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From Bridgerton to Grey's Anatomy: Alicia Robbin's Pioneering Journey in TV Production

Alicia Robbins is a cinematographer who holds the record for being the first female cinematographer to become a full time DP on a Shondaland series where she worked on Grey's Anatomy for seasons 16 and 17. For season three of Bridgerton, she shot four of the eight episodes, leveraging her extensive experience and creative brilliance to honor the show's aesthetic while pushing its boundaries.

Listen to the full episode here.



[00:01:20]  Alicia Robbins on what she is most passionate about

[00:02:03]  Alicia Robbins on where her love for filmmaking comes from

[00:06:02]  Alicia Robbins on her experience at American Film Institute

[00:08:03]  Alicia Robbins on how AFI helped her get work in the industry

[00:09:54]  Alicia Robbins on what a cinematographer is

[00:12:40]  Alicia Robbins on her involvement in post production

[00:13:57]  Alicia Robbins on how she got into the industry and her big break

[00:17:52]  Alicia Robbins on how she got on the show For the People

[00:23:02]  Alicia Robbins on breaking into cinematography as a woman

[00:30:08]  Alicia Robbins on her first episode with Grey’s Anatomy

[00:34:34]  Alicia Robbins on working with Shonda and Shondaland company

[00:37:25]  Alicia Robbins on challenges of working on the show Bridgerton

[00:41:56]  Alicia Robbins on how she shot the large scale sets on Bridgerton

[00:45:40]  Alicia Robbins on lighting a diverse cast

[00:49:17]  Alicia Robbins on how she deals with body image on Bridgerton

[00:53:03]  Alicia Robbins on interesting things about being a DP

[00:56:02]  Alicia Robbins on what is her dream for herself and for women



Passionistas: Hi, everyone. We're sisters, Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project. We've created an inclusive sisterhood where passion driven women come to get support, find their purpose, and feel empowered to transform their lives and change the world. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, We talk about how she defined success and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.


Today we're talking with Alicia Robbins, who holds the record for being the first female cinematographer to become a full time DP on a Shondaland series where she worked on Grey's Anatomy for seasons 16 and 17. For season three of Bridgerton, she shot four of the eight episodes, leveraging her extensive experience and creative brilliance to honor the show's aesthetic while pushing its boundaries.


So, we are thrilled to welcome Alicia Robbins to the show.


Alicia: Yay! Thank you for having me.


Passionistas: Thanks so much for being here. We're really excited. We're big Bridgerton fans, and we've watched Grey's Anatomy for, you know, I don't know. I've always been on 45 years or something. Years and years and years. Um, so Alicia, what are you most passionate about?

Alicia: Oh my gosh. Besides filmmaking? Or a film. That could be right. Yeah. Um, I mean, honestly, what I'm most passionate about is being with family and being able to travel. So, honestly, I like if my filmmaking career can lead into that too. So, having seven months in London for Bridgerton, uh, was, was wonderful because I'm getting to travel and work and live in London and explore and really get to know the city.


So, Very passionate about travel for sure, but yes, filmmaking is my heart and it has always been, at least for over 23 years now.


Passionistas: So where does that love of filmmaking come from? Were you into movies and TV as a kid?


Alicia: I was, but I didn't really know I wanted to be a filmmaker. Um, I grew up in a musical family, so Piano, piano teachers, my parents were piano teachers, voice teachers, um, did a lot of musical theater growing up.


So I was definitely more on the performance side of things with music and I loved movies. I, I always noticed things about them that maybe other people didn't notice. A lot of times the lighting, um, I, as a kid, I loved that, the Roger Deakins version of Secret Garden, some of the lighting in that is some of the most beautiful lighting I've ever seen.


And I used to watch that movie year after year, like over and over and over again. And, and I think it's just because the lighting was so beautiful with it. Um, but filmmaking, I didn't really discover until I got into college. So I, I hadn't even really picked up a camera until I got into college for my undergrad.


I was, um, actually studying communications at Vanderbilt University. And thinking that I wanted to be a news anchor, so still kind of on that performance side, being in front of the camera, um, but, uh, maybe a little more stable, so to speak, and being a news anchor. Um, but I just, I wasn't really into political science.


So I didn't like politics. I didn't like, and I'm realizing, oh, this might not work. You kind of have to be into political science to be a news anchor. Um, and it was literally just one day when I was working at the Vanderbilt television station, so I was like one of their little anchors that went out and did stories and stuff, um, that my camera guy didn't show up that day.


And so I needed to take the camera myself and go film these little bits to put together. And so I had to get a crash course on this. It was a VHS camera, but I had to get a crash course on it, but it was still a broadcast camera. So I had exposure, zoom, focus, all that stuff, and went out and shot my own little bit.


And I realized that I wanted to be behind the camera, not in front of it. So since then I was starting to figure out, okay, what can I do behind the scenes? What am I interested in there? Um, and cinematography didn't really, it, it, it wasn't on my radar until I worked as a production assistant on a movie that was coming through Birmingham, Alabama.


I grew up in Alabama. Um, and, and it was a low budget, like, three million dollar movie, and, uh, Wally Pfister, who's now a crazy famous DP, uh, Oscar winner was shooting this tiny little movie. So this was before he was really attached to Christopher Nolan and doing the big films.

