The producers behind the nighttime drama Desperate Housewives count on cinematographer Lowell Peterson, ASC to make sure the picket fences on Wisteria Lane are sharp and the cast behind them is attractive. To do this, Peterson needs to light the actresses with big sources yet maintain contrast and apparent sharpness. “From the beginning we looked for an overall filter that would flatter the actresses without seeming too diffused,” he explained.
“Schneider Black Frosts are our best option,” he said. “We have grades from 1/8 to 1/2, depending on how much contrast is in the scene. Our backlot street is oriented east-west, which means that one side is shadowed and the other side sunlit for most of the day.”
This season Peterson switched from film to the Arri Alexa, and he did a lot of testing of filters, but found that the Black Frost was still best to help create a look that is most similar to what he got on film.
Peterson rates the Alexa at 800 EI outside to maximize the details in the highlights. “So, the other issue was color contamination with heavier ND filters,” he explained. “During testing we struggled with color matching between IRND filters and problems rendering the costumes with accurate color. The wardrobe department brought out a truck full of costumes for our tests. There was a lot of concern, until Schneider was kind enough to get us some of the first sets of the Platinum IRNDs. The Platinums solved our color matching and wardrobe issues, and now we are comfortable shooting multiple cameras with different grades of the Platinum IRNDs.”
Both filters continue the subtle yet contrasty look that the audience of Desperate Housewives has come to know. “Black Frost gives us a subtle look that makes for good skin tone and does not get overwhelmed by the extreme contrast in the background, the way a behind-the-lens net does,” he said. “The Platinum IRND was the only IRND that did not produce color matching problems.”
The 1/4 Black Frost is Peterson’s standard filter on most shots and he goes to a 1/8 when there is bright sun or backlight. “We also add the Schneider Tru-Pol with strong sun or backlight to eliminate reflections and darken the sky on a wide shot. But, I tend not to use a Tru-Pol on a medium or close-up. And, outside we rely on the Platinum IRNDs to keep the lens at T4 or T5.6.
“I’ve come to rely on Schneider for most of my projects,” he continued. “I’ve used the Tru-Pols a lot, and now that I know about the Platinum IRNDs, they will be a staple on any future shots I shoot.”
The award-winning series Desperate Housewives is in its eighth and final season on ABC. Past episodes of the series are running on Lifetime.