American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 94

Filmmakers' Forum

I

Shooting a Procedural Western in Winnipeg
By Thom Best, CSC

Through the changing seasons of the prairie countryside, my
daily commute to set has provided a lot of time for me to reflect on
my latest shooting experience. I grew up here in Manitoba; this was
where, in my father's photo studio, my dreams of working in film and
television were born. I left almost 30 years ago in order to pursue a
career behind the camera - a career I discovered existed through
reading American Cinematographer when I was a kid. I consider it
serendipitous to be back here, shooting a dramatic series, and writing about it in these pages.
The Pinkertons is a 22-episode, first-run syndicated TV show,
a "procedural Western" if you will, set in 1865 Kansas City, Mo. It
follows the exploits of the fabled Pinkerton National Detective
Agency, and specifically its founder, Allan Pinkerton (Angus
Macfadyen); his son William (Jacob Blair); and Kate Warne (Martha
MacIsaac), America's first female detective.
The real-life agency became legendary for utilizing then-revolutionary methods in its investigations, including the use of mug
shots, police lineups, the first "database" of archived newspaper clippings of criminal activity, and new technologies such as the optically
improved microscope (thanks to Carl Zeiss) and the electric telegraph. Just as the agency employed the latest technologies in its
work, we are utilizing new technologies to bring these stories to life
while maintaining the style of a classic Hollywood Western.
I was excited by the prospect of shooting a Western, and the
bar was set high when executives likened the series to premium
94

April 2015

cable shows such as The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire. But
I had to wonder: Why shoot in Winnipeg? Not exactly the first place
that comes to mind for this genre. Well, beyond the obvious answer
(the province offers an aggressive tax credit), Missouri and Manitoba
do share a similar topography. Additionally, Winnipeg was called
"Little Chicago" in the early 1900s, and Chicago was where the
actual Agency offices were located (although this isn't the focus of
the first season).
Together with pilot director Paul Fox (a true Western
aficionado), production designer Réjean Labrie (who routinely pulls
rabbits out of his arse) and the wonderful costume designer Heather
Neale, we established a look inspired by the modern-day Westerns
Ride With the Devil (shot by Fred Elmes, ASC) and The Assassination
of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Roger Deakins, ASC,
BSC). We very quickly agreed on a color palette of muted earth
tones that respects the period, and we chose to embrace a classic
cinematic style where camera movement would be motivated and
shots would have scope with actors placed within wider frames -
we really wanted to stretch our 16:9 frame. Handheld would be
used sparingly and only with intent. And we would always look for
interesting and unusual angles to support the drama. We knew
going in that with the amount of work to do each day, standard
coverage of master, mediums, overs and close-ups would not be
possible for every scene. Something would have to give. It was an
approach perhaps more suited to a feature, but we've stuck with it
as much as possible even as the show, now in series mode, has
evolved.
Our sets are primarily located in the town of Grosse Isle, just

American Cinematographer

All images courtesy of the filmmakers.

In 1865 Kansas
City, Allan
Pinkerton
(Angus
Macfadyen,
right), his son
William (Jacob
Blair, left) and
Kate Warne
(Martha
MacIsaac,
middle) run the
Pinkerton
National
Detective
Agency in the
syndicated
television show
The Pinkertons.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - April 2015

Contents
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Intro
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 1
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 2
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Contents
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 4
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American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I1
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I2
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I3
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American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I5
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American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Cover3
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