Interview with Martin Ahlgren
(June 2018)

Cinematographer Martin Ahlgren has worked on variety of music videos, movies and TV shows, including the second season of DAREDEVIL on Netflix. Here we discuss his background, the experience filming the show and some of the specific action sequences. Many thank to Mr. Ahlgren!

Kuljit Mithra: Nice to chat with you. I was reading some of the info on your website about your background and work you've done. Was your interest in cinematography sparked by Swedish films or American films? Was it anything in particular? And what types of projects were you doing with your friends?

Martin Ahlgren: As a kid I watched a lot of films on VHS video at home, renting them at first and then illegally copying them and watching the favorites over and over. It was mostly American movies, like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. I was interested in how the films were made and would stop and freeze frame moments to try and figure out how effects had been achieved in editing. I would also edit together montages from films, for instance putting together all the explosions in a sequence. I started making short movies with the family Hi8 video camcorder. When I saw the movie Highlander I became really inspired by the way they transitioned between scenes, by having the camera go down into the ground and transition into another time period for instance, and I started creating similar effects in my own home-made films.

Mithra: You've worked on films, TV, and music videos before DAREDEVIL Season 2, so I was curious to know how you got involved with DD... was it because of your previous work on HOUSE OF CARDS that Netflix knew of you?

Ahlgren: Most of my work in television has come from referrals by producers or directors from other projects that I have worked on. In commercials and music videos, where you are often just hired based on someone's interest in your previous work, mainly seen through the reel, the decision is to a large extend just based on the creative merits of your work. In television on the other hand, other factors play an equal or larger role. Producers want to know that you can work fast and that you can handle the logistics of a long schedule and complicated production. On Daredevil I was put in the mix by a producer that had worked with me on the pilot for the show Blindspot.

Mithra: Coming on to a show with its second season, I'm guessing you wanted to try and keep a consistent look and feel from Season 1, but also have your own style in there as well. When you got the job, what were your thoughts on the first season's cinematography and what you wanted to accomplish with this second season?

Ahlgren: I definitely wanted to keep the feel of the first season, while also finding room for my own creativity regarding the cinematography. Netflix wanted the second season to be a little less dark than the first one. While they loved the gritty and dark feeling that had been established, they wanted to see a little more into the shadows and have more definition to the many scenes that take place at night. This worked for me as I gravitate towards not having quite as inky blacks in my own work, and it also gave me some room to reinvent the style slightly to my preference. The main thing we kept as a theme was the color of the street lighting, a very specific yellowish amber hue using color gel Lee 179, that had been established in season 1. I also generally like to use slightly wider lenses close to the subjects, so I pushed more in that direction as well. I feel it gives the photography a more intimate and close feel, but it also complicates things when shooting with two cameras as you are competing more to keep the second camera out of the picture when both try to be as close to the action as possible.

The shadows of Hell's Kitchen - the cinematography of Daredevil season 2 from joserb93 on Vimeo.

Mithra: There's something I hear a lot when people talk of the show... that it's too "dark" and they can't see anything. I wanted to get your opinion on that, because I've never felt it was too dark, but I have a 4K TV... and the show was filmed with 4K cameras... is there really a lot that gets missed in regular HD, including the lighting?

Ahlgren: I don't think it is a 4K versus regular HD problem necessarily, although if you watch it in HDR you certainly get a fuller range of colors and detail in the shadows, but I think you have to watch it like you would a movie in a theatre – in a dark room. The show lives in the shadows and if you watch it in a sunlit environment you're going to have a problem seeing all the nuance of what happens in the dark. We light and color grade with this viewing environment in mind, and just hope that the audience will pull down the blinds before watching.

Mithra: Obviously with a show like DAREDEVIL you have lots of action sequences, but is there any favourite scene you shot that was "simpler"?

Ahlgren: There's a low key scene towards the end of the last episode, at Elektra's grave with Matt and Stick saying a few words in her memory. It's very simple yet says a lot about their complicated relationship with her.

Mithra: Like Season 1, there was an extended fight scene involving a hallway and this one also included a stairwell. You've talked about the setup and procedure for this scene a few years back, so I'll post that video for readers. So let's discuss the rooftop battle with all the Hand ninjas. You had to coordinate a lot of people, film at night with a lot of characters all in black as well. How much time did you have to prepare and film that sequence, and did you have to worry about that "darkness" I mentioned before?

Ahlgren: I had very little preparation time on Daredevil. At the start of the season I had 3 weeks to set things up, and then once we started shooting I was on set every day, Monday to Friday, for 120 days straight, shooting all 13 episodes. Every two weeks you start a new episode with a new director and mostly your prep time will be trying to see them on the weekends and during the technical recce day when my A-camera operator would cover for me on the shoot. This way of working, when you're shooting all episodes in a season, means that you have to rely on the processes you have set up at the start of the season. This goes for all departments on the show and fortunately everyone around you is supportive and collaborative. On an action sequence the stunt coordinator will have made a pre-visualization for everyone to see, a video shot with stunt performers in the environment that we're shooting in. You make specific plans for each big sequence, like discussing with the art department about building in practical light sources and deciding on special technical equipment like cranes, etc. The lighting crew will have pre-riggers set things up before we come in to shoot, but a lot of things are already in place as part of the main unit package, and you come in and work it out with the crew on the day.

Mithra: Was there a lot of green screen with DAREDEVIL? I'm suspecting there wasn't a lot, maybe when compared to ALTERED CARBON for example. How do you setup shots like that when most of it really isn't "there"?

Ahlgren: Not much. We did some car driving during an action sequence and for the actors we did the dialogue on stage on green screen, while the bulk of it was shot practically on location in a moving car. Even on Altered Carbon, we did very little green screen. There it was mostly shot practically on sets, with extensions added in post when necessary, although for flying cars we obviously had to shoot on green screen.

Mithra: Thank you for your time. I won't ask if you're involved with Season 3 (because you can't tell me anyway haha), but what are you currently working on that you can discuss, and what other kinds of projects would interest you. Thanks again!

Ahlgren: I didn't shoot season 3, which is wrapped by now anyway! Currently I'm shooting a feature in Norway, above the Arctic circle, called "The Sunlit Night". After Altered Carbon I have taken some time to do shorter projects, like pilots and commercials, and keeping my eyes open for the next feature or television opportunity.

(c) 2018 Kuljit Mithra & Martin Ahlgren
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear

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