Lighting the Narrative: A Conversation with David Moxness, ASC, CSC

STUDENTFILMMAKERS: How does a project’s genre influence your approach to lighting? You never seem to stay in one category, constantly moving from fantasy to action to drama to recreating world events.

David Moxness, ASC, CSC: Regardless of genre, story comes first. My approach and goal is to complement and tell that story via the photography. Mood and feeling play a big factor. When lighting for a particular genre the type and style of lighting, hard/soft, warm/cool, naturalistic/avant-garde are all factors I consider. It is also important to track through the script any shifts, or specific consistencies, in lighting, color pallet and tone you wish to employ to ensure a consistent theme of style throughout. I’ve been very fortunate to explore different genres and enjoy doing so.

STUDENTFILMMAKERS: When you work on a series that employs multiple directors during a season, is it difficult maintaining the signature look of the show? How do you navigate the influx of creativity from the various directors?

David Moxness, ASC, CSC: That can be tricky at times. Comes down to good dialogue and collaboration. I never want to handcuff an incoming Director and inhibit their initial thoughts. It very well could be their vision is something we haven’t yet discovered, or realized, is great for our show. Having free, creative and thoughtful discussion is vital.

STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What’s important to you in terms of camerawork?

David Moxness, ASC, CSC: For me it is very important the camera (movement/work, etc.) complements the narrative, enhances the story and doesn’t become “about the camera”. I also find shooting with prime lenses a much more disciplined form of filmmaking. Placing the camera, with a specific focal length of lens, in a certain place versus “finding an image size” from an arbitrary position.

David Moxness, ASC, CSC

STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What are your Top 3 Lighting Tips for new generation filmmakers and storytellers?

David Moxness, ASC, CSC:

Tip #1: Faces. So much emotion, character and storytelling will come from the actors, specifically their close up. Sometimes I feel lighting faces gets lost, yet it can be such a huge factor in storytelling. How best does the lighting portray that character – or characters – in a scene?

Tip #2: Environment. The lighting of the set/location needs to fit with the scene and story. Treat it like another character.

Tip #3. Explore. Technically, there really isn’t a right way or wrong way. It’s about what feels appropriate. Use examples from existing films and shows as influence, but don’t be afraid to explore. Put your thumbprint on it!

David Moxness, ASC, CSC

Cinematographer David Moxness, ASC, CSC never shies away from the opportunity to experiment. In 2015, the Canadian Society of Cinematographers Awards honored him with the Masters’ Award for his outstanding contribution to the art of cinematography.

Moxness is currently lensing Amazon’s upcoming series The Wheel of Time. Shooting in Prague, the series is based on the fourteen volume, best-selling fantasy series of the same name from author Robert Jordan.

Recent television work includes the Alive pilot for CBS and director Uta Briesewitz; ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier series; and the first two seasons of Lethal Weapon for Fox Studios. He also shot Jon Cassar’s four-part miniseries The Kennedys After Camelot, a continuation of the hit series The Kennedys, for which he won a Leo award, a Gemini Award, and earned nominations for American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and Primetime Emmy Awards. He collaborated again with Cassar on his thriller When the Bough Breaks.

To date, Moxness has received six Leo Award nominations, winning twice: nominated in 2007 and 2008 for Smallville, in 2009 for Alien Trespass and in 2010 for NBC/CTV series The Listener, culminating in his 2011 win for Fringe and 2012 win for The Kennedys. He also received an ASC Award nomination for Fringe in 2013. Moxness also earned an ASC Award for his lensing of Smallville in 2007, alongside CSC Award nominations for both Smallville and Kevin Hill.

When asked to use the new 24p high definition video on Gene Roddenberry’s TV series Earth: Final Conflict in 2001, Moxness compared notes with the team preparing to shoot George Lucas’ new Star Wars feature and learned the system inside out. His work on the series earned him a Kodak Spectrum Award and a Gemini Award nomination for Best Cinematography.

Beginning his film and theatre studies at Brock University in Ontario, Moxness simultaneously worked as a production assistant at Alliance Atlantis Communications. Mentored for eleven years by renowned Canadian cinematographer Rene Ohashi, ASC, CSC, the team worked on productions including the Atlantis miniseries Philip Marlowe Private Eye and the feature Where the Spirit Lives.

Moxness resides in Bellingham, Washington and is represented by DDA.


Interview conducted by Johnny Lee Solis; NJ/NY based musician, composer and writer.

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