Mike White and Laura Dern on the set of Enlightened - Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO
Enlightened showcases a fascinating collaboration between series co-creator Mike White and lead actor Laura Dern, who also serves as co-creator and executive producer. Dern portrays Amy Jellicoe, a self-destructive woman who undergoes a breakdown, followed by a spiritual awakening, and emerges determined to live an enlightened life. This of course creates a wealth of comedic situations in her work and home life. At the offi ce, she tries to enlist the meek Tyler — played by White — in her jargon-fi lled schemes to seize the day.
Xavier Grobet, ASC, AMC shot the second season of Enlightened, which began airing on HBO earlier this year. In addition to the first season of Enlightened, his credits include The Woodsman, I Love You Phillip Morris, Nacho Libre and The Back-up Plan.
On Enlightened, Grobet uses KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 and KODAK VISION2 200T Color Negative Film 5217 in the 3-perf Super 35 format. He shoots ARRICAM LT cameras — usually two — and relies on COOKE S4 prime and ANGENIEUX OPTIMO zoom lenses.
“We like the quality of film, as well as the practicality,” says Grobet. “We like the film feel and film grain. Taking care of my actors is what’s most important for me. Especially with Laura, I always want her to look good and I think film helps that way. It’s gentle compared to digital. And I have more freedom in terms of staging and lighting.”
The cinematographer also notes that he finds film to be a more efficient way of working. White was also strongly in favor of originating on film. “It’s much more practical,” Grobet relates. “There’s less technology and less paraphernalia around the camera to deal with. It’s easier to handle. Film is reliable. The technology is so advanced that you feel very confident about it.
“One of the problems I have with the digital world is that it tries to go into perfection in terms of the quality and the definition,” Grobet observes. “Sometimes that’s not what you’re looking for. I think it’s best to use the texture and light. When something is too sharp and too defined and too perfect, it loses the emotion in a way. When there’s no texture, there’s a certain rejection, at least on my part.”
The set depicting Jellicoe’s workplace, Cogentiva, is a predominantly white environment. Grobet has rigged two layers of light — practicals, and above them, recessed movie light fixtures. On wider shots, the white room is comparatively high-key, but Grobet modulates somewhat on close-ups, creating more contrast and volume on faces depending on the scene. “I can go with different levels or turn off light in certain areas,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll kill all the lights behind me so that the faces stand out against the bright background.”
The show is split between sets on stages and practical location shooting. Given the tight TV schedule — an episode is often accomplished in six days or less — Grobet often comes into a set for the first time the day before he must shoot in it. “You have to come up with something without a lot of time to think things through,” he notes. “You have to be creative and make it work. It makes you think outside the box, experiment, and go beyond what you’d do in a more controlled situation. When you have to make it work, you do.”
Grobet says that film gives him the confidence to push the boundaries. “You know how the film will react,” he explains. “You know how much you can push it. You can trust the film, and that’s a good feeling.”
White writes the show entirely and directs about half of the episodes. The opportunity to work with a rotating roster of directors, including Jonathan Demme, Nicole Holofcener and Miguel Arteta, appeals to Grobet. “But Mike makes the show special and fulfilling,” emphasizes Grobet. “He puts a lot of heart into the project. It doesn’t feel like a TV production. Each episode is almost like an independent film, made with care. That’s what is fantastic about HBO — you have the freedom to create.”