Written by by Richard Rutkowski, ASC

This project takes a well-known Film Noir staple and brings it into unexpected places amid audacious style choices. An enigmatic Los Angeles private detective is hired to search for a beautiful missing woman and discovers that secrets surrounding her disappearance mirror his own interior conflicts and discoveries. Classic. The writing, direction, and Colin Farrell's performance acknowledge the influence and famously dark tones of these stories.

However, our approach was not solely to emulate older films visually but to experiment and riff off such well-known plots and characters. Fundamentals of the style were established in the first filming block by the Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles and his wonderful longtime DP Cesar Charlone. They run multiple cameras in multiple formats, capturing scenes from myriad angles, and admittedly find the final result once in their edit. They collaborate closely, and the results are unique to their established aesthetic vocabulary.

By the second block, when director Adam Arkin and I started into our material, a sense of style had emerged, and we devised how to best dovetail our work into it. But foremost, a sense of adventure had taken hold!

Cinematographer Close Up: Richard Rutkowski, ASC on Sugarwww.youtube.com

In classic noir fashion, the camera closely follows our protagonist and title character, Sugar. Like the narrative attachment to Jake in Chinatown or Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye, we discover the world of the Siegel family and their missing granddaughter Olivia, and a host of other disturbing secrets by staying close to Sugar nearly all the time.

We track him, hear his voiceover, and share his observations directly. This led to a mixture of handheld work, steadicam, driving shots, and using remote heads for dramatic crane moves. In all modes, the show was blessed that our leading man, Colin, works skillfully with the lens no matter the action happening or lack thereof.

It was a gift, making the photography better as he understood how to choreograph his movement and tempo to our cameras. Visual storytelling! It freed us to avoid marks for actors and to imagine more dynamic shots, both on locations and on the sets. Because of a central character with a tremendous ability to "hold the screen," we extended into working underwater, long takes of Sugar driving in-process shots as well as free drive, and a cool move from high outside a theater marquis down to see the crowds and flashbulbs then Steadicam behind Colin to inside with one long take.

These ambitious shots were inspired by the collaboration our actor had with the camera and vice-versa.

Los Angeles itself is a character in the storytelling, necessarily creating a foundation for the color palette. Referencing a tradition of marvelous Color Noir films like LA Confidential or The Grifters, we sought to alter and exploit the color saturation and hues. Working towards a nuanced LUT on camera, we created a specific gamma curve that allowed the overexposure of LA daylight to stay "hot" while still having a pleasant film roll-off.

The work balanced the desire for the image to exploit higher contrast, another noir touchstone, with the goal of flattering the performers' faces. Amid dark scenes and dark themes, we also wanted to depict the many beautiful things Sugar sees in his starry-eyed version of Los Angeles. With saturation particularly, there was a concern to draw the image away from deep true blues or fire truck reds, most primaries actually, and to bend the tones into the more original territory, attractive but off-beat colors whenever possible.

We also encompass a huge visual range in LA's multiple settings. Starting from Jonathan Siegel's expressly fabulous Beverly Hills mansion (marvelous acting from the legendary James Cromwell) to decaying hideouts in oil fields above Culver City, the work encouraged varied color tonalities: the warmth of Sugar's pretend mother's home in Arizona, the sophisticated, wealthy palette of his exclusive hotel's grounds and suite, on to the chilly pale blues of the "torture basement" that eventually reveals the long-sought Olivia dramatically.

Our cameras were from Panavision Woodland Hills, mixing Sony VENICE 1 and VENICE 2 bodies, especially useful for their Rialto mode, which allowed Cesar, myself, and the operators to move creatively in handheld shots with the smaller sensor block. Equally, that mode helped us place the camera into tight spaces, including Sugar's classic Corvette. Lenses were the PanaSpeeds alongside PV Lightweight Zooms.

Cesar introduced using iPhones with lens adapters as a standard capture option, hiding into the set or filming close and handheld. We even dropped them in and out of his pool, rigging them to C-stand arms. It was the acceptance—really encouragement—of this mix of capture that helped shape Sugar's unique POV and edit style.

Episode four, in particular, allowed information created for social media to integrate meaningfully into our storytelling—a very contemporary twist on the mysteries of identity and intent that fill the Noir canon. In a very "meta" moment of the story arc, we even captured images on old school anamorphic film to fill the screen at a cinema retrospective where almost every one of our characters arrives to celebrate the career of Sugar's client Jonathan and his late wife Lorraine Everly, the actress seen onscreen.

Sugar — Official Trailer | Apple TV+www.youtube.com

How that image was achieved is one of my favorite stories from this show. Instead of allowing a blank screen to be filled by VFX, we actually shot and printed a scene on 35mm. After scouting the location for this sequence, a restored Warner Movie Palace in Long Beach complete with working film projectors and the adapters for anamorphic prints, I advocated for avoiding VFX and instead creating our own 'vintage Noir film' to be edited and printed in repeating segments onto a reel projected live for the actors all to see.

Foto-Kem was the lab and also cut the A-roll negative, arriving at a timed answer print within a couple of days. Just three nights before, we had made our "film within a film" on the Paramount backlot. This highly stylized nod to the films of Douglas Sirk had many elements of classic Hollywood melodrama: a boldly saturated night alleyway lit by neon outside a nightclub, vintage 40s cars lurking in the shadows or cast headlamps onto wet pavement, the femme fatale in her soon-to-be-revealed clue of a shiny gold dress, her handsome bodyguard in his tuxedo being drawn into a passionate kiss, all in backlit rain no less.

Our director, Adam, was excited about this process, and our crew was equally psyched to see film magazines going onto the Panaflex Platinum and have old-school working methods return to our set. In the theater, we had the ability to move our digital cameras around to capture details of the projector beam, reflect off the actual screen softly illuminating the faces of our actors, and frame compositions that combined the onscreen image with our audience.

Such a godsend, both aesthetically and for efficiency during very full shooting days. It brilliantly fits the show's overarching stylistic heartbeat, with Colin's newly imagined contemporary Noir hero, the suited PI who himself holds tremendous secrets, engaging the playful self-awareness of this legacy Sugar joins.