Craig Wrobleski, lenser for two acclaimed FX / Noah Hawley projects, talks to Awards Daily TV about filming Legion‘s astral plane and Fargo‘s snowy plains.
Craig Wrobleski is a very tired man.
When we spoke, he recently wrapped filming on Noah Hawley’s Fargo Season 3. The critically acclaimed season delivered an intense shoot, one that still filmed while its first episode aired. The pressure was on to deliver the series in time while maintaining a consistent visual aesthetic. Live critical and public reaction to the series, while still positive, did not influence the crew midstream.
“For myself, we’re so committed to the aesthetic of the show. We can’t really modify much based on that,” Wrobleski said. “Obviously, if you read a review, it has a subconscious effect on you. You might make tiny little adjustments that are almost imperceptible. The aesthetic and the style of the show are so strong that, as a cinematographer, we have to stay the course.”
And, when finished, catch up on some much-deserved sleep.
A Deep Partnership with Noah Hawley
Noah Hawley’s successful run on FX Networks spans three seasons of Fargo, the limited series take on the Coen Brothers film, and Legion, a Marvel Comics adaptation. Each series stands on its own and offers a completely unique visual palate.
Yet, all experiences tie together thanks to Noah Hawley’s pattern of consistently using the same talent. Craig Wrobleski contributed his lensing prowess to all of Hawley’s FX properties.
“Noah has a very specific vision for his projects. He’s an amazing writer and an incredible visualist. His encyclopedic of film is unparalleled,” Wrobleski shares. “He looks for people that ‘get it.’ He has such a specific vision and such a clear understanding of what he wants that, when he finds people that understand that vision and can help make it real, he sticks with them.”
Spanning Multiple Eras Across Fargo Seasons
Each season of Noah Hawley’s Fargo offers a different era. Season 1 takes place in the mid-2000’s, Season 2 in 1979, and Season 3 in 2010. Each era obviously requires different approaches through set design, costuming, and naturally, cinematography. With Roger Deakins’ original Fargo cinematography as the launch point, Wrobleski and series cinematography partner Dana Gonzales set the visual tone for the series to match the appropriate period.
“When Dana Gonzales set up Season 2, he chose vintage lenses and certain filter combinations. We did a lot of testing, and found the combinations that worked. In terms of the camera style, we don’t generally change a lot. For Season 3, we used very crisp modern lenses.”
For Season 3, Wrobleski primarily used a 29mm lens. That lens tends to put the audience directly into a scene with the characters, enabling viewers to maintain a point of view within the scene. Longer lenses allows a certain loss of intimacy, and point of view becomes more vague.
Plus, the 29mm lens allows incorporation of the surroundings and environment as characters. That’s critical to the aesthetic of Fargo.
“Where these people live is as much a character as who they are,” Wrobleski explained.
Capturing Legion While Using Practical Effects Where Possible
In a polar opposite world, Craig Wrobleski joined Noah Hawley’s journey into the mind of Legion. Dan Stevens plays the title character based on Marvel Comics lore. Here, much of the action takes place in the cerebral world of the astral plane, something Wrobleski, Hawley, and team visualized together.
Yet, not everything you see on-screen is an obvious green screen. The team employed practical effects wherever possible.
“It was one of the challenges Noah put out for us when we started the show. We tried in every possible instance to retain the sense of doing [the action] in camera with minimal visual effects as a compliment to what we were doing,” Wrobleski said.
But the astral plane remained the strongest challenge. Wrobleski recalls early meetings where the creative team quizzed each other on the visual design of an astral plane. Literally no one knew what it looked like. Added to that, the astral plane evolves through the series and becomes different things for different people.
Still, the challenge resulted in eye-popping visuals not easily forgotten.
“In Episode 6, Cary [Bill Irwin] lays in bed and the ice cube appears above him, and he reaches out to it. When he reaches out to it, the bed falls away, and he spins around and is then in the astral plane with the diver,” Wrobleski recalled. “[Director] Hiro Murai wanted to get him off that bed practically. So, we shot him in his bed in the set, and then we had the bed rebuilt on a vertical platform on wheels and Cary was on a separate platform on wheels. We did a separation in camera, and then revealed via green screen that he was in the astral plane.”
I’ll pause while you go back and re-watch that scene for effect.
That scene along with a 3-episode bullet sequence shared among the series’ cinematographers highlights Legion‘s incredible visual style. And its award-worthiness.
Following Legion‘s Kubrickian Influences
Many viewers completely miss Noah Hawley and Craig Wrobleski’s frequent references to the great Stanley Kubrick on first viewing. Episode 6, in particular, heavily references The Shining. Wrobleski describes a scene in which Kerry [Amber Midthunder] searches a hallway for Cary.
“[Kerry] goes running down the hall, and she’s screaming for Cary. It’s straight out of The Shining. We’re tracking back with her, and she’s screaming. She looks just like Shelley Duvall. I remember Googling afterwards and watching the image of Shelley Duvall and thinking, ‘That’s it!’ It was this incredible coming together of all these elements to create this homage. It was really quite magical.”
Given his enviable output this Emmy® season, it’s no wonder Craig Wrobleski needs sleep in the worst way. Still, being full-on for so many months has its tremendous benefits.
“My mantra has always been I want to do good work with good people. Fargo and Legion are certainly the embodiment of that. Noah and his team are just an amazing group of individuals both personally and creatively. They’re incredibly talented, but they’re also incredibly generous human beings. It’s a fantastic family to work with.”