12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer cinematographer Jonathan Furmanski
“Women don’t need orgasms. It’s science.” – Juror #10 (Paul Giamatti)
Back in February a trolling movie critic questioned whether comedian Amy Schumer could possibly stir the loins of male moviegoers enough to be believable as the romantic interest of a chiseled, hunky lothario like Bill Hader in the upcoming romcom Trainwreck. Schumer responded as any talented comedian would – with pointed mockery. Unleashing an episode-length sketch on Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, the show’s namesake transformed the 1957 drama 12 Angry Men into a satire of male chauvinism as a jury room full of legendary character actors- your Giamattis’, your Goldblums’, your Hawkes’s – debate whether Schumer is hot enough to be on TV.
It’s a transcendent piece of television – elevating the form of sketch comedy while using the power of farce to reveal the ridiculousness of the objectification of female performers. And it does so while reverently recreating the look of Lumet’s original, from the camera angles right down to the lighting fixtures. The show’s cinematographer, Jonathan Furmanski, enlightened Deep Fried Movies as to how he replicated the look and feel of one of cinema’s great chamber pieces.
When did you first hear the idea for the parody of 12 Angry Men?
Jonathan Furmanski (JF): When we start doing our prep at the beginning of the season we usually get a big stack of scripts. When we first got that stack of scripts for (Season 3), people were already talking about this one big sketch that might be a whole episode even though none of us had actually seen the script for it yet. It was this phantom idea that kept coming up in conversation. Then a couple of weeks into preproduction, we finally got the script for it and we spent the next two-and-a-half months talking about it.
With these actors and this material, this sketch was destined to be a transformative moment for the show regardless of its visual style. But it certainly added another level of enjoyment for me to see how lovingly you crafted the episode in the image of Lumet’s original.
JF: I don’t think we ever discussed doing it any other way. From the get-go, everybody was on the same page – if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it 100 percent and we’re going to try to make it as close as we can to the original film. And if people don’t understand some of the references, that’s okay because it still stands on its own two feet without them. And if I’m being totally honest, doing it this way was just a lot more fun. On the show we typically shoot on location. We don’t build a lot of sets, we don’t do a lot of dolly moves, we don’t do a lot of jib moves or anything like that. There were a lot of things on this episode that were out of the ordinary for us. It was challenging and difficult, but I’m just super proud of the result. It was an amazing experience. Working on the show in general is more fun than we probably deserve to have. It doesn’t ever really feel like work. I’m just glad that the people at the network and all the executives got so behind the concept and gave us the freedom and ability to pull it off.
What was your shooting schedule like for the episode?
JF: We shot it in two days. The only things that we didn’t shoot on those two main days were the scenes with Dennis Quaid [cameo-ing as the judge presiding over the case]. We shot his scenes a week or two later.
This sketch has such an amazing cast, but I imagine arranging all of these actors’ schedules must have been difficult. Did you have any time with the actors to rehearse or block before you started shooting?
JF: (Inside Amy Schumer director) Ryan McFaul, Amy (who co-directed the episode) and I had many meetings where we talked about the film and we watched the original over and over and discussed which story beats and shots from it we wanted to mimic. But we didn’t have any time with the actors until we were actually on set with them. We were working on a soundstage in Greenpoint in Brooklyn and there was a big snowstorm our first day that really impacted everybody’s ability to get to set. People were just trickling in and it was two or three hours after our call time before we finally had everybody with us. The first thing we did was all sit down and do a table read just to get everybody loose and comfortable. That was an amazing moment because it became clear that everybody was happy to be there and really onboard with the concept.
Walk me through your camera and lens package for the shoot.
JF: We used two Arri Amiras – which is the camera we shot all of Season 3 on – and a set of Leica Summicron primes. We also had two Angenieux Optimo 24-290 zoom lenses, but on 12 Angry Men we mainly used the prime lenses unless there was a very specific moment that we needed the zoom to get an awkward angle.
What were some of the ground rules you set for yourself in order to duplicate the classical Hollywood style of Lumet’s version? The film definitely exploits the era’s preference for deep focus.
JF: We tried to understand what the language was in the original film. For example, the camera in Act One is very high and looks down on the jurors. Then in Act Two it becomes a little bit more eye level and then Act Three it gets even lower until you’re looking up at all of the guys. We tried to integrate that as much as we could into our photography plan. In the original film, they didn’t use a lot of long lenses. They used medium range lenses so those were the focal lengths that we relied on to carry us through our coverage. As far as deep focus goes, we definitely went for that element as well and the wider lenses helped us in that regard. Typically on the show we’re shooting between a 2 and a 2.8, but we tried to get a little bit closer to a 4 or a 5.6 so we would have that ability to have stacks of guys in the frame and hold a lot of them in focus so we could cover a lot of conversations in one shot.
