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Emmys FYC: Lenser James Hawkinson Breaks Down ‘The Man In The High Castle’

Emmy®-winning director of photography James Hawkinson communicates compelling images for stories and themes via a range of mediums from television to features to music videos.

James Hawkinson shot Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle for which he received the 2016 Creative Arts Emmy award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series. He also received an American Society of Cinematographers Award nomination for High Castle’s pilot in the Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Television Movie/Mini-Series/Pilot category. He is currently lensing the third season of the series.

Below, Hawkinson breaks down two moments from the “Fallout” episode in the Berlin Nazi War Room.

In the first scene, the Nazis plan an attack on the Japanese empire as a general explains the multi-layered attack plan aided by projected animated graphics over maps. In the second scene, their war efforts are halted by a mysterious film which shows test atom bombs being detonated in Japanese territory.

Drew Boughton, our production designer, was interested in building a circular conference table with a circular light above where all the high ranking Nazi officers would be seated. I recalled seeing location photos of a discontinued power plant control room which had led lights in a grid on black walls. This large room was oval shaped and I found the idea of putting a circle within an oval greatly appealing as it would produce many opportunities for visual graphic tension.

The challenges were enormous. Beyond the design of the projected images, there was also the design of the custom-built overhead light which would be our key light source as well as the position and strength of the projector, the second key light source. Luckily, Drew and I have excellent communication and a befitting design was agreed upon. My team then had to wire the set as well as re-wire the entire room so the leds would not flicker when filmed.

In the end, it all paid off! I have never seen more excitement from an entire crew the moment I walked onto that set! People were awestruck! I felt like a kid in a candy store as I framed up so many beautiful shots, there was not one bad angle! I found this experience truly vindicating for all our hard work.