Bloodline, Outsiders and Shooter
Cinematographer Jaime Reynoso has been at the forefront of the recent trend toward innovative television produced by nontraditional companies like Netflix and Amazon. Reynoso is responsible for the distinctive imagery in Bloodline, the noirish family drama set in the Florida Keys, which was hailed by Forbes as the best Netflix original to date. Between seasons one and two of Bloodline, Reynoso shot Outsiders for WGN America, the network’s third original series. Outsiders is shot in Pennsylvania and depicts a cold-blooded and paranoid clan of isolated Appalachians.
While different in many ways, both series follow unsavory family machinations in distinctive settings, and in both cases, Reynoso avoids traditional coverage as a key aspect of his approach.
“Our writer-producers on Bloodline wanted to do a show that wasn’t all coverage,” he says. “So many shows look like they are made in a factory. They look the same. Another close-up. Another single. We look for shots that serve the scene and characters, and photograph the space nicely, without being full frame mid-shot. I try to approach every show as if it were unique and special. I try to add an element of freshness and newness.”
One other related similarity: for Outsiders and for season two of Bloodline, Reynoso shot with Vantage One T1 lenses. These unique lenses deliver a distinctive visual fingerprint affected by uncorrected spherical aberrations, the kind of personality cinematographers desire given today’s nearly flawless digital imagery.
“I heard about Vantage One lenses on a commercial, but Outsiders was the first project where I was able to use them,” says Reynoso.
I heard someone say, ‘With these lenses, it’s no longer ‘which eye do you want in focus?’ It’s now ‘which eyelash?’ And I was intrigued. I went to Keslow Camera, and I put up two lenses. I fell in love with them right off the bat.
“I had been looking for a lens that was imperfect, with optical artifacts, but also sharp,” he says. “I had been using older lenses, but then you lose on the sharpness. The Vantage Ones are the best of both worlds. They’re sharp when you need them to be, and you can soften them up when you open the iris. If you’re at a 1.4, they’re less soft, and the edges fall off really interestingly. When things go out of focus, they blend very nicely. If you need something more crisp, you can close to a 2.8, and they gain sharpness. Sometimes I’ll play with the irises, even in the same shot, to modulate the flavor of the Vantage Ones.”
Reynoso prefers Sony F-55 cameras because of its higher nominal sensitivity and 4K capability. He carries diffusion, but almost never uses it. “When we photograph women, we just go wide open, and there’s a soft veil over the whole image that I really like,” he says.
The Vantage One glass offers excellent close-focus capability, which comes in handy, according to Reynoso. The depth of field characteristics fit with his fresh approach to coverage and focal length. “What it does is give you a long lens feel on a wide lens,” he says. “By being wide open on the iris, you can isolate the characters from the background, even at a 17.5. And the way that everything falls out of focus so quickly allows you to use wider lenses. It seems to add some mystery and dreaminess to the image.”
Reynoso has gone on to another series titled Shooter. The show stars Ryan Phillippe as a military marksman and was picked up by USA Network. Reynoso is shooting sunny California for overcast Seattle, and the softer contrast of the Vantage Ones helps sell the illusion. “My favorite may be the 25 mm,” he says. “It reveals itself more quickly. The falloff, and the relationship between the bokeh and what’s in focus, and how the out-of-focus highlights take on weird shapes – contemporary lenses just don’t have that.
“As filmmakers, we must think of ourselves as artisans, and the more we try to be handmade about what we do, the more each picture will be something special, as opposed to another production on the assembly line,” Reynoso says. “I think filmmakers sometimes tend to think, ‘OK, we’ll do this shot in the way that these shots are done,’ instead of approaching it as if it were the first time, and building it from scratch. I think that attitude is part of the reason the Vantage Ones work for us. The Vantage Ones each have almost a color and taste to them, a handmade quality, and I like choosing the lens not only because of the field of view, but for what it delivers emotionally. They’re solid and predictable, and yet there’s a quirkiness I love.”