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Interview: Speaking with ‘Made For Love’ Cinematographer Nathaniel Goodman

Nathaniel Goodman is an Emmy and ASC-nominated cinematographer who has shot for a large share of genre shows on television including Swamp Thing, Torchwood, Heroes, Timeless and Falling Skies. More recently, Goodman has tried his hand at streaming with shooting for HBO Max’s Made For Love. The series follows Hazel Green, a woman who is trying to escape her marriage to a tech billionaire when he implants a tracking chip in her head. The streaming series has garnered plenty of praise for its sense of humor and topical themes while also containing excellent performances from the likes of Cristin Milioti and Billy Magnussen. Based on the novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting, the show is a bonafide hit.

We spoke with Goodman about Made For Love upon the series’ Emmy nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour).

Well, first of all I wanna say Congratulations on your guys’ Emmy nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series. What an honor. How does it feel to be recognized for your work?

Thank you. First of all, it came as a surprise as hopefully it should. (laughs) You know what I mean? There’s so much good work being done in television these days that to be recognized, especially as I understand it the way the academy works is, it’s a peer group basically, choosing the nominees. So, that’s amazing. And you know also because the show is an interesting show and not very standard television, both in its content and hopefully the way it looks. It was great to just to be able to see that it was at least being noticed by people. So everyone’s good work was being noticed.

It really was like that first wave of HBO Max television released directly to their streaming service and I really loved and dug the unique vibes that show put out, what attracted you to the series because it is so unique?

When I was first approached by one of the executive producers, SJ Clarkson, with whom Ive done a number of things with, I was able to read 8 of the original 10 scripts. Ultimately the aired show ended up being 8 episodes. It had me at the pilot, but every episode got better and better. Not only wackier, but also as the series progressed, it settled into a real enhanced reality version of life. It was just completely up my alley to be able do something that was that strange, but also oddly familiar. I immediately was able to meet with one of the other executive producers, Patrick Somerville, who was shepherding the project. And I enjoyed his previous work as well, which is very out of the box, like with Maniac and The Leftovers. This was an opportunity that we all felt to help HBO Max, among their other quality programming, launch a new streaming service in a crowded marketplace. To be able to do this type of series, which was extremely out of the box, was great. And also to get the opportunity to work with Cristin (Milioti), Billy (Magnussen), Ray (Romano) and Noma (Dumezweni), it was just an unbelievable cast; Dan Bakkedahl. It was amazing.

They were all terrific in the show. And I’ve got to say, the way you framed them, I binged the series and I couldn’t get enough of it. Maybe its that the series has such a memorable look to it. The way it is in the hub which is very cinematic in a sense and I’m not saying outside the hub wasn’t cinematic, but [the outside of the hub] had a more grounded sort of look. Can you kind of tell me about your process from reading the script to the production of it and how you filmed everything?

This was a very rare meeting of the minds in a certain way. I think every television show or every project that you do whether or it’s a feature or television show, there’s always some copesthetic meeting of the minds. Everybody’s contributing. But, the kind of collaborative effort it took to make Made For Love was pretty unique in my experience. Often times, its the director and me and sometimes theres differences of opinion with regard to the showrunners. Often times that tension is very healthy and here, everybody was really on the same page. And the same page not being a determinative look. It was on the same page being, let’s see how we can actually maximize what the inherent qualities of the material are and let’s see how we can actually push the envelope in a way which wasn’t going to call attention to itself. Hopefully, people are watching the show and they’re enjoying the show and only retroactively starting to pick apart like ‘oh well that was cool, that was neat’. We didn’t want any of what we were doing to overshadow what the project was and what the performances were and what the strengths of the scripts were. SJ herself had a very specific idea going in visually of what she wanted to do. She and I collaborate a lot, so we often times share those types of sensibilities. What was really important was first setting the fact that we wanted to have a difference in feel and look to the hub world and Hazel’s outside world. We also decided in the pilot that, because it starts with that stunning image of her popping out of the ground, we wanted to emulate… com[ing] out of a dark theater and the outside is blinding. The hub was something we wanted to make sure was much more controlled, more more clean. There’s a sort of pastel quality to the colors whereas in Hazel’s world the colors are desaturated, but in Byron’s world, the colors are not desaturated, they are very kind of pleasant. Everything is in a neutral palette because he can decide when he wants things to be sunset, when he wants things to be sunrise.

