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Sep 10 2015

"Best Shots"from the Emmy Nominated Series

Andrew herewith a special Hit Me With Your Best Shot inspired look at the best looking TV shows (according to Emmy voters).

The Creative Arts Emmy Awards are handed on this Saturday (September 12),the precursor to the main ceremony billed for the next week.So,in anticipation of Saturday's ceremony where all technical and visual prizes will be handed out here's a celebration of the cinematographic side of television.

The cinematography side of TV has been divided into two categories,instead of one,since 2000: Cinematography for a Single Camera Series (most,if not all,dramas on TV right now,and many comedies),Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series (predominantly CBS comedies).(They briefly flirted with dividing the category by episode length in 2008 and 2009 and then returning to this current,which just goes to show how indecisive the Emmy rules committee can be.)

It's easy to see which category Emmy voters consider superior.There are 7 single-camera nominees,and 4 multi-camera nominees,and having watched all eleven episodes we're following their bias and focusing on the single category,too...


7 nominees across 4 shows to represent the best photograped shows on television.One shot from each show follows to help you decide which to root for on Saturday.

Boardwalk Empirefor "Golden Days for Golden Boys and Girls"(shot by Jonathan Freeman)

This underwatched,undervalued series is an easy choice for the category's best.This nomination for the final season premiere is a cinematographer's dream moving between Havana,the the American South,Chicago,New York and Atlantic City in the 1930s with flashbacks to 1884 in Atlantic City.The varying moods and characters means Jonathan Freeman must make locations different with just a single shot and each time has it's calling card from the grimy South,to austere Chicago the picaresque 1884.It's entirely plausible that it's the 1884 flashbacks that most intrigued voters with each shot looking like something from a postcard.The opening sequence,pictured above,is an exhilarating few minutes.At first it might look like a still from an adaptation ofWater Babies,so idyllic and charming,but the shot is deceptive.It's a shot of a group of poor Atlantic City boys diving for coins being tossed into the water by the upperclass.Literally diving for good.The dichotomy between beautiful shots and terrible things has always been a calling card forBoardwalk Empire,and the episode capitalises on that both with its use of colour (Havana with its promise of wealth in sugar cane is covered in a golden hue) and with the arrangements of set-pieces within the frame itself.

Game of Thronesfor "Sons of the Harpy"(shot by Anete Haellmigk)

This is the first of four (FOUR)Game of Thronesepisodes in this category.That's three too many.Game of Thronesis an expensively made show and its production values are usually impressive but the voters choices of these four seem unusual.What drew their attention here?The episode's climax,from which the title comes,sees Daenerys' army of soldiers (the Unsullied) attacked by Sons of the Harpy and is one of the show's least impressive battles,possibly due to budget constraints.For the best shot we must go to the Wall where Melisandre attempts to seduce Jon Snow (played by Kit Harrington who miraculously turned into a competent actor in season 5).Where is Jon Snow's hand?Just where you think it is.A few seconds later Melisandre's robe slips away to reveal her flesh robbing the moment of the elegance the (foiled) seduction has with her being fully clothed.Melisandre's nudity has always been more ambiguous withinGame of Thronesbecause it differs from the rampant,nameless women in brothels but this moment is better without both for where the characters (and props) are within the frame and for the light breaking through the window.It's an indication,of course,of my appreciation for the person to person moments more than gargantuan set pieces ofGame of Thrones.

Game of Thronesfor "The Dance of Dragons"(shot by Rob McLachlan)

This,the penultimate episode of the season,most likely earns its nomination for the battle in the Mereen fighting pits and yet it's the least impressive of the nominees on a photography basis.The Mereen arc was the singularly most frustrating aspect ofGame of Thronesthis season which essentially amounted to Queen Daenerys learning to rule.Maybe voters really loved the dragons and I admit to some lovely shots likethis,but I immediately am drawn elsewhere for the best shot.There are some technically gorgeous work in Dorne but the photography here is least impressive because there's little subtext.Which is why it's the technically simple but effective shot of Tara Fitzgerald which I single out.The shot owes much to Fitzgerald (one of the multiple underserved but excellent fringe performers on the show) but I love the ambiguity of it.You're uncertain,at first glance,if Selyse is a prisoner being encroached by all the blackness around her or being saved from something.(Spoiler alert: She's watching her daughter being burned at the stake.)

