Shooting 'The Killing'

Cinematographer Peter Wunstorf 

<reposted from the Edmonton Journal> 

EDMONTON — There's a scene in the pilot of cult television drama The Killing where a Seattle homicide detective, jogging in the park, finds a body washed ashore.

As the detective approaches, the greying mass, covering in seaweed, lies in the foreground, just obscured from view.

Then the man behind the camera, Edmonton cinematographer Peter Wunstorf, does something funny.

He defies the prevailing logic of shock-per-second crime dramas like CSI and turns the viewer away from the grisly discovery to instead focus on the detective's face. There's

an unsettling look in her watery eyes as she approaches, somewhere between curiosity and fear. Viewers are left, for a moment at least, to imagine what unspeakable horror

she's come upon instead of outright confronting it.

Then she pulls the weeds off and it's a dead seal.

Thus begins a new crime series that is as much about what you don't see as what you do. Billed by Vanity Fair as the best show on television, The Killing is the first ongoing

television series shot by Wunstorf, a veteran director of photography.

Between work on films like Brokeback Mountain and Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance, Wunstorf has done nearly a dozen television pilots, most of them darker, character-driven

dramas like Dark Angel and Chris Carter's Millennium. But when these pilots were picked up, Wunstorf moved on, content to define the look of the show and leave others to

emulate it.

The Killing is the first series he has signed on to shoot beyond the pilot. He shot the entire first season, which is currently airing on AMC (8 p.m. MT Sundays).

"I said I would never do a series," Wunstorf admits. But The Killing isn't your average series. It's more like a long film.

The narrative, stretching over the entire season, focuses on the day-by-day investigation into the murder of a 17-year-old girl and the effect the crime has on her family and


Wunstorf's camerawork, full of intimate close-ups and delicate pans, defines the show's look — all shadows and gloom.

The cinematographer collaborates with each episode's director to best capture the emotion or tone of a scene based on the script.

"My job is to interpret the director's vision and I do that with shot choice, lens choice, choice of lighting," Wunstorf says.

"There's not one right way. There are a thousand different ways you could do it. The challenge is finding the way to do it that best supports the feeling and mood that you're

trying to convey."

Mostly scenes in The Killing are either suspenseful or devastatingly sad. Just the pilot's script brought Wunstorf to tears the first time he read it.

Wunstorf got his start in television news before making the jump to film and television. And though he spends a lot of time out of province, following film industry work to

places like Vancouver, Edmonton remains home. "I've always paid taxes here," he jokes.

The Killing, though set in Seattle, is largely shot in Vancouver in an old peanut factory converted into a sound stage.

The creators wanted the show to have a "sad elegance," a concept Wunstorf was mindful of when shooting everything from painful conversations between grief-stricken

parents to the fingerprinting of a corpse.

"We're trying to take mundane things and make them beautiful. A lot of it comes from the gut. It comes from who I am and how I choose to express myself. And sometimes it

comes from a happy accident."

One such happy accident happened during a particularly ominous reveal toward the end of the pilot. It just happened to drizzle, making a depressing scene that much heavier.

And when the opening scene with the seal was supposed to take place at dawn but scheduling forced the crew to shoot it at dusk, the sun came out from under a fog at the

moment they needed it, creating the perfect illusion of a sunrise.

"Sometimes we go in with a plan. Sometimes that plan gets thrown away," Wunstorf says. "It's those things that happen on set, that you're either forced into or you discover

there in the moment, that make a scene great."

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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Peter Wunstorf ASC - Shoots with James Bond

In the late 80's I was asked to work as one of the 2nd assistants on a very large budget French commercial for Peugeot. At the time Renault and Peugeot were competing with these James Bond style spots.The location was Spray Lakes in the Canadian Rockies.

Mission completed, a Red Peugeot is parachuting from the sky. A jet fighter appears, destroys the chute and the car drops.

The driver sporting a tuxedo, now speeds along a frozen lake when out of the sky comes a Black Hercules. The plane chases, swoops over him and proceeds to drop bombs. The driver dodges them, proceeds down a narrow road and slides into the parking lot of the Banff Springs Hotel. Inside one of grand rooms awaits a beautiful model, champagne in hand. "You made me wait"Driver "I know, the roads were icy".

I arrived on the second day of filming and had not yet seen the Hercules in action.

The plane is coming, queue the car. I slate and pull out my still camera. A red dot is approaching but where is the plane? I naturally look up. The red dot gets bigger and I see a much larger black dot right behind it! Can they really fly that low?

The GTI 205 screams by camera left as the Herc shoots over the cameras. Everyone has hit the deck. The sound crew were on a single section of scaffolding. They jumped and decided the sound would be fine at ground level.

Day 2.I have been upgraded!I am to turn on the camera attached to the back loading door which will get a POV of the bombs being released and get some hand held footage in the cockpit.

In the hanger I wait for the flight crew. They arrive in what appears to be slow motion and I know immediately who the pilot is. He looks sharper than Tom Cruise and flew in the Vietnam war.

We depart Calgary International and the mood is very light. It feels like eternity until we drop below the mountain peaks. The pilot calls for focus and we do our first pass. I am bent forward on the back bench and as we turn around all I see through the front windows is gray rock.Strange feeling no being able to see the sky coupled with the fact that I can't bend back. This must be what they call G Force.

In the rear.The door is about to open.

I turn on the Arri III, the door lowers but most of the bombs are stuck. I think about Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. They are not too happy on the ground.

Back in the cockpit.I try to get the hand held POVs but the force is too strong. This hasn't been well thought out.

I am not looking forward to going back to set.

Day 3.Back on the ground. Everything is fine. My body has recovered. There are people ice fishing, cars racing and the big black plane. It's a beautiful day.

The car has a camera attached to the front for its encounter with a snow plow on the narrow road. The Director insists on driving and says he wont hit the plow. We managed to save the film in the mag.

Projected dailies. They look stunning except for my hand held footage.Why did I roll that much?

In the end it was a great experience. The spot won a silver prize at Cannes and can be seen on the net.

Fly safe,

Peter Wunstorf, ASC

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Peter Wunstorf ASC - Cinematography 101

Check out a video with Peter with Todd Babiak @babiak shows us how to take out the trash!


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Gotta Minute Film Festival 2014 Award Winners Available Online

Gotta Minute Film Festival 2014 Award Winners Available Online

About Gotta Minute Film Festival

That's all it takes to watch a One Minute Silent Short film from the week-long GOTTA MINUTE program of Shorts running every 10 minutes on PATTISON Onestop platform screens throughout Edmonton Transit's LRT system – Public Art on Public Transit in Public Space. PATTISON Onestop and the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta (FAVA) are delighted to bring this new festival of outstanding Media Art to the Edmonton Public and to viewers far and wide. The program will include dramatic, documentary, animated and experimental Short films by seasoned and emerging filmmakers. A sister festival to the Toronto Urban Film Festival – TUFF, GOTTA MINUTE is designed to capture and cultivate the hearts and minds of film lovers "on the go".

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