Amazon’s critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated dystopian series The Man in the High Castle returned for a second streaming season this month. In some eyes, the current political climate eerily mirrors the series design, which perfectly captures the spirit of Phillip K. Dick’s original source novel. Sure, America and the Allied powers still won World War II (the series imagines an alternate universe where they did not), but themes of oppression and fascism loom large in current headlines. This connection hit home with the creative team, including cinematographer Gonzalo Amat.
“I think it’s amazing because it’s a subject that we’ve been touching for the last few years – for the last couple of seasons,” Amat said. “When this election cycle started to get closer, we all felt it. We all felt a responsibility to tell this story of oppression and how people act under oppression. With the next season, it’s going to be even more relevant.”
Politics aside, The Man in the High Castle weaves an intriguing mixture of a retro-futuristic America. The Nazi and Japanese imagery that splits this fictional vision of America burns into your brain. Amat and fellow cinematographer James Hawkinson (Emmy winner for Season 1’s “The New World” pilot episode) needed to create new and frightening imagery that still has an air of familiarity around it. Their vision of America vaguely resembles reality, but it’s horribly twisted to fit the script’s needs.
“I have a background in photography, so I will always be very visual. All the passion to tell the story visually comes from the story itself,” Amat said. “I’m very passionate about trying to convey the stuff that’s on the page on a visual level. I like to help tell a story on a different level. To try and elevate the story to a different level that connects more with people.”
The results proved staggeringly successful. Audiences feel at once at home in the 60’s era setting. At the same time, the visuals push forward a sense of unease and disquiet when Nazi imagery dots the traditionally American skyline.
This connection and drive to tell visual stories first attracted the production team to Gonzalo Amat’s skills as a cinematographer. After cementing his reputation in Mexican television and film, Amat became a top-ranked candidate to partner with Hawkinson on the series. The studio wanted to accentuate Hawkinson’s Emmy-winning work on the series pilot with Amat’s ability to focus on character likeability. The two worked closely to adapt the pilot’s visuals and generate a new vision to carry forward.
“It’s a close collaboration. [James and I] talk a lot about logistics, the people we want to hire, locations, and sets,” Amat said. “We don’t really talk too much about how to approach individual scenes. We do our own thing, but it ends up being a very solid and cohesive unit because we both have a very strong concept of what we want.”
Amat and Hawkinson constantly push themselves to work outside of their cinematic comfort zones. They both try new bold new camera techniques and equipment to constantly seek unique ways to tell their story. Season 2 brings an Alexa camera which allows greater reliance on natural, available lighting. All the while, they ensure High Castle still maintains a consistent look and feel. Their lensing challenges the medium, but it still feels like the same show episode to episode.
Gonzalo Amat became intrigued with the material thanks to its eerily realistic alternate history. He relished the opportunity to tell a story set in a world that came frighteningly close to reality. The inherent challenge in filming the series, again, evolves from the need to film this alternate reality in a relatable world.
“It felt so relevant from just a social point of view about oppression and terrorism,” Amat said. “It’s a story that had to be told. I look to tell a story that is relevant to society. When my son grows up, is this story going to make him think? That’s one of the things that was most appealing to me.”
Moreso now than even before, audiences need to pay attention to history and its potential implication on current and future events. Amat’s brilliant work on The Man in the High Castle visualizes a compelling case of a world gone wrong. Ultimately, his work on this show contributes to our own future narrative as an American people.
Here’s hoping his future projects and potential directing opportunities provide Gonzalo Amat the same personal resonance.
The Man in the High Castle Season 2 is now streaming on Amazon Prime.