VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 5201/7201

Capturing Canada’s Heartland

Director of Photography Craig Wrobleski

Set against the stunning vistas of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada, CBC’s Heartland is a family drama that follows sisters Amy and Lou Fleming and their grandfather, Jack Bartlett, through the highs and lows of life on a horse ranch.

“It’s a real family show, which is rare these days,” says director of photography Craig Wrobleski. “It’s kind of a throwback in that sense. We follow the characters’ day-to-day lives and relationships with the people around them. It’s challenging on a ranch because they have to battle weather and handle livestock.”

Most of Heartland is captured on locations around the foothills of Southern Alberta. Two episodes are shot in a 15-day block, and 10-12 of those days are on the road. The natural settings, although sometimes logistically difficult, give the show a genuine authenticity.

“The single, biggest challenge is the weather, but therein lies an opportunity,” explains Wrobleski. “We shoot through four seasons because we start in May and go through November. When we start, the fields are barren. We shoot through growing season, the harvest and finally winter. So we get a chance to capture a lot of amazing images that you would never get unless you were exposed to the elements on a regular basis.

“The changing outdoor conditions are made easier by the Heartland crew, which is the most adaptable I have ever worked with,” he says. “They are ready for any eventuality, and are always prepared to jump in and do whatever is necessary to take advantage of what’s afforded to us.”

Wrobleski’s camera package includes two ARRI SR3 16mm cameras with Angenieux Optimo Zooms and Cooke S4 Prime lenses.

“The most obvious thing we benefit from by shooting Super 16 is the expanded dynamic range that it has to offer,” says Wrobleski. “The weather in Alberta is extremely variable and film really helps us out with that by allowing us to absorb some of the fluctuations in the light. The more limited high-end exposure latitude on digital formats would be a limitation. We include a lot of skies in our shots, and the increased exposure latitude really helps hold full detail, so we can make the most of all those big puffy clouds and dramatic skies we get here.”

Behind the scenes on CBC’s Heartland. Photos by Andrew Bako.

KODAK VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 7201 is Wrobleski’s go-to stock for day exteriors. “I just love the color rendition of it, and the grain structure is so tight that it really produces beautiful images.”

In studio, the cinematographer says he loves to use KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 7213, which he credits with “transforming the look of their studio sets.”

Heartland is in its fifth season, and like the characters at its center, the look for the show has evolved. “There is a lot of opportunity to develop the look because we are not bound by, for example, a specific hospital or police set that has to be maintained,” Wrobleski observes. “We’re given a lot of opportunities – episode to episode – by virtue of the location and storylines. So we open up the toolbox a little bit. We’ve been doing more handheld work, working more with different shutter angles and frame rates, and making sure we are best using the camera as a storytelling tool.”

Post-production for Heartland is done at Technicolor in Toronto. Wrobleski is present to work with the color timer, Jim Fleming, on the first few episodes to establish the look and to share insight on how he approaches the photography, so it can be maintained throughout the season.

“Film is a great medium for Heartland because it does have a different feel,” adds Wrobleski. “It doesn’t have the antiseptic quality that digital can have, which might work for a glossy sitcom or urban drama. For us, film is the right fit.”