Recently, No Film School spoke with director/cinematographer Dana Gonzales about his work DP'ing the first two episodes of Fargo Season 5, but we also want to highlight his work as a director on the same season.

He directed two recent episodes, five and six, which contain major set pieces and action sequences in complex locations. But there are also quiet, tense conversations, in classic Fargo style, which find characters facing off in battles of wits. Both kinds of scenes present unique challenges.

How do you manage your time on a television show's fast-paced shooting schedule? How do you make sure you have the shots to create that tension in the edit? Gonzales answered all this and more in our recent Zoom conversation.

Jump into his lessons below, then let us know how you're enjoying the season so far.

Fargo | Installment 5 Teaser - Coming Up This Season |

Editor's note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: You directed five and six of Fargo Season 5. What of those episodes was most challenging for you as a director?

Dana Gonzales: It was a big block. There was a lot going on. In episode five, there's a lot of cat and mouse in the hospital, and those things look a little innocuous on paper. You see them and they don't look like they're as challenging as they are, but there's so many POVs, there's so many points of view and you have to let the audience know what's going on at any minute, and what's in Dot's head and to create the tension and the drama there and the action of it all. It's a lot. It's a lot.

And it's another build, right? We had to build a hospital interior because, after COVID, there's no hospitals to shoot. And we were in Calgary, there's just nothing available. And you need a purpose-built location that you could basically say, "This is how it all happens," because there is a cat-and-mouse thing going on, and it needs to have a little bit of a maze. And so we had to build it.

And that was a big challenge too. In prep, you talk about this, you go nine different directions and then eventually you land on something that works. And so building that, executing it, and then you have X amount of days to do it. I mean, that's like the hospital's like a five-day sequence. And even that was probably not enough time.

So that episode definitely had those challenges. And we shoot in blocks, so it's good and bad. Sometimes it helps you with the scheduling, but sometimes it hurts you with the scheduling where you have a two-page scene that's at another location and how are you going to get there?

So both episodes in the block we're very location-challenged and pushing. And then we're doing 10-hour days since COIVD. That's kind of been a thing, and I'm okay with it, but there's just no room for error.

And again, the location-driven schedule is always a thing. And as things change with that or sets aren't ready or you lose a location or it really just makes it really complicated. But again, hopefully, the audience doesn't ever feel that. And it's actually nice when I read reviewers say I don't know how they do the show in the time they have, because it's really true. It really has to be a bit of a ballet maneuver and precision and it's tough.

Joe Keery as Gator Tillman in Fargo.Joe Keery as Gator Tillman in Fargo.Michelle Faye/FX

NFS: You mentioned there how tense everything is. I know a lot of that comes through in the editing as well, but do you have any advice for maintaining tension as a director and maintaining it on set?

Gonzales: I think when you have those sequences that kind of speak of that, you need to shoot a lot of shots. You really need a lot of perspective. And I think if you're just kind of generalizing in the way you're shooting, it's going to be very hard to create the tension. So you really have to kind of make sure you land all these moments that the character's feeling or that they missed, they should have saw but they didn't or that this person is coming after them. And if you really break it down, it's always about a shot. And TV today is definitely challenged again with time and you're making choices and you've got to make these really strong choices of all the shots you have to get. So you don't want to stay on one shot and just perfect it to do it 10 times.

Sometimes you've got to do it three times, two times. You've got to move on because at the end of the day, really to create the tension and the drama, you need to be able to cut to these angles that really heighten that particular scene.

And without it, yeah, editorially, you could try something, but it really comes down to shots. I do shot lists that are like my goal, and sometimes it'll be 25, 28 shots in a day or something, which is about the most we can do—maybe 30, because there's all lit shots and sometimes you're like, "Okay, you know what? I don't need that shot because this works for this."

For me, that's my homework, and I make sure I get it. And most of the time I need every single shot. And then even there's the shot that you leave that you're just like, I wish I got that. And sometimes you could pick it up, but sometimes you can't. So it is hard to create tension with when you have three shots and there's nothing to cut to.

Lamorne Morris as Witt Farr in Fargo.Lamorne Morris as Witt Farr in Fargo.Michelle Faye/FX

NFS: I always like to ask about mistakes made by beginners and how to avoid them.

Gonzales: I can tell you just firmly in directing, one of the first things that I didn't give it its credence that it should have, is POVs.

I always thought you didn't need as many, but you know what? You really do. It's a total get-out-of-jail-free card because you can cut to someone's perspective. It breaks the angle ... it really literally will set you free.

I think this happens in cinematography too, because in cinematography, you're working with the director to create shots and scenes and shot lists, and you're always concerned about doing the action or doing the big set piece or doing the master whatever, the closeups and then the POVs and the inserts are the two things that kind of get left to the end, or neglected. Inserts definitely you could shoot later.

But the POVs—in the beginning, I had to learn the hard way that just get those shots. Even if it's just like they're looking at a house, even if you're on them, even if the house is in the shot, just get it clean, because it will save you.

And as you continue, you realize how much it does help you, and even to create tension or whatever. So that was the big lesson. And I started directing after I had shot hundreds of things. So it wasn't like I was new to scene creation or scene construction, but it was just something I had to learn directorily in the editorial room, what I needed.

You learn every single time. And in television, you're working with different editors all the time as a director. So it's like you can't rely on your relationship with that editor. And they know you, you know them. They call you and tell you, you may need this. You're on your own most of the time. And then you get into the editing room, months or later you have what you have.

And then as a DP and a cinematographer and director, just how do you manage your time? Because they're not going to give you any more time. And so you really have to learn how to manage your time to get to be the most effective. And I think that the people that really succeed in television really have that down because they know to really maximize the scene and create the tension and drama, the comedy, whatever it is, you need these elements and the time thing doesn't change. So you have to kind of fit it in there.

And so it's being confident and moving on, making a decision. "Okay, I got that. I got that."

And you know what? It doesn't get any easier as the shows get bigger. I think you could talk to any director and it's just like there's not that moment of time where we have tons of time. If you have a bigger-scope movie, then you have more things to shoot. I mean, in Oppenheimer, they had to give away 10 days of shooting or something for production design money. So it never gets any easier that way.