Interview: Cinematographer Adriano Goldman Discusses Crafting the Look of ‘The Crown’

If you want to know about the environment on a film or television set, the people to talk to are the so-called below-the-line craftspeople. The artists that work hard to create the costumes, makeup, sets, lighting, and more. All of those things come together to provide an overall look to the project, and to make the actors and the director look good.

Brazilian-born cinematographer Adriano Goldman has worked in the industry since the 90s with shorts and documentaries. He has also shot features including “Jane Eyre.” Now returning for a third season of “The Crown,” Goldman is a two-time Emmy nominee for the series.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with Goldman about his journey to The Crown,” and some of his favorite challenges about working on a project like this.

Karen Peterson/Awards Circuit: Thanks for taking some time to talk to me today. It’s very exciting that the show is getting ready to ramp up and that the third season is underway.

Adriano Goldman:Yes, thank you so much.

KP: Can we start a little bit at the beginning? I’ve looked at your filmography, I’ve seen some of the projects that you’ve worked on before. What was the road that led you to “The Crown?” How did you get here?

AG: I was a big fan of Stephen Daldry since I saw “Billy Elliot” many years ago. And my first two films in the UK were “Jane Eyre” with Cary Fukunaga, and “Closed Circuit” with John Crowley. Both produced by a friend of mine called Mairi Bett. In 2010, she went to Brazil with Daldry on a scout for the film we actually ended up doing together called “Trash.” They didn’t have a script then, but Mairi put me in touch with Daldry on the phone because I was on the countryside in Brazil shooting another film. So they didn’t have a script but we had a long conversation about the story he wanted to tell and that was absolutely…That was heaven to me. Because that was the guy that had done “Billy Elliot” and many other films that I absolutely love.

…They really didn’t know if they actually were coming back to Brazil to film “Trash” because it could be also the Philippines. They were basically scouting Brazil and Central America and the Philippines for the same project. They disappeared for a couple years, then Daldry came back to Rio more decided. It’s based on a book called “Trash” and they felt—him and Richard Curtis felt—confident enough that Brazil was a good environment for that story specifically and then we finally met face to face and I got the job.

We shot “Trash” in 2013. He came back a year later for the premiere and I had already heard about “The Crown,” or that he was doing something for Netflix. And I openly said, “What is this next thing you’re doing?” “Ah, just TV,” he said. (Laughs) “That’s just TV, why are you asking?” “Just because I want to do it. I want to keep working with you.” “Oh, if you want it, it’s yours.” It was honestly just like that. “If you want it, it’s yours, let me call the producers.”

So that was in 2014. And then one year later, I started. It was on May 15 when I started my prep for season one. And then, ironically, you know, I came on board because of him, but he was not available. Although he shot and directed the first two episodes, he was not there to actually start the season. So we actually started by shooting eps three and five with Philip Martin. And then Daldry came for the second block and we shot eps one and two.

Goldman went on to discuss the development of the show’s look overall look.

AG: [Stephen Daldry] had somehow to embrace a style we had been, at that point, developing through all the prep and camera tests. Of course Daldry was always there advising, supervising, giving his advice and also offering his experience and his taste… But he loved so much what we did before he actually took over that he felt okay. Also, luckily, when he took over we went straight to Africa. So we had that conversation, like “If you really like the style we’ve achieved, you can still be very creative in Africa because it’s supposed to feel very different. Because they’re outdoors in Africa on some kind of honeymoon. Probably the last time they have an opportunity to be just by themselves enjoying life. So it should feel fresher and looser in a sense.” So that also gave him… I’m not going to say confidence because he doesn’t lack in confidence, but it’s basically in order for him to be able to exercise in something that he feels more exciting. More choreography. Outdoor shooting. A looser camera style. More documental, in a sense.

And when we came back to London, he was absolutely happy to embrace the UK style. The UK colors, the UK rhythm. And he does it brilliantly. His episodes are so moving and so emotional and you just love the characters. You absolutely love the king in the first two episodes before he dies and there’s so much… Daldry…it’s so rich, it’s just so rich watching him dealing with the actors and developing his choreography and his blocking so he is…Yeah…he’s probably my favorite director. I mean, I absolutely love…I mean, he’s crazy. You need to be able to follow him around and translate his ideas. He’s a theater man. So he thinks choreography, he doesn’t think shots. So then you have to be able to give him freedom to be able to rehearse and create something on set and then little by little, with his support of course, and the way we now get along together, we then decide how to shoot it. Or, eventually I’m going to say, “Look, we need to simplify things a little bit because we’re running out of time or because it’s getting a little too complicated. Every time we have an active stop is a new set up.” So it’s really an interesting and creative conversation all throughout seasons one and two. He remains so enthusiastic about what he does. He loves being there with the actors and the crew, and I mean, it’s just a joy working with him.