For sure, I think the way you guys mixed dramatic scenes, where Hazel is questioning her own life at this point and then Byron the same, it’s very interesting how you sort of balanced the darkly comedic side of this reality that their living in with the more dramatic side. Are there challenges to doing that as a cinematographer?

I think everybody is always challenged by the best way to shoot any kind of sequence. For example, our directors like Stephanie Laing and Alethea Jones, just have a great sense of what’s funny. And we all share that sense of absurd humor as well. We were all trying always to make sure visually that there were visual jokes happening if you paid attention to the frame. My general approach and its same approach that the directors had as well is that we’re basically treating as if it’s a drama. So in terms of the blocking and in terms how were setting up the frames and how we’re maximizing how we’re shooting it, not only the lighting, but equally importantly what lenses were using and how were going to compose things. You’re still working form the position of what are we trying to mine out of this moment in the script. There’s still an emotional thoroughline hopefully, that’s what we’re really going for. What we didn’t want to do was actually start shooting things in a way that was basically going to telegraph to the audience “oh this was wacky.” The fact of the matter is the whole world was designed to be wacky. We didn’t want to augment that in a way that was artificial.

So you mentioned working with Christina Lee, the showrunner and the writer of the novel, Alissa Nutting, a lot, what kind of inspiration did you get from them and the novel? What was it like working with them, were they heavily a part of the process?

Oh god, I mean yes. (laughs) What was amazing was that everyone was open to any kind of suggestion. And that goes back and forth. We had a lot of discussions about the way things were going to look; the colors, what people were going to wear. They’re both really funny people. If you read Alissa’s novel, the sensibility of the novel, I think it was important to Christina and Alissa to keep that sensibility even though the series goes further. The novel is very wacky, but there’s still a very strong emotional current that goes through. What Hazel is experiencing in the novel is still from the point of the view of being in that world is very realistic. It’s not a world that is completely alien to the reader. It’s still anchored in the way she experiences that world as a woman. It’s kind of a surveillance regime and how does that politically affect her and politically comment on the way things are in the world.

Now, this series is all about all kinds of love: platonic love, romantic love, love between fathers and daughters and I really love that. Going in you think its going to be about romantic love which its not obviously, but yeah I really love this show. Let me ask about the pilot since it was nominated, what was your favorite scene or aspect of that episode to shoot?

There’s so much in the pilot that was interesting to shoot. The favorite thing was the cat and mouse game between Dan Bakkedahl’s character and Hazel that results in his fingers getting chopped off. It was so funny to read on the page and it was so much funnier to see them perform. When Dan drops to the ground and then the fingers are in the foreground. It was so much fun to shoot.

I also was curious because you’ve worked on a lot genre television. You’ve worked on Timeless on NBC as well as Heroes and Swamp Thing which I know my friends liked as big superhero fans. So what inspiration do you pull for Made For Love which is sort of a lighter genre show?

Yeah its lighter genre in the sense that there’s a sci-fy element to it. They’re sort of cross generic shows. They’re not fully genre, they’re sort of always about something else and the drama is really the thing foregrounded in each of those shows. Heroes, Timeless, even Falling Skies which I did, which was a much more heavier sci-fy show, but ultimately is a family drama. It’s really concentrating on the interpersonal relationship between the characters. The things that interest me about all these sorts of projects is the on genre aspects of them. The same thing was with Made For Love. I am really attracted to material that’s doing multiple things.

I don’t have much time left, but I wanted to ask, the series was renewed for Season 2, will we see your work again on it?

We’re still deciding everything that’s going on with it. I would love to come back to the show and I’m looking for ward to see what Christina and Alissa are cooking up for Season 2. Hopefully that’s going to happen soon.

Well I love to hear that, I loved your work on the show and I love the show in general. Anyway, congrats again on the Emmy nom.

Well I appreciate that, it’s been great talking to you, thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to talk about the show.

Made For Love is available to stream now on HBO Max. The 73rd annual Primetime Creative Art Emmys Awards will be announced on September 11 and 12.

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