July 4, 2014

The DP of 'Fargo' Talks About Why Location Matters & How to Succeed in the Film Industry

FARGO -- Pictured: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo -- CR: FX/Matthias ClamerWhen I first heard that the Coen brothers' iconic Minnesota masterpiece Fargo was going to be adapted into an FX miniseries, my first thought was, "Well jeez, that sure is a swell idea," (in a thick Minnesotan accent, of course). After my initial excitement, the skepticism set in. How could anybody possibly create an episodic variation on Fargo, while appealing to modern audiences and paying homage to the original? Despite the enormity of that undertaking, show-runner Noah Hawley and his team not only created a show that lives up to the Coen classic, but a show that is easily one of the year's (if not the decade's) best. The show's DP Dana Gonzales recently sat down with Ben Consoli on the Go Creative Show to talk about everything from Fargo's locations to its glorious, yet understated cinematography.

For those of you who haven't caught any Fargo yet, here are a few teaser videos from FX to give you an idea of the show's tone, style, and aesthetic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C96AfevLkQ4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQiX9xHxHcg

Here's the Go Creative Show interview with Dana Gonzales, the cinematographer of Fargo. Jump ahead to around 15:30 in the podcast to get straight to his interview.

One of the topics that Gonzales talks in-depth about is the importance of location in Fargo. It's one of those rare shows where the location plays just as big of a role as any of the characters. Ultimately, the show was not shot in Minnesota or North Dakota, but instead in Calgary, Alberta. Gonzales notes that without the almost unbearably harsh winter of Calgary (one of the worst in the past 20 years), combined with the crew's access to some gorgeous remote locations, that the show's authenticity and aesthetic would have suffered.

In regards to the Fargo's cinematography, Gonzales breaks down a few of the stylistic and technical elements which help define the show's unique look. First and foremost are the lenses used throughout the show. Gonzales chose to emphasize space and depth through primarily using wide lenses. In the podcast, he says that they rarely ever went beyond the 40mm focal length. Of the many effects that these wider lenses have, they help to emphasize the vastness and harshness of the location. This also allowed many of the scenes to play out in wider master shots.

fargo-bts-e1403114541894-580x293

The show was shot primarily on ALEXA cameras rigged to a jib arm roughly 95% of the time. The camera moves in this show are often very straight-forward and functional, but there's a sense of rigidity to the movement that creates a sense of structured calmness, even though the content is often violent and entirely lacking in the inherent tranquility of the filmmaking style. This dissonance between the style and content is one of the things that makes this show extremely fun to watch if you're anything like me and you enjoy deconstructing filmmaking style.

Gonzales also throws out some tips for people who are aspiring to work in the film industry. He recounts his early days as a low-budget camera assistant, and talks about how important it is to constantly be working and improving your craft, even if it's on low-budget or no-budget sets, because you never know if you'll impress someone who could have a tremendous impact on your career.

Ultimately, I can't recommend heartily enough that everyone check out Fargo on FX. It really is a fantastic show, both for Coen-lovers and everybody else. Also, for those of you who are interested in hearing more interviews with the cinematographers of some of today's most cinematic television shows, I highly recommend checking out the archives of the Go Creative Show, as Consoli has interviewed some of the best.

What do you think of Fargo's cinematography and the use of locations to tell the story?

Link: Fargo Fever (with Dana Gonzales and Matt Allard) GSC033 -- Go Creative Show

Your Comment

17 Comments

I think Matt Lloyd should have been mentioned in this article...

July 4, 2014 at 11:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

2
Reply
McFly

It was a sin to shoot this digitally. It betrays the look of the original film.

July 5, 2014 at 2:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

10
Reply
Henry

Like you could tell the difference...

July 5, 2014 at 4:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

1
Reply
butliere

If Roger Deakins was DPing this, you could bet he would shoot this on an Alexa. And that's not a bad thing.

July 5, 2014 at 8:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
James Calinaya

What are you even talking about.

July 7, 2014 at 8:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

4
Reply

Get over it....film is dead. almost every oscar winner from last year was shot on the Alexa. Digital is the tool we have today, go make something beautiful with it. Stop blaming the tools.

July 7, 2014 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
steve chase

Steve:. Film is not dead. Many projects including popular tv shows are still shot on film. Breaking bad was mostly 35mm, walking dead 16mm.

July 7, 2014 at 12:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
TruthNuggets

A good friend of mine was the original DP on Walking Dead and talked them into shooting the tests on 16mm as well as with the Alexa and the Red and the Canon 300. Guess which medium made the makeup look the most realistic? That's why they shoot on 16. Film isn't dead. BTW, most of the majors have made long term contracts with Kodak to keep making 35mm stock to archive their films on. Digital is not archivally stable.

July 10, 2014 at 4:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

What??? Digital is not stable?? do pixels lose color?
May be film recordind gear is lighter than seting up a video village. But I wouldn'r dare to made comparations between medias.

July 23, 2014 at 5:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Zen-Tao

Loves the series and was convinced it was shot on 35mm the whole time - very impressed

July 5, 2014 at 2:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
chad78

Fargo was filmed in Alberta... but FXX is not available to cable providers in Alberta. So I ended up having to pirate a show that was filmed on my street...

Awesome show, I mean.. not amazing, but enjoyable none-the-less.

July 5, 2014 at 7:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

2
Reply
Tom

Fargo is available on itunes for a couple of bucks an episode. Piracy isn't cool.

July 7, 2014 at 1:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
TruthNuggets

Didn't shoot in ND or MIN ? FEH ! no reason not to. there are great crew people available in the area, I"m one of them and I work with the others all the time. This could of been a nice booster job thru winter. while they whine about the conditions, its just how we work here no big deal. I was on a show shooting in SD -27F for several days. made it ok with proper gear. the surprising part is cameras & sound seem near un effected except for LCD's getting sluggish to respond.

July 6, 2014 at 5:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

4
Reply

My guess is that they chose Alberta for tax subsidies that they couldn't have gotten in North Dakota or Minnesota. It usually comes down to money with those kind of decisions.

July 6, 2014 at 6:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

2
Reply
avatar
Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
4498

Alberta doesn't have particularly big incentives, not compared to many other jurisdictions. The Canadian dollar is down again, which helps admittedly. What we do have are amazing crews who have worked on award winning productions, including Oscars, Emmys, Genies, etc. On top of that some spectacular scenery. People choose to film here despite the tax incentives offered elsewhere.

July 23, 2014 at 7:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

8
Reply
Duane Martin

I loved the show, Billy Bob was great, Lester was great, but it did leave a few questions unanswered though. Sure did a superb job of yet, another prime example of bumbling policework.

July 7, 2014 at 11:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

side effects slim fast

July 11, 2014 at 10:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

3
Reply