A Masterclass in Cinematography with Johanna Coelho

Last week, Giles Alderson and Andrew Rodger chatted with DOP Johanna Coelho about her experience of working on The Rookie. The cameras she uses, the lenses, the equipment. How she stays on top of the latest gear trends, and more.

‘We got the scripts pretty late because the seasons are back to back. They don’t really have time to get ahead on the scripts.’

She didn’t work on season 3 but because of the pandemic a lot of the scriptwriting had been done ahead of their filming. ‘But when we shot season four, they didn’t have time to have all the scripts written before, so we had seven days of prep and then we’d shoot for nine days.

And often we’d not have the script on the first day, sometimes it was more than one day late, so you’d just get a logline and start looking for locations.’

Shooting The Rookie

They used three cameras permanently because there was so much coverage to capture, ‘but for some action scenes, we’d get a fourth camera – that was the only way you could get through it. The scripts were around 60 pages for a 42 minutes episode, so you’d have a lot to shoot.’

She found a system that worked for her, without the need to compromise too much. 

It has to look good on the three cameras, so you need to compromise a bit. But you have to find the system that looks good from all angles.’

Lighting

‘What I do in prep is, and it’s going to sound very indie film, I do look books for specific scenes within an episode that are moodier or more dramatic or more romantic or where you want to step up the look a bit. 

So in prep, I would find the right visual references and talk with the director and make sure we are on the same page. And then I would talk to the rigging gaffer and make sure that we could get the atmosphere nailed when we arrived on set.’

After that, she focuses on lighting the faces. 

Johanna makes sure to remember ’the vision I had when I read the script and how I want it to look because on set it goes so fast. It needs to be ready. 

If you don’t want more emotions in that scene, do you want to be wider and closer? Or is that a scene you want to be a longer lens and behind objects? All of these things change the feeling of it.’

Working with other DPs

Johanna was the second DP hired for the season, so she needed to collaborate with the other DP.

‘We talked together about what we wanted to change about the show. I’d already worked a little bit on season two. I was a double-up DP and he was doing some second unit, so we both knew the show. We’d worked on different seasons and we knew what we wanted to change.’

They discussed lighting and the look of the show with the showrunner, because ‘you can’t change the show too much. It’s already been established for three seasons and has an audience that’s been following it. You can make it a little more cinematic and a little more emphasised on emotions.’

Prepping to Shoot

‘I would say my prep was more intense. I did more hours in prep than I was doing shooting. You don’t have a lot of time to prep.

She’d spend every day in meetings and with locations and tech, so it was only when she got home that she would have time to sit down and prep.

‘That’s why I feel my prep was heavier than it should be. It doesn’t feel as long and heavy on a feature because (shooting) is a short time.’

Picking Good Collaborators

Essentially, she tries to ‘pick people who are really creative, because the best ideas come from talking and discussing. I don’t feel like the best ideas always come from me, if someone suggests something, that’s a great idea.’

But, she says that it’s important to balance ‘not too many cooks in the kitchen because it can get very overwhelming on set as well. And giving credit is very important because it shows that people are participating and that they’re excited about the project as well.’

A Vintage Flair

‘It really is about the project, but I do have a slight preference for vintage lenses.’ 

Johanna loves the ‘focus on it and the bokeh, but also the colours and the texture on faces. There’s something about it that is just more cinematic.’

She wasn’t really an 80s or 90s movies person, she prefers modern movies, but she likes the look of vintage lenses. For me, it’s the mix of the evolution of technology that gives you this impressive image, but there’s a texture to it.’

How She Learns about New Gear

She claims that she’s not really a ‘gear geek. But, when I need something for a project, I look for it. And that’s how I discover a lot about gear. Or people talk to me about things that are coming out. People teach me. There’s too much to catch up on.’

Her Last Words of Advice

Johanna said that ‘the mistake, in the beginning, was that I let people tell me what to do.

I stopped trusting my eyes. I had an idea, but I was too shy to communicate it because some people told me what to do instead. My advice would be, if you have a vision and you see something, trust your eyes, it’s probably a good idea. Try to collaborate instead of just letting people tell you what to do all the time.’

For more tips and tricks from Johanna, listen here.

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