Game of Thronesfor "Unbowed,Unbent and Unbroken"(shot by Greg Middleton)

The episode heard around the world because of the Sansa/Ramsay rape.For the best distillation of the episode's criticism check out Alyssa Rosenberg'sfine piecewhich deftly explains why she was so baffled by the criticism that the arc was lazily orchestrated.Even as someone ambivalent onGame of Thronesfor the most part,the criticism against the arc seemed overwrought.This episodeisthe season's least impressive outing but hardly for Sansa related issues.From Loras' terribly executed trial,to the handwringing in Dorne the episode suffers from the worst ofGame of Thronesinclinations – feeling like a series of disconnected arcs.Everyone is marking time in the episode and your enjoyment might depend on if your favourite location gets screentime,but otherwise it fails to excite.But,it is a beautifully shot episodes featuring some fantastic work with light and darkness in Braavos with Arya and the Faceless Men.My choice for best shot,like the episode,is not subtle but the obviousness is a bit of the point.The bars on the windows indicate jail so easily and the white fur immediately suggests a sheep ready for killing.The inevitability to come is so clear.

Game of Thronesfor "Hardhome"(shot by Fabian Wagner)

It's easy to see why this (my choice for the show's best episode) earns its nomination.It's a gorgeous episode.Hardhome,where Jon Snow travels to ally with the wildings.About half of the run time is spent there and the sequence is the proof needed to show that Harrington has matured enough to be  legitimate screen presence while surrounded by so much CGI.It's a thrilling sequence watching the men attacked by wights and the Night King's the final shot of the dead rising is an excellent horrorshot.But why "Hardhome"(bizarrely not nominated for Best Director) succeeds is that it's not just banking on this last half an hour,it thrills in other parts too.My best shot has nothing to do with the supernatural,even,but emerges from a small tender moment.The supercilious Queen (Mother) Cersei after being imprisoned refuses to be felled by the matron who insist she repent in order to get some water.She does not.The water is dashed to the floor and she bends almost as if to pray,but – no – its to lick the drop of water on the floor.What can I say?I love these small moments,and I especially love shots where negative light encroaches the main subject from either side of the frame.Like the moments in Hardhome this is a horror movie shot,but of a different kind.The sparseness on display here is unusual for the usual grandioseGame of Thronesbut the shot is a beauty.

The Good Wifefor "The Line"(shot by Fred Murphy)

This is actually the second nomination forThe Good Wifeso it's not the surprise inclusion that many seemed to think it."The Line"is the season 6 premiere which,among other things,sees Cary Agos thrust into jail.The good camerawork here emerges from the disparity between Cary in jail and his colleagues in the real work.The goodness of the camera work,though,seems lost in a single shot.The very best shot parts are sequences like Cary's degrading walk through jail the first time,or my favourite a sequence where he walks to greet an unknown visitor in jail only for it to turn out to be Emmy winner Archie Panjabi.Like "Hardhome",though,I'm drawn to the ugly shots here,seeing a character put out of their comfort.Everything about that shot is ugly,even the camera goes out of focus losing the sharpness found elsewhere.Cary has just been shanked in jail by a criminal associate of their drug dealing client,to remind him not to reveal any information.The camera immediately leaves his face turning him into any nameless prison inmate,surrounded by the dirty table,the stained floor and holding on to his bloody hand.It's an ugly shot,which is why it's the best shot.