And I was just, I was really fascinated with. he was doing and that he was working with a camera and he's working with a lighting and he's has a command of the set that I, I found intriguing and, and so, and I knew he was the cinematographer, so I'm like, Oh, maybe, maybe that's something that I could potentially be interested in.


And I really asked him, I said, well, how do you, how do you get to do what you do? What was your path? And he said that he has gone to the American Film Institute to get a Master's Degree. He said if I was interested in getting a Master's in Cinematography, that's a great path and so for the next two years while I was at Vanderbilt I worked on building a portfolio that I could submit to get into a AFI and, and that's what happened. So I went to a AFI right outta undergrad and I was like, oh, I guess I'm gonna be a DP. That's what I'm gonna do. Cool.


Passionistas: Excellent. So tell us about that a AFI experience and what do you think the most important lessons are that you learned there?


Alicia: Oh, wow. Um, because I was, I was actually the youngest student there because I was coming right out of undergrad. Um. I was really like a sponge. I just didn't know as much as a lot of the other students did.


Cause a lot of people, they'll go work for a while, then they'll come back and get their master's degree. So me going there right out of undergrad, I was. Definitely like a new kid, not knowing much at all about camera work and lighting. And, um, but I was learning not only from our professors, but also just the other students, because they just had such vast knowledge on things that I just didn't know about at all.


So I was really like a sponge, just absorbing everything. And just, just trying to take it all in. But I think the, besides the technical aspects of things that I learned at AFI, which you, you do learn a lot on the technical side, um, the storytelling aspect. So how do you move a camera in a way that's telling the mood of that beat?


What, what lens sizes are saying about a character? A wide close up on a wide lens versus like a pulled back close up on a long lens. How does that feel? Like that was a demonstration that I remember our professor Bill Dill did early on. Like what, what are you feeling when you have a long lens close up versus a wide lens close up?


And it's a feeling. So understanding character and how to. Uh, convey those characters on the screen through lighting and lenses and all of that. So it was the storytelling aspect of it that I still think to this day I'm applying to my cinematography that I had learned over 20 years ago at AFI. So I got a lot from it.


Passionistas: That's amazing. And was it a good gateway to getting work in the industry?


Alicia: I thought it was because, You often form relationships just with your other colleagues that you're going to school with, so a lot of the work that I did right out of AFI was with and other, other, other students. So, and because they all, we all have different connections in different fields, uh, it was like one of them became a gaffer on some, um, some like Hallmark movies.


And they were like, well, we have some great electricians that we can bring in. So I did electric work on some Hallmark movies for a while because we were crewing for each other and And also AFI students have a tendency to want to hire from the school even from other years. And I ended up working with a lot of DPs from other years too because we would just meet at like a Mole Richardson event and we're like, Oh, I went to AFI.


Oh, so did you. And so it's like a, it's, there's definitely camaraderie there. With just knowing you had gone to AFI, um, because for the most part, if you've graduated from AFI, you're probably a decent crew member, because you have to do so many cycle projects and you have to work on so many thesis projects that you're getting a pretty good crew education on these projects. So you feel pretty confident that you could bring in an AFI grad to work on your project and they're going to do a pretty good job.


Passionistas: So I just want to take a step back. For people who are listening or watching and don't know what a cinematographer or director of photography is, can you just explain that so that they're not, they're understanding what we're talking about?


Alicia: That's a hard definition. It really is because. When you're watching a DP on set, it seems very abstract sometimes because a lot of people think that a cinematographer is the person that's physically moving around the camera. So they're the ones behind the camera, operating the camera. And sometimes that is the case.


Sometimes you have a cinematographer that is operating the camera. Um, but a lot of the times they're not. So there'll be a tent somewhere looking at the frames and talking to their gaffer and then having a headset talking to the camera operators about framing the shot. And so it's, observing it, it can look like a very abstract job that's really hard to explain.


But for the most part, you're serving the, the story that is being told by the writers and the director or writer and director. and Sometimes you'll get directors that have a very clear understanding of what they want visually, and you're there to service that. Like if they're, they know exactly how they want their close up, they know exactly how they want the camera to move, and you can just follow suit with that, and offer your opinions as well, and just make it better.


And then there's other directors that are more of an actor's director where they can do the blocking and they like to deal with the performance of the actors but they're really leaning on me for the shot design of it. Like what, how are we going to get into this scene? Where is that wide shot positioned?


Um, what kind of camera movement are we going to get into the scene? So you're really working directly with the from the very beginning on how to shoot the project. And you're responsible for the camera team and the lighting team. So that is your department. You are the head of both of those teams. So how the camera moves, what lenses you're putting on, the camera selection, exposure, uh, color, all of that, contrast, and then on top of that, all the lighting, where's the light coming from, what's the quality of the light, is it soft, is it hard?

What's the color of the light? And you're putting all of that together and then creating a moving image that's telling the story per the vision of the director and writer, showrunner, producers. That's the best way I can describe it.


Passionistas: Brilliant. That's perfect. And, and you talk about being involved from kind of day one in pre-production, obviously you're there on set. Do you work into post-production as well?


