One of the most striking things about FOX’s hit series Gotham is how the scene settings are their own characters, enhancing the darkness of the story. Cinematographer Crescenzo Notarile embraced us in that darkness last season, and we certainly embraced him back. Fans are not the only ones to notice. Notarile is nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy in Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series for Episode 19’s “Azrael,” completely belonging in the stellar company of such shows as House of Cards, Homeland, and Game of Thrones.
I was lucky enough to speak to Notarile about the nomination, working with directors and actors, and some of our mutually favorite cast members.
Check out the interview and gorgeous image gallery here below.
Geeks Of Doom: You recently got nominated for a Emmy, right?
Crescenzo Notarile: Of course. Yes, I did, a few weeks ago. It’s very thrilling for this season. The ceremony is in mid-September, so we are coming up upon it very shortly. I’m very excited.
Geeks Of Doom: I really really hope you guys win. I mean, visually the show is fantastic. I do like the show in the other ways too, just the visual presence is so strong.
Crescenzo Notarile: Thank you, Athena.
Geeks Of Doom: You are in control of the visual, but do the directors direct you too?
Crescenzo Notarile: There is a relationship, of course. It is a true marriage on the set between the director and his director of photography. There is a tremendous amount of collaboration, visually speaking. You know, some directors are not visual directors, they’re more story directors. And some are very visual directors. On our list of directors that we have with Gotham, we have very very strong visual directors. So that’s really appetizing for me. It stimulates me. We share our sensibilities during our pre-production process. We get our visual language together between each other, and talk about each episode as far as the visual dramaturgy that would be exciting to the audience.
Geeks Of Doom: You actually answered my next question. Because there are so many different directors for the episodes…
Crescenzo Notarile: Out of a season, we do 22 episodes, and we have many many directors that come in as invited guests. They come in and do their episode, and when their episode is finished, they leave. So they come and go all the time. But me as a director of photography, I’m the constant keel on that ship. I’m on the set, every day for the entire season. Out of 22 episodes, some shows you could have 22 different directors.
Geeks Of Doom: Did you?
Crescenzo Notarile: Our show is a family… we have a handful of directors. They do a few episodes each… they alternate.
Geeks Of Doom: Do you ever take into account what the actors say?
Crescenzo Notarile: When an actor speaks you have to listen, because they are indeed the actors. We are there for them. After all, the faces of the show are them. So of course when they speak, we listen. We have many astute actors, especially our #1 actor, Ben Mckenzie. He’s very sharp. He’s very intelligent. He knows a lot about filmmaking. He’s been around the block a long time. When he says something creatively, we will discuss it and think about it, and most likely execute it as well.
Geeks Of Doom: A few weeks ago, my husband for my birthday took me to a small convention as a fan, and I got to meet Drew Powell, and Sean [Pertwee], but my biggest thrill actually, was meeting David [Mazouz]. I just had to tell him… you know, you see all these child actors, and usually the child actors on the show are the most annoying, like how everyone used to hate Carl from The Walking Dead, and the kid from The Strain, they changed him already. I write reviews for the show and I am always praising him. He is so mature, he almost seems just like his character.
Crescenzo Notarile: I’m glad you said that. That’s all in the casting. And the people who cast him were very smart with that because of his demeanor. He is very sharp and intelligent for his age. He has a aura, an attitude that’s perfect for pre-Batman. You can see each year he is getting a little smoother. There’s a lot behind his eyes. He’s a very strong actor with incredible chops.
Geeks Of Doom: He’s amazing. And the first minute I saw Camren [Bicondova], I thought she was Michelle Pfeiffer reincarnated. She has a long career ahead of her.
Crescenzo Notarile: Exactly. I always say that.
Geeks Of Doom: One of my “gasp” moments, was the scene in “Azrael,” where Azrael was jumping around looking like Batman, and Bruce was staring at him like “hmmm…” How was it to film that scene?
Crescenzo Notarile: That’s very astute of you, Athena, because that was a pivotal scene. We all talked about the script before we shot it. It may have been very subtle, but that expression in his face, we thought it should register to the audience. That when he saw Azrael rappel and climb on the wall in an almost Batman way, and then the camera looked down upon David, with that expression of him looking up – that had to register. And that’s very difficult, not only with the photography aspect of how you push in the lens, the choice of your lens, to really register that emotion, to get inside of those eyes, to get inside of his head… the acting itself, his one expression, had to say it all. I’m glad it registered, because it was to tantalize the audience a bit, to give it a little Batman-esque feel. Like perhaps that’s the direction he wants to go in. I’m happy that you said that.
Geeks Of Doom: Oh yeah. I definitely wasn’t the only one. The comments of everyone on social media were like, “Oh my god. He’s Batman.”