We tried to mimic the look as best we could. We had a very short amount of time to do a lot of work. Typically on our show we shoot 7 to 9 pages a day and with this sketch we were doing closer to 11 or 12 pages a day just because it was crushed into this two-day shooting window.
Like the original film, the sketch is broken up into a three-act structure. How did you approach organizing your coverage with all these actors and all their eyelines shifting around the room as the story progresses?
JF: Act Two basically picks up on the heels of Act One so we kind of thought of those as one big act and then Act 3 has a lighting change that goes from day to night. We broke it down into the big pieces that we knew we needed to get and shot those in order so we didn’t get lost in the weeds with the blocking. But when it came time to do coverage of, say, John Hawkes for his dialogue, then we would basically block shoot that. We had a limited amount of time so we had to do things as efficiently as possible.
In terms of motivated lighting sources, the jury room features a long window revealing the cityscape and several overhead lighting fixtures – which look identical to the fixtures in the original film. How did you approach lighting your set?
JF: Our production designer Alan Lampert and his whole team did an amazing job of building the set and finding ways to source or fabricate all of these details like the etchings on the glass and those light fixtures. They also made some of the walls removable for us so we could more easily get difficult camera angles. As far as lighting goes, the windows were a big motivation. A lot of the action takes place near or around the windows so we wanted those to be prominent and we wanted to be able to really feel the city outside. We had a Translight flown in from Los Angeles to resemble as best we could the view out the window in the original film. And then overhead, we built a big softbox that those ceiling lights are hanging through and that became a big source for the room. On top of that we would just add the backlights and the key lights to the actors depending on where they were in the room. We did two days of pre-lighting so a lot of that stuff was hung in the grid and waiting for us.
How did you settle on the look of your black-and-white?
JF: In preproduction I created some black-and-white LUTs and we piped those into the camera on set. We created a few different ones – a low-contrast, a normal and then a high-contrast LUT. We ended up using the high-contrast LUT because the original film is very contrasty. We shot everything in Log C and then worked with an excellent colorist named Troy Thompson who’s at Running Man Post, which handles all of the post for the show. Troy and I had long conversations about the look of the show and the look of this sketch in particular and he did an absolutely phenomenal job.
Were there any surprises in terms of how different colors read in black-and-white?
JF: In the original film all of the guys are wearing some version of a white shirt. I was really concerned about that because, number one, we would lose a lot of detail in the clothes that way and, number two, everyone would basically look like they had on the same wardrobe. So we did some tests with light blues and tans and we came up with a range of colors that would read better in terms of getting detail out of the fabric and allowing for a little bit more of the characters’ individuality to come through while still having everybody in that white collar businessman look.
Jonathan walks us through a few shots from 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer.
The Shot: A close-up of Amy in the courtroom prior to jury deliberation. This shot is an example of a technique used frequently in the original in which the light’s intensity is greater in the center of an actor’s face and then falls off around the edges.
JF: In the original film this is really the only shot where you see the defendant. Boris Kaufman was the cinematographer of the original and he created this great sense of claustrophobia not just by the way he moved the camera and placed the lens, but also through that technique of shadowing the light on peoples’ faces and boxing them in. It makes the characters feel trapped and this shot may be the best example of it.
We shot this on a day when we were in another courtroom shooting a different sketch and in that courtroom it just happened that the jury box had this wood paneling that looked similar to the background of the shot in the original film.
The Shot: The camera is static as the jurors file into the room for the opening credits. Once all are inside, the camera tracks through the room to introduce the men. With all the moves in this shot, it would be physically impossible to lay down dolly track. How did you handle moving the camera?
JF: We had a lot of conversations about how we were going to do this shot and using dolly track was just never going to be a practical solution because of the limitations of the set and because you want the actors to be able to walk around freely and not have to worry about stepping over things. It really just became a question of, “Are we going to build an entire floor (that we can roll the dolly on) and have the set on top of that, or are we going to just use the floor of the stage and then put dance floor down where and when we needed.” Ultimately, for cost considerations, we did the dance floor solution, and we were able to repurpose that money we saved to other areas where we really needed it.
For this shot, we took that wall out that had the bathroom doors on it and the fan was actually attached to a stand because we had to fly the camera around it. So once we dollied past the fan, the grips flew it out of the way so we could move in on (Nick Di Paolo and Chris Gethard) when they’re sitting on the bench next to each other. It was complicated, but the dance floor ended up working out for us.
The Shot: The final shot of the film replicates the famed conclusion of the original with the camera slowly pushing in from the coat closet as the jurors trickle out of the room.
JF: This was incredibly tough to pull off. This was actually the last shot of the main two days of photography so there was a lot of pressure to get the shot because it was a long day and everybody was tired. But this is such an iconic moment in the original film that we knew that we had to get it right. We couldn’t boom the camera down quickly enough to clear the (bar holding the coats) so we put the bar on stands and flew it up over the camera. In the original film you can actually see that they fly the hangers up as well. So we figured if they did it, we could probably get away with it too.