Alicia: Yes, and so I'm not involved with the editing, um, but I am involved with color timing. So after it's all edited together, then it'll go into color timing, where I'll sit with a colorist and we fine tune the color of the whole project. So. If something needs to be darkened, if something needs to be brighter, um, color, like if we're wanting to bring out the blues more, bring out the warm, so you're just fine tuning it.


If anyone studies photography, it's kind of like taking a photograph into Photoshop or Lightroom and then adding that last, touch to it. And you can push that pretty far sometimes in color. Um, I have done that on TV shows before. But it just depends on the show. Like, you can't all of a sudden go into color and go, I'm going to make everything blue!


And then expect that the producers and everyone's going to be okay with you turning everything blue. So you have to know what kind of show you're working on and where your limitations are.

Passionistas: That's awesome. So, so let's say you're at AFI and then what happens? How do you get into the industry? You did a lot of commercial work and docs and videos, things like that, right?


Alicia: It was all low budget. It was really low budget for many years. So, um, When you're first getting into cinematography, you kind of have to do anything and everything and because you have to pay your bills.


So that's one of the main things is you're trying to be creative, but you also have to pay your bills. So you're just, you're looking to find anything that you can get your hands on. So if that's camera operating, if that's potentially working as an electrician on a show, um, I didn't really do the AC route.


So assistant camera work, I didn't really do that so much. Um, honestly, I just wasn't. And I would not be that interested in focus pulling or being a second and working my way up that way. For me, I would rather work as either a gaffer or in lighting department. And then as much as possible camera operating or shooting or being the DP on very low budget projects.


So I can just be practicing my craft. So. Right out of AFI, I ended up shooting a really low budget feature, uh, just shortly after, like five months after I graduated. It was a horror movie and it was a ridiculous horror movie, but it was pretty fun. We shot on 16 millimeter and so getting to practice doing a whole movie on 16 millimeter was really great.


And I knew that I needed A movie right out of the gate. Cause that's one of the things that people are looking for. Have you shot a feature? That's a lot of times the question. So I kind of didn't care what it was. I just said, I got to shoot a feature right away. And get that under my belt, get that IMDB credit.


And from there, over about 16 years, I did shoot about eight features. Um, but they were all really micro budget movies, but some of them did pretty well in the festival circuit. Um, and in between those movies, I would work on documentary projects. Um, I kind of became like, The Beauty B Roll gal for car stuff.


So I worked on all of these car TV shows and I was the person doing the slider moves around the headlight or putting the camera on a small little jib and getting these really beaut, these beauty shots of these classic cars. So I'd become kind of a beauty B Roll kind of person that would get hired on stuff.


Um, So yeah, you just kind of have to find anything and everything that you can do. And then I was also looking to join the union as soon as possible. So right away I was starting to collect my days and trying to work my way towards joining the union by doing the hundred. And the last one is for the, uh, the nonunion days over the three years.


So when I graduated in AFI 2003, I was actually able to join the union in 2007. So not that long after graduating, cause I was just really adamant about getting in the union. Um, and it wasn't because. I knew from there I would get union work because that's just not how it is. It's not that you join the union and all of a sudden you're going to get union work.


That's not what happens. Um, but to be able to say yes to any union job that came my way, even if it was a day playing gig here and there, that was important to me because I knew that's where I would make my connections and where I could Potentially show other cinematographers out there that I could operate the camera.


That I could potentially be a full time hire, um, so joining the union was very important to me. So it was 16 years after graduating from AFI that I finally got a break, and it was it was for a Shondaland show


Passionistas: And what show was that?


Alicia: It was called For the People. So, it was a law show that did two seasons and then, and then didn't go past that which was unfortunate cause I actually really liked it. I thought it was a cool show. But yeah they were looking for a C camera operator slash additional cinematographer And that DP who was on it had called the union and asked, do you have an upcoming DP that's in the union as a camera operator that might be interested in doing this role? Because it is kind of a weird role to come in as a full time C camera and then occasionally get to bump up as a DP.


So some DPs might not find that appealing, but if you're looking to get your foot in the door, it is Absolutely an amazing role to have on set. And they had called the union and asked if they knew of someone that might be interested in taking that position. And I had just won an Emerging Cinematographers Award at the, for that year.


And so I think I was on people's radar and, uh, Steven Poster was like, Oh yeah, you should, you should reach out to Alicia Robbins. She's one of our ECA recipients. And so that and, and the fact that the DP, Christian Sebaldt, who was making that phone call, I had worked one day for him two years prior on a day playing job, and he remembered me from that.

And he was like, Oh my gosh, yes, she was amazing. She helped us make our day. So let's bring her in for an interview. And so I got on that. And from there, I haven't left, I haven't left big TV. Yeah.


Passionistas: You talk about taking those jobs all along the way, right. That are like, and that's the thing. It's, it may not be your dream position or it may only be, Oh, it's only a day or whatever, but those are the things that.


Alicia: Yeah.


