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Friday, August 14, 2009

Behind the Scenes with Mad Men


I watch very little TV, but am a huge fan of Mad Men. For those of you from places where it does not yet air, it's a layered and sophisticated drama series about the advertising business, c.1962 in New York City. It's the best thing on TV since The Wire, (RIP) which has pretty much spoiled me for most everything else.

The new season of Mad Men starts this Sunday night, and rest assured that I will be camped on the couch with an appropriate beverage at 10:00. But in my fanboy impatience for season three, I came across a pretty cool 'making of' video for this year's promotional poster.
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The concept is brilliant. Don Draper, the duplicitous creative director for Sterling Cooper and the lead in the show, is always juggling several dark secrets in the air at any one time. The idea to show him sitting amidst rising water his own office (without losing his perfect veneer of control) was spot on.

I am a fan of the show's lighting just as much as of the show in general. It is sculpted -- very 1960s -- but with a modern twist. And the movie poster is no exception.

Photographer Frank Ockenfels lit most of the frame from the back/right and top, with the back/right light motivated by the lamp visible in the frame. The frontal fill (if it is there at all) is several stops down, keeping things dark and moody. And they finish it off with a super-tight grid, almost on-axis (just above the camera) right on actor Jon Hamm's face.

In essence, he is lit completely differently than is the rest of the frame. It's almost film noir everywhere but on his face, which gets the full glamor treatment. Which, of course, draws you right into his face while maintaining the mood in the rest of the photo.

If any of you LA types has an in with the Mad Men folks and can get us an interview with whoever is designing the light (would that be cinematographer Phil Abraham?) hit me with some contact info in a 'do not publish' comment.

If you are not in the US, you can see a list of international networks which air the show here. And click on the pic up top for a bigger, full version in another window.


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37 Comments:

Anonymous charfles said...

They recently had a casting call where people would send in photos in a "Mad Men" style (male and female). There was alot of well lit, stylish photos (and even more poor photos).

Unfortunately it just ended the other night. It was here: http://madmencastingcall.amctv.com/ but there doesn't seem to be an archive of the photos although the semifinalists will be posted on the 21st.

August 14, 2009 12:23 AM  
Anonymous Nabityphotos said...

Hey David,

I'm also a big fan of the show so I'll be enjoying this Sunday's opener, too. (Albiet three hours later than you...) I especially like the "look" of the show as well as the great characters.

Thanks for sharing the video link, I can't wait to try out a water tank shot....:-)
- Ron

August 14, 2009 12:38 AM  
Blogger CC said...

Good call Dave. I've been a fan of Mad Men's visual style (and everything else) since it started. Of course that could just be me rationalising my nostalgia for sharp-dressed, smoking, drink-driving grown-ups.

August 14, 2009 1:30 AM  
Blogger Steve Perks said...

Damn you Mr Hobby...
I can't even watch a movie or TV show without admiring/analysing the light.

I'm on a slippery slope...

August 14, 2009 2:55 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I have been watching Mad Men since the beginning. It is a well written and compelling show. It is nice to see a shoot that has not used photoshop as a way to create the image. That is a great video.

August 14, 2009 2:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DIRECT LINK: http://www.amctv.com/videos/mad-men/?bcpid=8803972001&bclid=29713005001&bctid=28953593001

August 14, 2009 3:04 AM  
Blogger Vlad said...

The March 2008 " American Cinematographer " with Don Draper on the cover reveals all. Also check out September 2009 Vanity fair for an Annie L shoot of the cast in Nassau

August 14, 2009 4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The photographer of the shoot, Frank Ockenfels, is such an incredible photographer and I encourage everybody to check out his work. I love the strobist site because, although the production of this piece was huge, the lighting principles are not out of reach. The key light on his face: a gridded strobe; along with carefully chosen fill. Strobist has taught us several times over this technique. This is so inspiring. This just goes to show that with the knowledge we get from your site is truly for everyone. Thanks Strobist!

August 14, 2009 6:42 AM  
Blogger Thomas D. said...

Very cool. Although the focus draw to his face is so strong, I didn't really see the water at all, before I read about it (but maybe that just adds another layer to the metaphor)...

I must say Mad Men is the most stylish show I've ever seen. It gives me the same kind of fascination I got from the very different, but equally stylish, Sin City. A cool thing to bring up on the Strobist site.

And I was pleased to find out I was able to access and watch everything on the AMCTV site, including the full episodes, even though I'm in Europe.

August 14, 2009 7:01 AM  
Blogger Max said...

How about Eastbound and Down?

August 14, 2009 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smart and tight. Hope they used warm water...

August 14, 2009 8:49 AM  
Blogger Matthew Walton said...

If you have an affinity for lighting at all, you can't help but love this series. I've made sure to buy the DVD sets so I can comb over my favorite scenes, plus the commentaries are worth the DVD purchase alone.

One of these days I'm going to set up my own Mad Men set and get some rockin' pictures.

Glad to know you're a Mad Men fanatic too!

August 14, 2009 9:07 AM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks for the direct link (added.) Also added a link to FWO3, of whom I have long been a fan. I missed the credit blurb in the video, and did not know it was him. Linked to his site, too. Great stuff.

