The DP of 'Fargo' Talks About Why Location Matters & How to Succeed in the Film Industry
When 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.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=C96AfevLkQ4
Video is no longer available: 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.
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?