Passionistas: Are going to be the, the trigger, the,


Alicia: Yeah, you just never, you just never know. You never know. And so I'm always telling people that, that you, even if it's a small gig that you're kind of like, ugh, I got to go do this night shoot. And it was a night shoot too. So it's hard to go in for one day on a night shoot because you're not.


Your body isn't ready for it and then you're ruining the next two days probably. So to go in to do a day playing job on a night shoot, I could see how some people may go in with like, uh, I really don't want to be here. This is silly.


I'm just the E camera on it. Like, literally, I was the fourth camera. Um, but, for, but I, what had happened on that show, It was such a huge scene that he was shooting and, um, and I could tell that there was just a lot of content that they needed to get that night. And I was being a little bit bold and I went up to the DP and I told him, I said, if you need help at all, just so you know, I'm an AFI grad from cinematography.


I am a DP. If you need help at all with like maybe pre lighting something to get ahead. I don't mind doing that. And he, he's like, Oh, I mean, he was really gracious about it. He's like, Oh, Oh, interesting. Yeah. That could be helpful. And so that's what he did actually about a couple hours in he's, he started asking me, Hey, can you set up the shot outside?


And I'll give you some electricians to go out and light it. And then I'll come take a look. And, and that's what we did for the rest of the night. I was like kind of hopscotching was setting up a shot and then we'd shoot. So that's why he remembered me. Cause he was like, Oh my gosh. Yeah. That's how we That's how we made our day was because she helped.



So not that I'm saying you do that on everything. Like, don't go up to DP and be like, guess what? I'm a DP too. Do you need help? You know what I mean? Like those, you have to, you have to gauge the atmosphere and figure out what's going on.


Passionistas: You also have to work hard and be willing to roll with it. Right.


You've got to be able to show. Whether you go to the DP or the DP comes to you, you have to be able to show that you're flexible and that you can take on the challenge. Yeah. And say, and you can deliver what you say you can deliver.


Alicia: Exactly. That's the key too. You have to be able to deliver. And fortunately, I had already been shooting for many years.


So I did know what I was doing. I wouldn't have offered that up. If I wasn't confident in my skills. So I, I knew I had already put in the years 10,000 hours at least . So I knew what I was doing. Um, so that's why I offered it to him. And, and yeah, it, it definitely paid off by, by being very helpful.


Passionistas: Right. So there was a study recently that said only 6% of cinematographers are women. Oh, it went up.


Alicia: It was four


Passionistas: It's probably you. So talk about that. Talk about breaking into cinematography as a woman and if you feel the opportunities are improving.


Alicia: Yeah, the opportunities are improving. I do know that people are actively trying to have diversity in their crew. Um, I actually just shot Quantum Leap where both of the DPs. Me and, and Ana, we're female, so that, that's kind of unusual to have two DPs on a network TV show.

I think you're going to start seeing more and more of that. Um, but I think where it gets really tricky. And this is where it's really hard for women to step up is most of the opportunities that we've had are in documentary or in reality. Like that's where we can make a break is in documentary and reality shows.


And that doesn't always, um, transfer over to scripted work. And even though there's so many women that have made that break out of reality, out of documentary and have been given those opportunities in narrative, um, it does make it harder. Uh, so, whereas like before, when I graduated from AFI, I did notice that, and I'm not, I don't want, I don't like knocking down guys at all, because I'm married to a man, I love him dearly.


Passionistas: We, and we, believe us, we're not a man bashing, so we, we, uh, but, but the reality is. If we don't talk about the limitations that have been put on us, we're not going to be able to know what we need to change. We discuss it in the spirit of loving men.


Alicia: Yeah, we're not, we're not given the opportunities to try to do the big work.


And it does take a show, it does take a Shondaland type show to go, you know what, I don't care if this DP has only done 200, 000 features and hasn't shot A big network TV I want to get this person in here and give them that opportunity. So really getting that C camera position. I mean, I don't know if they were specifically looking for a female.


I bet they were because they are trying to be so diverse. Um, but I didn't have experience on big TV, how to light big TV, and it takes a That kind of environment to say, no, we're going to give this person an opportunity anyway. And then everyone has to be on board. That crew was amazing. And I know that it was because the DP, the show runner, our producing director, they're all like, help her if she needs help.


So, like, for instance, working on a dolly. I was always on sliders and stuff because I could never afford having a real dolly on my movies. So, I'm always on a Dana dolly or something like that. Rarely would I get a real dolly. So, when I was on the dolly, um, the, the main dolly grip, he was like, If you want to run down on all the stuff that this dolly does.


And how it transforms into low mode and blah, blah, blah. He was like, let me know. I was like, yes. Please explain. Tell me all of it now, if you can. And they did. They everyone was like, they were just really helpful with showing me this unit will give you this quality at this distance because you're also not working with big lights on independent projects.


You're still trying to go for a big look, but you're having to work with smaller gear. So it's really that education of scaling up and also knowing who to talk to about different aspects of your job. So it's like, if you need a plant moved, who do you talk to about that? There are specific people that you talk to about moving a plant, or who are you talking to about the paint color of the wall?

Versus the actual structure of the wall. Like those are two different department heads. So knowing who to talk to is also a thing that you have to learn when you're on bigger TV. So it, and I could see how producers might shy away from hiring someone who's only come from documentary or independent low budget features.


