Cinematographer Jon Joffin, ASC discusses shooting the new episodic Motherland: Fort Salem

Creating an alternate universe

Motherland is an epic concept. I was immediately attracted to the project when I read the pilot script — women
running the world, defending their nation using song to control weather and fight huge battles. Grand, yet at the same time intimate… ripe with visual opportunity.

Motherland: Fort Salem

Our writer/creator Eliot Laurence created a rich alternate universe that needed to feel warm and real. Pilot Director Steven Adelson and I wanted the look to be as epic as the script – rich and cinematic. We wanted our world to be real yet magical. Since the world is controlled with magic, the conceit is that technology has not progressed as fast as today.  The world is analog and it’s difficult to tell what time period we are in. We also wanted the world to feel somewhat antique. We used tungsten lights only, and colored the lighting with warm sepias and yellows. We wanted the show to look classic, elegant and painterly, framing shots deliberately.

We only used Primes, and did not use Zooms at all. I had just shot a short for Director Aisha Schliessler called
“Passing” with the prototype ZEISS Supreme Primes — and had fallen deeply in love the lenses. They were the obvious choice for the pilot. In addition to their beautiful image, I was amazed at how compact and light they are for FF lenses! We paired the lenses with three SONY VENICE cameras. For the series, we had two sets of Supreme Primes, including one pre-release 135mm. We shot 4K Super 35 FF, and we framed 2:1. We were also very lucky to have the new Radiance Primes for our Season Finale.

We used the VENICE Rialto to get the lens into tight spaces and also get close to actors for action. We even used a POV Rig with the Rialto from Radiant Images to shoot an entire scene. Our second unit DP Jan Wolff wore the rig and got some amazing footage.

Jon Joffin, ASC is an inspired cinematographer, whose intriguing visual ideas grace some of today’s most innovative films and television shows, including The X-Files, Masters of Horror, The Andromeda Strain TV series, Crusoe, SyFy channel’s Alice, Julie and the Phantoms, and Motherland.

Click here for more information about ZEISS Supreme Prime and Supreme Prime Radiance lenses.

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