show, Chicago Justice divides its time between the litigators — including Stone’s boss, Mark Jefferies (Carl Weathers) — and investigators, the latter of whom include Laura Nagel (Joelle Carter) and Chicago P.D. transplant Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda).
The show marked a return to Dick Wolf’s Chicago fold for cinematographer Lisa Wiegand, ASC, who helped establish the franchise’s visual language by shooting the pilot and first three seasons of Chicago Fire, which included the backdoor pilots for Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med. Part of what drew Wiegand back was the chance to reunite with the local crew she had bonded with during those early seasons. “When you’re working together for 10 months a year, 14 hours a day, you become really close,” the cinematographer says. “There are people on those crews that became like my family.”
That family included 2nd-unit cinematographer/A-camera operator Tari Segal and 1st AC Luis Fowler, the latter of whom remained with Chicago Fire when Wiegand departed. So Wiegand paid a courtesy call to the show’s current cinematographer, Jayson Crothers, before poaching the focus puller. “When Lisa asked me to key the camera department, I couldn’t say no — and I knew that Jayson would understand that I was kind of ‘on loan’ from Lisa,” says Fowler. “Lisa is awesome to work for, and we have a long history. I wanted to repay that loyalty.”
To round out her crew, Wiegand promoted many former collaborators into new positions — a necessity because of the boom in Chicago production in the years since Chicago Fire debuted in 2012. “When we were doing the first season of Fire there were no other shows shooting their entire season in Chicago, so I felt like I got the best crew in town,” Wiegand recalls. “When I came back to do Justice, Chicago already had three Dick Wolf shows, and Empire, The Exorcist and APB were all shooting their seasons here as well.”
As a result, Matt Rozek was promoted from 2nd AC on Fire to B-camera 1st on Justice. Camera utility Matt Feasley slid into a 2nd AC slot. Key rigging grip Stuart Slack ascended to main-unit key grip. And electric Ronald Dragosh became Chicago Justice’s gaffer. “I think we have one of the best crews in town now, and I’m super-grateful,” says Wiegand.
Though all of NBC’s Chicago shows exist in the same universe — with characters and even sets crossing over between series — that doesn’t mean they share the same aesthetic. Wiegand’s work on Chicago Fire immersed the viewer into high-stakes incidents with a cinéma vérité-inspired style featuring energetic handheld camerawork and mid-shot zooms. For Chicago Justice, Wiegand knew a fresh look was needed.
“We wanted a different energy in the visuals than a rescue show like Fire,” the cinematographer notes. “And we wanted a different feel than the down-and-dirty grittiness of Chicago P.D. or the clinical feel they have on Chicago Med.”
To capture that new feel, Wiegand worked with Arri Alexa Plus cameras, sourced from VER Camera in Chicago. The show typically employed two cameras, with a third joining the fray during courtroom-trial scenes. “I’ve been using Alexa almost exclusively ever since it came out,” says Wiegand. “I love that camera and don’t understand why anyone would want me to shoot on anything else.”
Not a fan of higher resolutions, Wiegand opted to record 1920x1080 HD ProRes 4:4:4:4 files onto Sony Pro+ SxS cards. “I know at some point [a requirement to shoot 4K] will become a truth, but to me the whole fight over resolution at this point is bulls---,” she opines. “I don’t need more sharpness in peoples’ skin. There’s plenty already. I don’t see that much sharpness when I’m talking to people in real life.” To further soften the image, Wiegand periodically employed Tiffen Glimmerglass and Black Satin filters; the Black Satins typically only go to a factor of 3, but Tiffen created two sets of level 4 and 5 filters for Wiegand back on Chicago Fire.
The only 4K footage on Chicago Justice came courtesy of a Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam, which was used for an episode in which the camera was mounted to a helmet to provide a first-person point of view of a character firing a machine gun. Wiegand knew just who to strap the helmet to in order to get the shots. “That’s like Tari Segal’s dream,” Wiegand says. “She used to be in ROTC, she loves guns, and she loves camera operating.”
Segal adds, “Wardrobe dressed me in full camo fatigues, and props gave me a working M4 to fire full-load blanks. They gave me some training, but I already had experience handling firearms so it was fairly easy to just enjoy the whole process. Shooting that scene was so much fun.”
While going the Alexa route was a no-brainer for Wiegand, selecting the appropriate lenses for Chicago Justice was a trickier proposition. She initially pushed for shooting the show with Panavision G Series anamorphic lenses — which she used on the second season of American Crime for ABC — but production wouldn’t go for it. “I made this big presentation to show to Dick Wolf and the guys, and at the end of it they were kind of like, ‘Yeah, that’s a little artsy fartsy, Lisa,’” Wiegand recalls with a laugh.
Instead she selected Leica Summilux-C primes and a pair of Fujinon Cabrio zooms: 19-90mm (T2.9) and 85-300mm (T2.9-4.0). The show also carried 16mm and 25mm Cooke S4/i primes for situations in which a wider focal length was needed than the Fujinons could provide.
Before long, Wiegand decided that trying to favor primes on a show that barreled forward at the pace of Chicago Justice wasn’t practical. “Once we got on set I realized that we had so many shots to do and so many people to cover, if we didn’t have the variability of focal lengths that a zoom provides, we were kind of hosed,” she observes. “We just didn’t have time to be constantly switching lenses, so we traded in the Leicas.
“For me it was all about the convenience and how lightweight the Fujinons were,” she continues. “It used to be that back in the day we wanted to use primes over zooms because of mechanical things, like the zooms breathing when you were pulling focus. But we don’t have that problem anymore with these new zooms. So I’m not a prime snob.”
Chicago Justice began shooting back in September and wrapped in late-February, just as this story went to press. That schedule meant that — unlike most network shows — all 13 episodes of the first season were completed before the series premiered on March 1. Because of that timeline, Wiegand had yet to begin working with colorist Scott Garrow on the show’s color grading before the season’s principal photography wrapped.