But if the person is smart and then they obviously have. A style and they're creative, chances are they're gonna get it. And in the past, I know that our male colleagues have been given those opportunities time and time again from just coming out of shooting a really amazing short.

And all of a sudden they're shooting. A 5 million dollar feature. And you're going, how in the world, why is it that I'm just scraping by doing all this low budget work and my, my male colleague has gotten this amazing opportunity to shoot this big movie. And I actually have more credits. So it, it does take people from the top to hire those women.


And I honestly am trying to make that as part of my task as well. To do a similar thing that Christian Sebaldt did for me. Like hire me as a C camera operator that knows that I want to bump up one day. And on Grey's Anatomy, I had an opportunity, I got to hire Jeanne Tyson as my C camera operator. She's an amazing DP, but I was like do you want to come and operate because potentially you could bump up and now she does, she shoots Grey's. So she's been off for two seasons now as the DP. So I know that that is a way that people can break in is getting those C camera positions that occasionally gets to bump up as a cinematographer.


So you have those opportunities to prove yourself on a bigger set. So anytime that I have control over the hiring, I'm always trying to get. Women in diversity into those positions as much as I can.


Passionistas: That's amazing. But that's, it's great when you can finally pay it forward and yeah,


Alicia: I want to pay it forward more though.


Passionistas: It's well, sounds like you will. I mean, now that you're in the Shondaland family, it seems like one of those rare, um, communities in Hollywood where they pull from within and they trust and the diversity behind the scenes and on camera is insane. So what was that first? Um, episode like for you on Grey's, you talked about kind of learning the equipment and stuff, but what was, was, was the pressure immense or were you like comfortable enough with the crew at that point that you were like, okay.


Alicia: Well, because Grey's was a whole new show. Cause so it's For the People was where I was getting my practice. And then, um, Grey's Anatomy was looking to hire a DP to shoot a couple of standalone episodes. And they knew that I was over on For the People. So they. They asked if I was interested in coming over and doing a couple episodes.


And that first episode that I shot for Grey's Anatomy was actually, it was a huge episode. Even though it was a standalone, it was a huge episode and Debbie Allen was directing. So,

Passionistas: Okay. So there is pressure.


Alicia: Yeah. And this was going to be my first hour of TV that I shoot. Solely as the DP. And it was the famous, um, hallway of women episode that, that apparently is still like one of the most popular Grey's Anatomy episodes ever.


And we knew it was gonna be a big one. And so there was a lot of pressure, but what was so nice about it was it had time wise It worked where I could bring in some of the crew from For the People, because For the People had already wrapped, and so I was able to bring crew over from For the People so they knew me.


Because it was a standalone, because Grey's Anatomy had their own crew working on the main unit stuff, but for the standalone, I needed to hire a whole crew, and I'm like, well, I've got a crew, I just got off the show. And so that made it way easier that I could actually bring in people that I knew, and that I trusted, and they trusted me.


But that was a really, it was a difficult episode. Um, there was that diner scene between Camilla and her mom. That was, that was like 13 pages in one day. I actually have a tutorial on my YouTube channel on how we did it.


Passionistas: Oh, cool.


Alicia: Cause it was 13 pages. It was the most pages that have ever been shot in one day on Grey's Anatomy.


And, um, so I, I showed it, I, I got permission from ABC to put a tutorial together on how we did it. So,


Passionistas: And what were like, give us one thing that you did that helped you make that day.


Alicia: Um, we honestly shot it a little bit. Like it was. Live, like a live sitcom, not lighting wise, but having multi camera, um, three cameras that day because the, the dialogue, there were long takes too, because, and they ended up having to trim it later, but the monologues were really chunky in there.


So by the time a take was done, it was like a 20 minute take. So we knew we were only going to get maybe one take per setup. So we'd have three cameras going on every single setup. We do one and Debbie Allen is so great at just doing one take anyway. If she, if she's got it, she's got it. She's ready to move on.


So we, we had it formulated where I started with cross shooting just so that If all else fails, it's in the can. We have all the dialogue and if they have continuity issues, it's in the can with cross shooting. And so you understand just in case what cross shooting is, it's, it, most of the time you have your cameras pointing one direction, potentially with like a 90 degree angle.


Look at me holding my tea. A 90 degree angle, the cross shooting, which DPs generally don't like doing because it can compromise the lighting, is where you're shooting both characters at the same time. So the, The cameras are almost pointed at each other, but they're just a little bit off enough where they don't see each other.


And so that's what we started with was cross shooting so that we had both characters, all the dialogue for the seated portions, and that was in the can. And then from there, we started moving forward with pulling all the cameras around. One would be on a medium, one would be tighter, one would be a roving swingle from the side, all that kind of stuff.


We do one take each and then move on to the next setup. And I think we even wrapped in like 11 hours or something. We didn't even do a full day.


Passionistas: Tell us, tell us a little bit more about working on at Shondaland with Shonda and just like how she creates an atmosphere on the set.


Alicia: Yeah. Um, it's definitely from the top down with her.


