Focus On Film

Wunstorf commits to AMC’s The Killing

Published on website: December 01, 2011
Categories: 35mm , Television , Focus On Film
The Killing
Carole Segal Courtesy AMC

As a boy, Peter Wunstorf, ASC made three-minute science-fiction epics with his father’s 8mm camera, using multiple exposures to create titles and making exploding universes from drops of food color in pools of ink. A dozen feature films and 11 television pilots later, Wunstorf finds himself shooting AMC’s highly-acclaimed series The Killing.

AMC’s reputation for quality television continues to grow with The Killing. Adapted from the Danish television series Forbrydelsen, The Killing follows the murder investigation of a young girl in Seattle. It’s no simple procedural, following three stories as they unfold – the victim’s family in their grief; the police sifting through clues; and a mayoral campaign that has become embroiled in the murder. Each episode recounts the events of a single day, so at the end of the first season viewers find themselves just 13 days into the story.

Wunstorf’s television work includes the pilots for Smallville, Millennium and Dark Angel, but this is the first time that he has ventured into series work. “It becomes difficult to keep the image fresh in a series – the sets are the same and the locations are locked. But watching the Danish series, it was so good. And the pilot script for The Killing was fantastic. I knew the series would be different. It’s not episodic. It’s more like one long movie. And Veena (Sud, the executive producer and developer of the series) had a clear sense of the visuals. It gets darker and more obscure as the series progresses, underscoring the characters’ secrets.”

Sad elegance

Wunstorf, Sud and pilot director Patty Jenkins hit it off immediately. When they initially talked about working together, they told him they wanted the show to have a ‘sad elegance’ and a ‘terrible beauty.’ Wunstrof's mind immediately went to Birth (Harry Savides, ASC) and Jennifer Eight (Conrad Hall, ASC), both of which Sud and Jenkins were referencing for The Killing!

The pilot was shot in Vancouver over 14 days in May. AMC’s penchant for shooting film as opposed to digital capture was the perfect choice for the somber, gray look they were seeking. Wunstorf shot the entire series on KODAK VISION2 Expression 500T Color Negative Film 5229, guaranteeing a continuity of grain structure and the simplicity needed on a tight schedule. “The 5229 was the perfect palette and allowed us to work in very low light levels, using natural and supplemented natural light. The stock’s dynamic range allowed us to do that and get those images on a seven-day series schedule.”

Difficult weather

The use of film also worked well in the difficult weather conditions, allowing production to move quickly. In the end, Wunstorf said, “film allowed us to move fast. It’s harder, in my opinion to shoot digital and make it look as good as film."

Wunstorf recalls one scene in particular from the pilot. It was a car scene shot late in the day in the rain. It was gray and about to get dark. We immediately pulled the filters and pushed a stop. It was getting dark enough for Wunstorf to consider  pulling the plug on the scene. It was early in the shoot and he worried how everyone would react to the resulting images. But he took the risk and shot the scene out. It turned out to be one of the Sud’s favorite scenes. “It was a risk, but that’s the thing about shooting film. You know what it can do.”