Crescenzo Notarile, ASC was in the middle of a busy shooting day for the hit Fox TV crime series “Gotham,” a Batman prequel featuring characters from DC Comics. The crew was in the streets of Soho in Manhattan at sunset, navigating traffic, lighting fixtures and trailers. In other words, bedlam. “I looked out of the corner of my eye, and my director was standing four feet in front of me, staring at me with a grin,” recalls Notarile. “I asked, are you okay? And he said – you did it. You just got nominated for an Emmy. What a fantastic feeling in that moment!” The Emmy nomination is for the episode “Azrael,” directed by Larysa Kondracki, which depicts Galavan (played by James Frain) coming back from the dead as a monster.
Creating fantastic moments for the screen is what Notarile has been doing for “Gotham” since he came on board for the show’s second season in 2015. Showrunners Heller and Danny Cannon make the most of the dark, textured, gritty locations and sets, on the sound stages of Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Notarile is quick to say that Heller and Cannon established the show’s look, but notes that “a look is constantly evolving, getting better.” “My job was to maintain a certain vision and look, established by very talented crew before me,” he says. “And for me to sprinkle my personal ingredient.”
He started by doing his homework. “First and foremost, being a photographer, composition is extremely important to me,” he says. “I hadn’t been much of a comic book reader, so I bought several volumes of comic books, especially the golden age of the Batman world.” By studying them, he was immediately struck by “the compositions, angles and perspective of each frame of the comics.” “As a photographer, it enticed and thrilled me,” he says. “Everything was very strong. There are high angles looking down, and others looking up. I loved that very much and tried to bring that a little more into the show.”
Shooting an episode of “Gotham” takes nine days. “We’re out on location five to six days of that,” says Notarile. “The footprint of our show is extremely large. We’ll be going through these small one-way streets with 19 tractor-trailers full of equipment. We’re a traveling circus and because it takes so much time to get from one location to the next, the parameters of the clock are so much harder. It’s a very arduous show.” The production shoots 12 to 14 hour days, five days a week, for nine months. “It’s a tremendous testament to the crew of “Gotham” to sustain that visual interest and reach the creative bar that we do,” he says.
He credits A camera operator Gerard Sava, B camera operator Alan Pierce, focus pullers Brendan Belmonte and George Tur; gaffer Frank McCormack; key grip Luis Colon; production designer Richard Berg as the collaborative “family” that enable this singular vision. For the Emmy-nominated episode, he gives kudos to the two showrunners, Heller and Cannon, as well as the director Kondracki. “A lot of dynamics are involved in what we do as artists,” he says. “It takes a lot of creative minds around you to executive a vision.”
Notarile came up the ranks through the camera department, which gives him a special appreciation for the crew. It’s also the reason he’s proud that the episodes’ many fantastical creations aren’t always visual effects. “We have a lot of old school filmmakers on the show, and we try to do as much as we can on camera,” he says. Still, skillful VFX are used (from CoSA). Although much of the show is shot on location, the VFX team carefully removes any iconic buildings in the skyline. “No one knows where Gotham is, so that’s fun and challenging,” says Notarile.
“It is always a challenge, but we do very, very little greenscreen work. We take advantage of our visual effects team, who are geniuses, and they enhance our Gotham world when we need it. But we take pride that the effects are seamless, done with integrity and woven into the storyline. It’s not indulgent, it’s a tool.”