KP:And you can really tell the passion that the crew and the cast and everybody has bringing to this project because everything comes together so beautifully. I was at the event in LA where you and Jane [Petrie] and Martin [Childs] were there.

AG: Oh wow! Really?

KP: Yeah, it was fun to hear from the three of you and to listen to all of you talk about your work and your contributions to the show and the passions that you bring in. 

AG: I was very happy. It was really fun, we were all very relaxed and the moderator was so clever and fun as well… But don’t get mistaken. There’s so much hard work. There’s so many hours spent on meetings and scouts and conversations and blocking and checking references and period footage and even on a daily basis on set, it’s hard work. So I think it was very interesting that we could somehow deliver that there’s lots of passion involved, there’s lots of hard work and there’s lots of partnership and friendship and it’s just a privilege. That’s why I’m back.

You know 80% of the crew is back. We all love being here and working together. That really makes a difference, it does. I mean, I don’t really recall having one bad day on seasons one and two. And I remember vividly, I know when Claire is on set, I know it’s going to be a nice day. I know it’s going to be a cool day and she’s going to deliver. And we’re going to have fun and we’re going to focus and the crew really behaves even better when she’s on set because it’s really hard to keep up to her standards. So I mean, yeah, it’s really been a special project. It still is.

KP: One of the things I’m always taken by, and you talked about this a little bit before, it’s the way you use the light from outside, filtering through the windows, and the way you capture so much of that. It really does feel like you’re getting a true, inside look into the royal family. What are some of the things you’ve learned or some techniques you’ve developed to bring that aspect into the show?

AG: It’s a good question. I think this has been, somehow, even for different projects like contemporary films, for instance, I always have this kind of realistic first approach. So where the light should be coming from? I mean, where is the window? Where is my practical? Can I have an additional practical in this corner? I do rely a lot on what I consider a realistic approach. And then I basically try to mimic that using film lights, or professional light sources.

That was very much the case on “Jane Eyre,” for instance. Another period film. Lights coming from outside, relying on candles. A few scenes on “Jane Eyre” were entirely shot on candlelight. And then the challenges that come with that sort of decision and the tasks that you have to make to achieve that. Some of those decisions are basic and obvious. Of course, it’s a big window, the light should be coming from the window. But then you realize that you’re on the third floor or it’s a cloudy day or it’s supposed to be raining. And then you embrace the challenges within that specific style.

And also, many conversations we had during the long prep I had on season one, was it’s basically more about [style]… by then in 2015 they had just finished on “Downton Abbey,” for instance. So that’s not the look we want. What is the look we want? I remember having a full cast day where I had Claire in costume and makeup and then I could finally have my lights outside, like a specific location we chose for the sets and I honestly felt that my plan was working. And that was the style we all wanted. And then you have the directors all watching the first few days of principle photography and thinking, “We do like this! So now we understand what Adriano is suggesting and doing, and now we’re happy to embrace this and help to make it even more sophisticated.”

So it’s a combination of taste, research, my taste and the director’s taste. Martin Childs, this amazing designer we have on board and he’s just unbelievable what he does in his department and his department delivers. So, again, it’s such a privilege… It makes me feel very comfortable and confident especially now after two seasons together, we’re very close friends and this is also such a rare opportunity for a DP. Because we spend our lives moving from place to place and working for 16 to 20 weeks on a specific project and then you move on and do another one.

So the privilege, the opportunity of coming back and being able to develop a style and even challenging our own taste… Now Peter Morgan delivers all the episodes in season three, they do have a different rhythm. There’s always basically two stories being told so you jump back and forth so that increases the overall rhythm, but it’s still very much the same show. It’s really hard to translate what I do. I don’t know. I think it’s very much based on taste. On things I consider beautiful or appropriate for the show. I really have an obsession about lighting eyes and I really love when I see the sparkle. I really enjoy watching actors performing. I think that’s the hardest job I can possibly imagine. So we take very good care of the cast. It’s a big family. I know that sounds like a cliche, but it is by now after three years working together. It’s really a different feel. It’s not like working on a feature with a director that you’ve never worked with before. You have to figure out and try to translate what he wants. So it’s not starting from scratch. It’s building up something we trust and we like. It’s different.

