Rodney Charters Director of Cinematography on the hit Fox TV show - ‘24’
Think about the show - above all else, what defines ‘24’ as unique and as the leader in the action genre is its realism delivered through Rodney Charters dynamic cinematography. To what a show is to feel truly an observer in the life of Jack Bauer.
When the final show of this the eighth series is screened, ‘24’ will be just one episode short notching up 200. For every one of these, Rodney Charters has been Director of Cinematography. What does this mean? Essentially it is his skill in interpreting the director’s vision which gives us the first paced show that ‘24’ is.
After eight series though, how does he keep his work fresh? “Television is Los Angeles is like a car factory’s production line”, Rodney tells me, “it can be very routine. But I think in the last few years some very well made television shows have come along and cut beyond that. From the beginning Stephen Hopkins (the director of ‘24’) was adamant that this show would be different. Each show is created like a movie, and on top of that we shoot them very, very fast”.
To adapt to Stephen’s demands, he created new techniques to allow them to get through the scenes at the required pace, and all the when delivering an intensity necessary to maintain the suspense.
“For example, we shoot with the actors page by page, almost as if we were observing real time”. Anyone who has watched the show will realise that this ‘real time’ pace is a key icon of ‘24s’ uniqueness.
“It also means that, instead of lighting scene by scene, I have to light a whole environment. It gives the feeling of working on a factual documentary”, he explains. Without a doubt, his background as a documentary photographer made his success at adapting to this style all the more understandable.
While the technical crew have had to adapt to a new way of working, so have the actors. For some, indeed, it hasn’t proved so easy. “Some of the older, shall we say more ‘traditional’ actors have saved their best acting for the close-ups. When they ask me now when the close-up on their character will be, I have to tell them that with perhaps a dozen cameras on set and rolling at the same time, they have to understand that at any one moment they are almost certain to be in close-up. It means they have to be in character and aware of the action on the set at all times”.
One of the things Rodney speaks most often of, and a key strand in his encouragement of fledgling cinematographers, is the use of what he calls ‘available light’.
“It simply isn’t necessary anymore to have big, expensive lighting set ups to achieve the right results. With today’s equipment, basically, if there is enough light for you to see the subject, there’s enough light for the camera to film it”.
He’s passionate about breaking down the mystique of film-making. This need no longer be an exclusive club open only to those with deep pockets able to fund big budgets. He is all for adopting new-technologies and showing that they can be used to take film-making back to the streets.
He’s supportive of the outcome - “We’re certainly in the middle of a huge shift in this business. The ease of shooting and then uploading to the internet has made stars out of those who may not otherwise have had the lucky break they deserved”.
“It’s a tremendously exciting time to be a film-making”, he enthused. “Potentially, someone with a camera can make themselves a lot of money”.
Traditionally, where an independent film-maker has produced a movie, he may take it to film festivals, and show it to distributors - if it gets picked up he’s in with a chance to recover his costs, and perhaps secure a deal to make subsequent projects with studio funding.
“Now though”, Rodney tells, “these same guys will perhaps release the movies direct on the internet. Sometimes they’ll give the first ten minutes for free, after that if you’re hooked and want to continue watching you’ll have to pay iTunes a dollar or a dollar ninety-nine. But there’s enough people out there to make those dollar ninety-nine’s add up to a good sum of money”.
It’s interesting that, while my concern that too easy a method of delivery would negatively affect the quality of production, Rodney feels that precisely the opposite is the case. “I believe we’re seeing some of the best television shows ever created. There may be hundreds of channels out there now, plus the internet, but you look at what it is people are turning on to watch in their masses - and on the whole they are finely scripted, produced, directed, and filmed. There is a trade-off in TV’s middle-ground, but we’re producing shows that could only have been dreamed of a few years ago”.
So, it doesn’t sound like Rodney Charter’s has an appetite for stepping away from the business anytime soon. Over the past years he has established an enviable reputation for his inspiring and innovative photography. What he does is often seen filtering across to other shows the series ‘24’ has spawned from rival studios.
He’s done enough to have left an indelible mark on TV, but one is left with the feeling he isn’t finished yet, and remains filled with the excitement of what it is he may be about to do next.
First Published in Men's Passion Issue #14 June.09