House of Cardsfor "Chapter 29"(shot by Martin Ahlgren)

The White House is surrounded with protestors as the Russian president makes his way there before a summit meeting.Before the meeting there is a state dinner where Pussy Riot is set to perform because this is the kind of showHouse of Cardsis.Of Course the Russian President is a slimy weasel we should hope for Spacey's President Underwood to take down.The Russian President is unwilling to provide protection to Israel,(unwittingly?) hits on the President wife and boasts of it and the Underwoods plot to bring him down.A typical day in thisHouse of Cards.But it's not an unfortunate nomination becauseHouse of Cards'issue has never been production values.Would that the excellent production was used on a better show,but there's good camera work here even if it's most notable for the laboured way they emerge.In my best shot First Lady Underwood and Secretary of State Durant play beer pong with scotch – because that's what classy ladies do.It's a rare moment of unfiltered easiness from a show which is too often airless.It makes me think of my typical response toHouse of Cards,too: a show always dressed to the nines with nowhere to go.Isn't a shot of two rich ladies in their finest evening clothes playing beer pong in an empty room the perfect image to represent that?


These nominees are less compelling but not without their moments.

(click on them to embiggen)

I suspect the winner will beThe Millerswhich devotes most of its episode to aiming the work ofGame of Thrones,Mike and Mollyhas an episode with perhaps a single distinctive shot (at a bar fight) but features an excellent Swoozie Kurtz who I did not know is on this show,2 Broke Girlshas some nice moments although they benefit more from a colourful scenery than great cinematography.My own choice would beThe Big Bang Theoryin an episode which uses it camerawork to actually build the comedy,although it's funnier in motion.

In the single-camera category there seem to be many notable ommissions from the shows voters loved in the major categories likeHomelandfor some harrowing executions this season orOrange is the New Blackfor some great darkness photography during the power outage,orMad Menjust for the shot of Peggy on roller-skates.But,despite theGame of Throneslove with the nominees Emmy voters hardly fall for the usual suspects in its technical categories. Only two of the eight nominated series are competing for Best in their respective genres.

Sadly,they also ignored the gorgeousOutlanderwhich should have been an easy nominee here.In its absence I'm rooting for the underratedBoardwalk Empirewhich went unnoticed in most major categories for its final bow.Hopefully it manages some love for its creative bits on Saturday night.

Which episode are you rooting for?

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Reader Comments (6)

Also worth mentioning

Penny Dreadful: "The Seance"

Fantastic framing of the seance scene and the scene where Victor and Proteus are walking through the street is just wonderfully lit.Also the scene with Brona and Dorian.

Outlander: Every episode,but I'll go with "The Wedding"for it's gorgeous depiction of the human body as landscape.

I'm going with Hardhome as my choice.Hannibal's third season wipes the floor with everyone,though.

September 10,2015 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

I'm not really rooting for any of these nominees because this season more then any other Game of Thrones just had some terrible incidents of cinematography.Even if certain episodes were good looking it had nothing to do with cinematography.An example of terrible lighting for me is everyone that takes place in Arya storyline especially the room with all the faces where even watching the highest definition I had no idea what was going on.Good Wife is good I guess.House of Cards also has terrible cinematography where they use the yellow and blue tinge so often that it just runs on my nerves.Boardwalk would be my choice for being such a beautiful and underrated show.

If I were going to vote for any cinematography this year clearly Daredevil would get my vote.There's an example of even when a show is set during pretty dark times you can see every movement happening and appreciated it.Other shows that had great cinematography for me included Looking,Mad Men & Rectify.Such good examples of beautiful shows overlooked for terribly looking shows that need to take time and hire better DP's.

September 11,2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Eoin,well called on Rectify and Looking.I never bothered with Mad Men,but those two shows were exquisitely shot.I'd also assert that The Americans was extremely well shot,but it wasn't showy.

September 11,2015 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

For such great locations and production values Game of Thrones was rather hit & miss.Although the episode of Hardhome was the best as far as most fans are concerned.
I am surprised that the wedding episode of Outlander didn't get some attention.

September 11,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

It went to Boardwalk Empire.

September 12,2015 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Nice post!!that was really best shots in a movie i had ever seen in any other movie thanks for sharing.Film Institutes in India

September 29,2015 | Unregistered Commenterglittersindiaz

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