Jonathan Freeman, ASC, recently spoke to me from his home in New York City. It’s been an eventful time for him. In February, his work on HBO’s Game of Thrones brought him his fourth ASC Award. And shortly before that, in September 2013, he became a father.
Jonathan emphasizes that the cinematography on Game of Thrones is a team effort. “There are quite a few cinematographers whose work has defined the evolving look of the show, and everyone’s contribution is important and influential,” he says. “It’s a constant and unusual experiment. Normally, you’re telling a story with your own interpretation of a vision. But here, we have the chance to see and be inspired by other cinematographers’ work, sometimes on the same sets and locations. I think the consistency comes from our brilliant producers, who select cinematographers with similar sensibilities and approaches, and from our post process, where the levels of color and contrast are held together beautifully by Joe Finley, a superb colorist at Modern VideoFilm. The tonality is established, and we work within that framework, with some latitude for interpretation.”
Before his daughter was born, Jonathan decided to look for work closer to home. (Game of Thrones is shot overseas.) Fortunately, he found a couple of projects in the New York area. One was a feature with director Richard Loncraine titled Life Itself. After that, Freeman returned to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire to shoot three episodes for the fifth and final season. His previous work on Boardwalk Empire brought him two ASC Awards and two Emmy Awards.
Here’s a teaser for the new season, which begins airing Sept. 7:
The season consists of eight episodes. Jonathan shot episodes 1, 3 and 5, and Bill Coleman shot 2, 4 and 6 and 8. For episode 7, Jonathan promoted camera operator and 2nd-unit cinematographer Eric Moynier. “[Executive producer/director] Tim Van Patten and I agreed that I would shoot a few episodes, but we also wanted Eric to shoot one,” Jonathan explains. “We did something similar in season 2, when Bill Coleman moved up and replaced me. Bill has since done wonderful work.
”If you’ve been fortunate to get a few breaks, it’s important to give back and provide opportunities whenever you can to people you think deserve it,” he continues. “That’s the way Tim Van Patten works as well. We both wanted to give Bill, and now Eric, a chance to do something special. And I know Eric will do an amazing job.”
Life Itself is not to be confused with the documentary about the late Roger Ebert that’s currently in theaters. Loncraine’s feature stars Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton as a couple considering selling their longtime home. Jonathan shot with an Arri Alexa XT, capturing at roughly 2K resolution to a built-in Codex Recorder.
“Richard was very kind to even consider me for Life Itself, because we were expecting near the beginning of principal photography,” says Jonathan. “Provisions were made so that when I left to attend the birth of my daughter, my operator and gaffer stepped up. Richard had not worked with any of us before, so to agree to a situation where he would lose his director of photography in the first few days was very generous of him. It’s a movie I’ll never forget — for several reasons!”
Regarding Boardwalk Empire, he says, “I felt very lucky to be able to work on such a wonderful production with many of my friends, and to also come home and see my family before they went to bed, and then see them again in the morning before I headed off to work. It’s a rare blessing. We cinematographers all know that no matter where you live, the work is often somewhere else, and you find yourself traveling a lot. Of course, you have some great experiences while traveling, but there’s a cost to it as well. I think we all learn that balance whether we have a family or not. It’s one of the bigger challenges we face outside of the technological aspects of our job.”