August 14, 2009 9:29 AM  
Blogger David said...

Even better: The direct link has an embed tag for the video -- Sweet!

Added that, too.

THanks!

August 14, 2009 9:43 AM  
Blogger Bryan said...

I think I smell the next bootcamp assignment!

:)

August 14, 2009 9:57 AM  
Anonymous ALove said...

I would like to see some well-lit, 'artistic' photos of Christina Hendricks...just for research.

August 14, 2009 10:48 AM  
Blogger David said...

LOL (+1 to the above.)

http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen/cast/jholloway

August 14, 2009 12:25 PM  
OpenID jerseystylephotography said...

Awesome! Love the show and JUST saw the poster. As I stood there, I was deconstructing it in my head. Love that you found and posted this video.

Looks like Sunday night is now Iron Chef followed by Mad Men for me.

August 14, 2009 1:32 PM  
Anonymous magjay said...

I think there is some great acting going on here...

August 14, 2009 1:53 PM  
Anonymous magjay said...

...I know, I missed the water as well..

August 14, 2009 1:55 PM  
Blogger jamesd3rd said...

Numerous high 5s on your endorsement of The Wire. I thought is was the best Police Drama ever created. The story telling, using the depressed area of Baltimore as a backdrop, the complex characters and how all that was woven to produce without a doubt one of the best shows ever was outstanding. I was sorry to see it go. It had some very loyal fans. Ed Burns and David Simon knew it could only work in B'more and showing a side of this country that most people turn a blind eye to maybe caused some people to wake up. It really revealed an ugly side to how things work in our major cities as it pertains to politics, education, news and law enforcement.

I haven't seen MadMen but I have seen billboards off the freeway. I'll have to check it out if it's as gritty as The Wire.

August 14, 2009 3:19 PM  
Blogger =rick said...

Just today, I heard a story on NPR about the set decorator for "Mad Men". See: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111894220

August 14, 2009 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Raimond said...

Ladies and Gents:
Here's the reason why movies cost hundreds of millions to make...
A crew of 50 for a photo shoot?
OK, I know this is not your typical shoot with the set being under water, but 50?

August 17, 2009 10:55 AM  
Blogger QuintusPhoto.com said...

My sister is directing an episode on Mad Men this week, and she directed one last year: I will ask her if she knows how to get in touch with whoever did the lighting for this shoot. I don't see how to post with comment without Publishing it? Otherwise I would include my contact details...

August 18, 2009 4:49 PM  
Blogger David said...

Quintus-

Just precede the comment with "Do not publish".

Many thanks,
DH

August 20, 2009 1:35 PM  
Blogger David Alejandro said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 22, 2009 8:29 PM  
Blogger Elf said...

Sweet lightning indeed, however, as TV cinematographers go....True Blood has the upper hand ; )

August 24, 2009 10:56 AM  
Blogger arvinsign said...

im a fan too...........

August 25, 2009 1:37 AM  
Blogger John said...

for the enthusiasts...

http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen/madmenyourself/

August 25, 2009 7:25 PM  
Blogger Iden Pierce Ford said...

Mad Men is the best thing to happen on television since the Sopranos. But it is way more subtle and having grown up in an advertising family back in the late 50's and early 60's, they have nailed it.

August 27, 2009 8:14 PM  
Blogger novin said...

hi david,

can't watch the video here from india, no proxies working either, any chance the video is posted someplace else?

February 21, 2011 11:27 PM  
Blogger elrobbo said...

What tossers have suddenly decided that certain countries cannot view web-based videos? When greeted with the message, "THE VIDEO YOU ARE TRYING TO WATCH CANNOT BE VIEWED FROM YOUR CURRENT COUNTRY OR LOCATION," you cannot help but get the feeling that we are, indeed, entering a saddened world of bean pushers and greed-mongering xenophobes! Living in a so-called 'closely allied country' of the U.S. it might seem that we're too nieve to be able to handle the content of certain viewing content. Perhaps it's time to consider using more liberal means to distribute globally viewable content?

Sorry for the rant, but I've encountered this message several times today when trying to view content from a number of RSS feeds that I subscribe to.

February 22, 2011 4:59 AM  
Blogger Hannah said...

Hi, is this video anywhere else as I can't see it here in the UK nor can my colleague in Japan. I'm really keen to watch it. Does anyone know why on earth we aren't allowed to see it? Thanks! H

February 23, 2011 1:56 AM  
Blogger bycostello said...

:( we like mad men in the UK too... can't see video..

February 23, 2011 1:12 PM  
Blogger habitué said...

THE VIDEO YOU ARE TRYING TO WATCH CANNOT BE VIEWED FROM YOUR CURRENT COUNTRY OR LOCATION.

February 25, 2011 11:13 AM  
Blogger azzret said...

If you can't see the video try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV8rdpF1qZs

February 26, 2011 1:58 AM  
Blogger dhanakane said...

I have been looking through the Mad Men photo gallery and on a couple of images (Roger with his wife in the background) I see a large amount of black space. Can anyone explain to me what the purpose of this is ? Is it to imply some sort of void or is it just cropping to maintain the composition of the image?

February 27, 2011 7:12 AM  

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