She makes sure that the people that are working under her are also creating this atmosphere of um, inclusiveness , uh diversity hiring and not tolerating jerks. I mean that's a big one. You, You can't have an attitude. You will be let go if you're an asshole, pardon my French. Um, so, and it's great. So when you are working on a Shondaland show, you do know that for the most part, people are going to be pretty cool with each other.


Still very professional and you still have to get the job done. So it's kind of like. I feel like outsiders who don't understand the film industry that come from maybe a regular office space, they still might think that some of what they hear on set could be a little harsh. It's very straightforward and direct.


You're not asking someone to move the dolly over. You tell them to move the dolly over. So it's, it's a little bit of a different dynamic than what you see out in the world. Um, but everyone's used to that. Everyone's used to that directness. Uh, but I, I've been happy to work on. Shondaland shows and also, honestly, a lot of the shows I've been on lately have had that same philosophy, Quantum Leap, um, for NBC that had a similar vibe of wanting diversity on set and diversity in the crew as well as in front of the camera.


And again, I think that comes, it comes from the top down. It comes from the producers and the showrunners and what they want to see. So not all shows are like that but I feel like I have had the privilege of being on shows that are like that.


Passionistas: That's great.


Um, So let's move on to Bridgerton. I will say for the people who are listening that we did this interview uh during the very um, stressful for those of us who are watching break, um, in the middle of the third season.


Alicia: I'm so sorry.


Passionistas: We're on pins and needles. We're like, I, at least Nancy warned me cause she watched first and she was like, just so you know, it's split season.


I was like, thank God.


Alicia: First time we've done that. We didn't know that. We didn't know that was going to happen.


Passionistas: It's, it's kind of torturous, um, but the good news is the show is so good, always. But this season in particular, I think, is, it's like a new level of good. Um, so what has it been like for you? Not only are you on a new show, but it's a period piece.


And you're shooting in a different country. So talk about the challenges of working on Bridgerton.


Alicia: Um, yeah, and especially since it already done two seasons. So sometimes that's even a bigger challenge because you know that you need to come in and match the expectations of what was already there. And not only match the expectations, but also somewhat match the look of the show so that it feels like it's the same show.


Um, but then you're also trying to put your own taste, your own flair into it. So it's, it's writing that fine line of being consistent with what the show is expecting, as well as putting your own stamp on it. So, and then going across the ocean to shoot with brand new crew. Uh, luckily because I was coming in to start the season, um, we were looking to hire new crew for various reasons.


Uh, not because they didn't like past crew or anything like that, but. I have noticed that at least in England, crew changes out quite a bit. And I think it's because they don't have unions there. And so they're making their own deals. So they're always looking for the next best show for themselves. So they don't necessarily stick to the same show season in season out.


Um, so we knew that we had to hire new operators, new gaffer, new key grip. And so I was the one that got to do, A lot of those interviews with them and pick who I thought was best. Um, of course, talking to Jeff Jur, who is the lead DP on the show, he was on Queen Charlotte at the time. So that's why I had to really, um, kind of take control over all those initial aspects of getting the show going.


But we would still, uh, converse about, well, I really like this person. How do you feel about them? And he agreed with everyone that I had. So they kind of were my crew, which was cool. I chose them. I chose these people and, um, and the style of it is a little different too. So grips in the UK are only working at moving the camera.


So they're dealing with cranes, dollies, um, and just anything that has to do with camera movement. They're not setting C stands. They're not setting flags. So that all falls under. The Electric Department, so the gaffer is the only person you need to talk to about lighting, which I actually kind of liked, I thought that was kind of cool because I could just say, this kind of light with this quality, this quality of diffusion, whatever, and it all happens in the same department.


Um, so that was a bit different. And And also the accents. There's so many different accents because they're coming from all over the place. So trying to understand a Liverpool accent versus like from Wales and finally by the end though I could understand everyone perfectly, but there was quite a few times I'm going What did you say?


And we're still wearing masks, too. So this is still in the middle of COVID, and so I'm not able to really hear them under their muffled masks, and I had to get used to the accent with a mask. Um, but I really love working in England, because it's also 10 hour days. You don't work over 10. We did French hours, so we worked through lunch.


Which made it a little hard for me because I, I never really can step away. Um, but, um, I did like having the 10 hour days. Cause you feel like you have a life at the end of the day, which was really nice. But yeah, it was a big challenge going into this massive show and knowing that they had these expectations.


Of what it needed to look like. And then I'm also trying to lean into establishing a little bit more contrast this season. A little bit darker in some of the ballroom scenes um, which you will see, which you have already seen in episode two um, that is the darkest, at least at that point, was the darkest ball that had been shot for a Bridgerton episode. Um, and that took approval. Like I had, I did lighting tests and everything to make sure that that was, that it was in line with what the showrunner wanted.


And, um, and so I got approval on that look. I didn't just go in and go, I'm going to make it dark. So.


Passionistas: I was just going to ask about that. I mean, it's such a beautiful show and it's so. grand Like, you have those giant ballroom scenes. You have those promenade scenes with everyone. Like, talk about the scale of shooting that. Just how do you do that?


