David Makes Man is the first TV series written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who won an Academy Award for co-writing the 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight based on his play, ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’. McCraney, serving as the series executive producer along with Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and Oprah Winfrey, tells a semi-autobiographical story of his own life, as did Moonlight, delving into childhood trauma and using the power of imagination to survive.
To shoot this story of a 14-year old prodigy looking for a way out of his poor neighbourhood in Miami, Florida, Dos Reis relied heavily on a set of refurbished Cooke Speed Panchro prime lenses and Cooke Anamorphic/i primes.
“We didn’t shoot a typical pilot and wait for the series to be picked up, but shot ten episodes back-to back,” said Dos Reis. “I was able to get almost a complete set of refurbished original Speed Panchros from Otto Nemenz – 18mm-100mm, except for the 65mm – and because of late changes in production, I never got a chance to test them. I knew from my experience with the Cooke S4 lenses that I would get what I wanted. I started shooting with the Speed Panchros on day one – almost always starting a scene with the 32mm and with the 40mm being my favourite – and I got exactly what I expected.”
However, during the prep for the pilot, director Michael Francis Williams decided he wanted to shoot anamorphically for the Ville housing project scenes, while using the Speed Panchro sphericals for scenes set outside the Ville. (This lens choice would be reversed for episodes six to ten to show a drastic change in the main character’s life.) But this late change to anamorphic meant that Dos Reis had to get a set of anamorphic lenses from another manufacturer.
“Those anamorphic lenses we used on the pilot… they just weren’t right,” explained Dos Reis. “They had quick falloff but it was the softness that I wasn’t happy with. I’m very familiar with Cooke’s spherical lenses from working with S4 primes on HBO’s Entourage, so I reached out to Dana Gonzales, ASC, as I knew he shot with the Cooke Anamorphic/i primes for Amazon Prime’s Legion. He said, ‘Get them, they’re great, they’ll give you exactly what you want,’ and that’s what made me switch to the Cookes, with a set of 25mm-180mm Anamorphic/i primes.”
As well as switching between spherical and anamorphic lenses, Dos Reis used different colour temperatures, styles of camera work and styles of lighting to further highlight the separation between the Ville housing project and everything outside of that.
“While most folks think of Miami as being lush, the Ville is a housing project,” he said. “Our colours are desaturated, with a coolness in the shadows and skin tones with the interior lit for daylight with ARRI LED SkyPanels and the night exterior lit with tungsten, HMI Fresnels, sodium vapour and mercury vapour for soft moonlight – like the Ville was alive, a place where you have to have your head on a swivel to be aware of all your surroundings. That meant a handheld look.”
Dos Reis used three Alexa Minis for all ten episodes, with two being handheld and one on a crane, dolly or Steadicam rig. In addition, he had a Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera to use as a bodycam or on a swinging door.
Like most cinematographers using the Speed Panchros, Dos Reis likes what many find odd to describe. “I really like those lenses mainly for their imperfections. We couldn’t quite focus in parts of the frame, so we knew exactly how to frame each shot. That’s what I loved. It gave the image the similar quality of the Lensbaby-type lenses that I love. And the Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses… just like Dana said, I got exactly what I wanted.”