KP: What are some of your favorite locations that you’ve worked in?

AG: There’s one called Englefield, this famous manor house close to London,pPrivately owned, that we used for Sandringham. So for instance, I think that’s ep 1 when the carol singers come to the house and the king gets very emotional and the family still doesn’t know he’s ill. That’s Sandringham, that’s one of my favorite ones. There is another one…Wrotham. Some of the locations we’re actually coming back to on season three. There’s of course new locations at different periods. So now we can also embrace more modern architecture. But the first two seasons were very much in the late and mid-fifties, so we did use Englefield as probably my favorite one, yeah.

KP: I know we’re about out of time, but as you’re moving into season 3, you’ve got an all new cast playing characters that we already know and love. Are there any challenges that presents to you working with a brand new cast?

AG: I don’t there’s a specific challenge, specifically related to the cast. Of course, I think the challenge is to make them feel confident because they’re all like, “Oh my god, I’m stepping into Claire’s shoes or Matt Smith’s or whatever.” So we feel they are a little nervous, but I think it’s on us to offer a nice environment.

And also, we just did on Monday a first full camera test with Olivia [Colman] in costume and makeup, and Tobias [Menzies] was there as well, and Helena Bonham Carter. And then they look at us and of course they feel that we enjoy being there and we enjoy seeing them for the first time. So I think little by little one of the most important things is just to be able to offer a nice environment and a warm set to give them comfort and confidence.

But I think for us in terms of the visual, it’s just the usual question. What should we change? Should we change something? Should this somehow look different? And I think my position up to this point is of course it’s going to look different because it’s a different period. Now we have the sixties. We have more modern architecture. We have more–I’m not going to say vivid colors, but we have more, it’s gonna be a more colorful season. But on the other hand, I think it’s probably on me and Martin Childs and Ben Caron, who is now directing the first four episodes, to also deliver something that the audience, the public, can recognize. So you don’t want to just reinvent the wheel and just deliver a different product. So it’s very much on us also to deliver some sort of visual consistency.

Things are going to change anyway, so I think we are somehow the shepherds of this look and I don’t see reasons to change it dramatically and to deliver a sharper, more contrasted or more modern look. We love the look and the look will evolve naturally with the show. By moving forward in time, everything changes. Even the locations we’ve seen. Of course you realize immediately, you’re shooting this very modern building where that’s actually inside Buckingham Palace gardens. So there’s the Queen’s Gallery. There’s an exhibition. That’s a building that was built in the 60s, so it’s going to look different. For the first time we’re going to have the queen in a less classic environment. Now a more modern [one]. It’s going to change anyway. So I think in terms of blocking, framing, in terms of overall softness…I think we should stay consistent. That’s how we feel.

But I think once we start principle photography, things can also change. And the good thing about “The Crown” is that whoever comes on board, new directors, new DPs, there will be a short list of rules they should all follow. In terms of this is your equipment. Embrace the equipment, embrace the crew, embrace the lenses, embrace the use of haze. These are your locations, this is your cast. There’s a few rules they all need to follow. But all directors are so very different from each other. There’s always space, there’s always room to be creative. To try different stuff. Like, for instance, on season one ep four, that was so different from all the other ones that it felt to me and Ole, the DP that actually shot Ep 4, that yeah, it should look different. But funny enough, it’s still consistent. You don’t question the look. It’s foggy because the episode was about the smog. So it’s really super foggy. But it’s still very much “The Crown.” It looks like “The Crown.”

KP: Do you have a favorite episode? 

AG: Ep 4 of season two, the one where Margaret meets Tony Armstrong-Jones for the first time and he takes her to his studio and his dark room. I absolutely love that episode. It’s so fresh, it’s so romantic, it’s so like a french film. And, again, it’s very much “The Crown.” I love ep 4 of season 2. It’s a very cool little film.

We would like to thank Adriano Goldman for taking some time to talk about “The Crown.” Production is currently underway on season three, which is set to return to Netflix in 2019.

Be sure to check our Emmy predictions page to see where “The Crown” ranks among the nominees.