Alicia: Yeah, it's hard. Um, you have to really have a solid plan on how you're going to break things up throughout the day. So, you're never going to be shooting all 25 actors at once, for instance, so like some of the ballroom scenes, it, the scene will have all these characters listed in it, but you know, you're not going to shoot all of them at once.


So you're trying to figure out, okay, who's really talking together. And then how do you connect that bit of dialogue to then this bit of dialogue that's maybe happening over here? And so you start forming maps. So this is what like Tricia Brock and I did. We'd form overhead maps of these balls and where everyone would be positioned in the ball.


And then how would we connect either through the dance? Like with a Steadicam shot following the dancers that would lead to the next little pod of people that were talking, so we would figure out. All of those pieces of like, okay, where's people, where are people positioned? How are they moving through the space?


How do you connect with the camera through those areas? Um, and then you work it out with your AD because obviously they're also thinking about, okay, are you going to see the queen in any of these shots? Because that's a big one. Because her dress takes a lot longer

than anyone else’s to just get that wig on and everything. And so you have to decide on, are we going to see the queen in this setup or are we not? And when will we see the queen again? And so you're having to think about five setups ahead. And you would tell the AD, I think after these next three shots, we will see the queen. And so then they know, okay, I should think about getting the queen ready in the next 20 minutes.


So it's all a timing thing. Um, but as much as you can have at least, uh, pre-planned where people are positioned. And how many pieces of coverage you might want to get within those little dialogue clumps. It's, it's good to have an idea of that, but shot listing the actual shots within the pods, I call them pods, I know it's silly, but that's what, like little pods of people.

Um, shot listing. Oh, close up here. Close up there. It was not really necessary, necessary. Cause once you're in that little pod now you're in standard coverage, so to speak. You're doing a wide version of it, mediums, and maybe a close up, but close ups in Bridgerton are not as close as other shows as well.


The only time that you go into like a real close up in Bridgerton is if it's a key scene where they need that close up and that reaction. But otherwise we're holding more of a medium shot. So it's more like a bust and then holding the hair because we're trying to show off the costumes and the hair.


and that is the big appeal of the show is the environment and what they're wearing. So we're trying to show off the space. Show off the costumes and the wigs so we don't go in as tight as a, a traditional TV show all the time.


Passionistas: Well, it's so, it's such a beautiful show. It's amazing. The other thing that I'm always amazed by is, um, there's so, it's so culturally diverse and I know that it can be difficult to light different skin tones.


And, and there are so many scenes where you have people of such varying skin tones in dialogue with each other. I would imagine that that presents another level of, of challenges.

Alicia: It does. Yeah, lighting a diverse cast, it's definitely a combination of what I can do in the lighting, as well as what I know I can do in post color.


So it's, it's finding that balance of not necessarily having it perfectly balanced on set, um, but finding at least a reasonable balance where I can either push down or pull back up later in post. Um, but I did have some tools that we would use. We actually had. It was a Rotolight Anova, which is this round source that we would end up putting a snoot on it.


So like a kind of looks like a tunnel. Um, and we'd use that kind of like a spotlight. So if I had a scene where. I had really, uh, light skinned actors with dark skinned actors, and they were really side by side. Then I would light it just overall with a key source, and then in front of that key source, or off to the side, I would use this snooted kind of spotlight to hone in on the darker skinned character, and it was a soft directional light, so it actually was really pretty.


Um, and this is a thing I learned on Grey's Anatomy. Actually, it was a It was a skill set I got from there because the past EP had used a snooted light for Ellen for many years just to pop her a little bit in the face. And, and so I was doing the same thing. So it's definitely a stolen idea. Um, and then I can dial it in.


I can dial it brighter or less bright, whatever I need to do to get that balance on set. And I would have an electrician literally on the head, following them around if they had to move through the scene. And we just get it as best as possible. Like it's not going to be perfect. And sometimes that light would spill in on the um, the actor next to them.


And so I knew that, okay, I'm going to have to adjust that later. But yeah, it is a challenge. It's just, but I would rather see that diversity on screen than not. So, I mean, as a DP, you have to, you have to accept that challenge and figure out just the best way to shoot it. And actually my um, my second AD would help us out a lot too cause a lot of times they want to see diversity in the whole frame as well , but the one thing that I had him shy away from which was very helpful was if I had two lead actors that we were shooting that were maybe lighter skin tone to not put darker skin tone right behind them because there is no way I can balance that I can't get a light behind the lead talent to fill in the background. So we would try to figure out like on some of the closer frames, matching skin tone a little bit in the frame. So it made it a little bit easier for lighting. We didn't do that all the time, but we tried to do that. Somewhat.


Passionistas: That's incredible. Um, you know, before we, I understand that this is in between part one and part two of season three, so you can't give us any spoilers. You can't give details. But one of the things we were talking about before we started, um, recording today was the issue of body image with the character of Penelope.


Alicia: Yeah.


Passionistas: And so without talking specifically about what happens at the rest of the season, can you talk a little bit about that? How you deal with that issue this, this season, because I think it's really amazing.