Crescenzo Notarile: Terrific.
Geeks Of Doom: How is it filming Cory Michael Smith? It seems like it’s a lot of camera angles. One one side he’s just Ed, and on the other, he’s Riddler.
Crescenzo Notarile: Cory is one of our favorite actors. He has a terrific personality. When he walks on the set, he brings his personality to his characters. This is a role he is enjoying very much, especially when he’s playing a dual character like that. It’s the role of a lifetime for an actor, and he understands the opportunity that he has with this particular character. He’s really putting a lot of ingredients into that sauce to make it his own. I have to try to photograph it like 2 characters, whether it’s the choice of lenses, the lighting, or the camera positions. Maybe one character I want to be above his eyeline, and the other I want to be below his eyeline. It could be as subtle as that, where the audience can sense something a little different between the 2 characters. What we do as filmmakers – it’s a very magical medium. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. We manipulate the audience’s mind to think a certain way. Cinematography has a lot to do with that. That’s why I’m proud to be a cinematographer – how you light a scene, where you place that camera.
Geeks Of Doom: Of course. the camera is a character.
Crescenzo Notarile: Yes it is. In a very indirect way, it becomes a character.
Geeks Of Doom: So you must do that with Erin Richards as well, when she’s being good girl/bad girl?
Crescenzo Notarile: Yes. Of course, the lighting becomes a little more beautiful on her. I try to do that. I used to shoot a lot of music videos, a lot of worldwide divas, so I’ve learned how to light women in a very beautiful way. With Erin, and we have a lot of beautiful women on our show, I take a little extra time to make sure they’re modeled in a more beautiful way. And Erin has a very beautiful face, and because of her character, it’s very zany. But there’s a beautiful layer underneath that, and I try to capture that with the lighting. It’s a little more polished on her, a little smoother.
Geeks Of Doom: Especially when she’s in a setting that’s so ugly around her like in Arkham.
Crescenzo Notarile: I’m glad you noticed that. There is a difference with that. That’s a very powerful thing when you can juxtapose things like that within a frame, where you can have a beautiful thing like Erin with all this gritty dirt behind her. And that is what Gotham is about. We are creating our own world.
Geeks Of Doom: And most of it is gritty and dark, and then there’s glamour like with Jada [Pinkett-Smith].
Crescenzo Notarile: It’s fun. Otherwise it could get redundant and people can get turned off. But when you have visual arcs, visual roller coasters… that’s what makes it really appetizing to the audience and makes them keep on watching.
Geeks Of Doom: That made me think of the end of the season when you had that army come to do battle through the smoke.
Crescenzo Notarile: That was my Penguin scene. That was pretty radical and fun to do. And that’s the beauty of this show. Because it’s a DC comic, it’s that kind of genre of filmmaking, which is a very juicy genre to work in. I get to think outside the box. I don’t have to take things so literal. So when you have army of matching penguins coming through beams of smoke… you can get away with that on this show.
Geeks Of Doom: You guys are filming now, yes?
Crescenzo Notarile: Oh yes. I am currently shooting episode 5 of this 3rd season. Our season premieres towards the end of September, but we have been filming since the end of June.
Geeks Of Doom: And now you have 2 of David now, right? Because of the guy that came out of the bus…
Crescenzo Notarile: Yes we do. Which is going to be very thrilling for the audience. And he is doing a fantastic job. There’s 2 different split personalities. And I guess for an actor, they drool when they have roles like that, so he’s really riding that crest as well.
Geeks Of Doom: What was your favorite episode to shoot so far?
Crescenzo Notarile: It may have been the one I entered for the Emmy, the “Azrael” one. It was my most challenging, the one I was most nervous about. There was so much choreography and fighting. I really dug deep and prepared myself. The results were very rewarding. That’s why it’s probably my favorite one so far.
Geeks Of Doom: Last thoughts?
Crescenzo Notarile: I want to shout out my crew. My crew is my backbone. We’re led by the two executive producers who created the show, who blossomed the show, our #1 guys Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon. Danny Cannon is a very important person to me. He’s my engine in terms of my visual stimulation. Our line producer, Scott White, runs the ship on our set. I depend on my two operators, Gerard Sava and Al Pierce. Last but not least is my gaffer, Frank McKormack, and my key grip, Luis Colon. And kudos to the person I work in tandem with, our production designer, Richard Berg. Each episode has new locations with different sets. The cinematographer works very closely with the production designer. A lot of people give me kudos for my look, but that is the production designer as well.
I definitely could have talked to him for hours about each episode, but alas… another time, perhaps. In the meantime, we all have a delicious season to look forward to, with all of Arkham out and about, and ready to wreak havoc on our dark city.
Gotham season 3 returns September 19th on FOX.