Alicia: Yeah. No, it is. It's great. And I was actually really excited about knowing that we were going to be filming intimate scenes.


with Nicola Um, and, and the one thing that I love about Shondaland too, is that it's not commented on. You know what I mean? Like the, it's, she is the lead, he, he's the lead, they, they're together or whatever. Um, it's not, I mean, even the carriage scene, which is out already, like I didn't shoot that one, but it's not commented on.


And I like that. And I feel like that's. The best way to handle the future of body positivity and making people feel more comfortable in their skin is not even saying anything about it. It's just, this is who you are. You're gorgeous. And, okay, now we're filming it. Um, and I did want to make her just as beautiful as possible.


Like, you could even see that with the first two episodes. I really focused in on trying to get kind of that old Hollywood glam lighting for Nicola. Um, it is a little bit more directional, soft sources. Um, which I do a lot of that for characters, but I try to pop her a little bit more. So she's always glowing a little bit.


Um, so sticking with that Hollywood glam and being able to do that even for the future episodes to shooting it in that style of Hollywood glam. Because think about it, back in the 40s and 50s, we had fuller figured women then. And how we lost that, I have no idea. So trying to get back to that again, I think is wonderful.


And so my, that was kind of my guide is how do we shoot it in a way that's that old Hollywood style and keeping it still beautiful, um, beautiful and comfortable for the characters as well. So having them comfortable was really important to me.


Passionistas: What's it like to work on a set that has so many female leads?


It's, you know, it's like you're used to watching a show where there are one or two women, even in the main cast. And this show is just dominated by women.


Alicia: Yeah. It's dominated by women on the screen and behind the, the, the scenes too. So I had a female AD, director, B camera operator, like our producer, showrunner, like it was, A lot, a lot of women and, and yeah, and then having the women on the screen too.


And there is a particular look that the women need to have on Bridgerton. I mean, they all need to look lovely. So making sure that I always had those tools that create that, that pretty lighting on the women was really important and so really with beauty lighting you're looking for less contrast on the face so kind of like how I even have now where it's like more of a directional soft source that is wrapping the face but you can have contrast within the rest of the room. So, and that's something that I would really focus on with season three too, is no contrast on the face, but then the room would have sun splashes or it would be dark in the background with just one little splash of light.


Um, but for the most part, always trying to have a wrapped key on the ladies was something that I was going for.


Passionistas: So is there something about being a DP that people Would be interested to know that we're not asking you.


Alicia: Oh, um, I, I think it's the best job on set. I, I know some people will say the camera operating is the best job on set.


Because you get to do all the fun stuff and you're behind the camera and you're usually making the BTS shots and so everyone thinks that you're the, the rock star. So people are like, oh, no, camera operating is definitely the best job on set. Because even with a cinematographer, you're still having to.


You're having to do all of the political stuff, too, of managing what can you ask for on the equipment side of things? Where are you negotiating having this crane? Okay, you might have to give up this light if you're going to ask for this crane. So there is this, um, uh, political aspect of negotiation when you're a cinematographer to get the tools that you need to shoot.

But I actually like that part. I think that's really fun. Um, so I mean, gosh, uh, it's, it's just so hard to explain.


Passionistas: Can I ask, can I interpret? So what makes it the best job?


Alicia: Um, you're, the creative, the creative aspect of it, I think, is the most fun because you're, you're painting. You're, you're painting with light and lenses and you're moving the camera and you're talking about the design of what those camera moves are.


You have. A whole team of people under you that's helping you fulfill those shots and fulfill that look. And it's, it's really wonderful when you're, you're using all of these people and their crafts and their, and their expertise. And then it all comes together and you look at that frame on the monitor and you're like, yes, that is exactly what I was hoping for.


And It's just really, it's just so exciting when you see that frame come to life. Like then all of a sudden you're doing this really complicated camera move. Like actually the first episode, we did this really cool cable cam shot that's like going through the chandeliers. And, um, and when we first saw that move with the dancing happening underneath, Like the director and I were going, I mean, you're screaming.


You can't help it because it just looks so cool. And that's just the fun part. When you you're thinking about it in your head of what it might look like, and then you actually see it on the monitor and it's working. And that is the best feeling in the world.


Passionistas: That's incredible. Um, so we have, I can't believe it's already been an hour.

Alicia: This has been such a fascinating chatty box.


Passionistas: It was so fascinating. So we just have one last two part question for you, which is what's your dream for yourself and what's your dream for women?


Alicia: Oh, oh, it was such a big one. Oh my gosh. I mean, my dream for myself is to just continue doing what I'm already doing.


I don't want this to stop. Uh, and there's always that chance that it could, and that's where it's scary. You never know what the future holds. So, I want to keep doing this. I never see myself retiring. So, I just want to keep on expanding on my abilities as a cinematographer. Keep growing. Um, I don't like getting bored, so I'm always looking for a new creative project that is, uh, challenging to me.


So I'm hoping that I can just continue doing that, honestly. And my hope for women is, I mean, it would be really nice one day if we don't even have to talk about it anymore. I feel like I, I feel like we'll, we have made it when we're not even having to discuss the 6 percent or how do we empower women?


How do we? Bring them up. Like if that's not even a topic anymore because we're there, then I would love that. That would be amazing. I don't think we're going to be there anytime soon, but maybe in my lifetime, maybe.


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