Peter Deming is at a slight disadvantage when talking about “Twin Peaks: The Return” compared to most other cinematographers discussing their latest work. He’s only familiar with the project as one long feature film, having gone into production with a 500-plus page script that didn’t have episode breaks, rather than the 18 episodes that Showtime aired this year.
“We also shot it like a feature film,” said Deming in an interview with IndieWire. “When you went to a location, you shot all the action that took place at that location. It’s different than TV – there’s no episode scripts, there’s one director, there’s one crew. So we broke it down and scheduled it like a feature film.”
This “block shooting” approach is impossible for most television shows, which are still being written when production begins on the first episode of the season. It’s a far more efficient approach, but the trade-off is story orientation. Instead of going episode to episode, Deming and the “Twin Peaks” crew were forced to constantly jump back-and-forth between all 18 episodes throughout the 141-day shoot.
“You have to understand, I didn’t personally have a lot of prep time to prep 500-pages of material, but even if I had at certain point in the shooting you’re not really sure – besides a scene number – where you are in the story,” said Deming. “There’s such a huge amount of material it was sort of hard to keep a linear perspective on it. I kept going back [to the script], because there was so many new characters and trying to figure all that out and at a certain point you just had to get through it.”
You would think Deming would be at a disadvantage shooting a complex, sprawling project like “Twin Peaks” without having a global perspective of how all the pieces fit together, but as he explained, that simply isn’t how his collaboration with Lynch – which began on “Lost Highway” in 1997 – ever works.
“There’s no real explaining of narrative at all,” laughed Deming when asked if he talked to Lynch about how the scenes related to one another. “You don’t really go out of your way stylistically to make connections between scenes, unless there was something David conscientiously wanted to connect.”
For example, with key locations from the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” that re-appeared 25 years later in “The Return” – like the Double R Diner, Big Ed’s and the Sheriff’s Station – Lynch specifically wanted Deming to reference and evoke the feel of the original show.
“In that case, David was very much interested in maintaining the warmth and saturated colors of the first two seasons, so that look-wise they were familiar,” said Deming. “[We wanted] a comfort level – it’s like, ‘Oh, thank God I’m where I know this world.'”
This struck a notable contrast to the many new locations and dimensions of “The Return,” which are often disorientating and foreboding. Deming made it clear that he didn’t discuss a particular look for the new material with Lynch.
“I’ve known David a long time, and we don’t really talk much about any of that,” said Deming. “Most of the time, you can just sort of derive it from the rehearsal and from what he’s doing with the characters in the actual place.”
Deming said rehearsals were particularly important because the scripts lacked detailed action-description, but Lynch was ultra-specific on set in terms of staging a scene.
“It is pretty evident what emotions are happening in the scene from watching David in rehearsals – I’m just converting that to visuals, so I think you’d be shocked how little we discuss these things, it’s just sort of second nature,” said Deming. “And if I think there’s a question in my head, or stylistically we could take it to a different place, we’ll talk about it for 15 seconds [laughs] and we’ll get to business. For me that’s one of the great things about working with David I get him to a certain extent where we don’t have to have those conversations.”
When Deming and Lynch did talk about the lighting, it was purely about mood and tone, and they relied on simple adjectives like “sad.” Deming made it clear that to a large degree, Lynch communicates through his production design and choice of locations.
“The set you are being presented with is also David’s creation and he’s very well aware of that,” said Deming. “You can sort of tell with what’s present – David is extremely detailed about everything that is in frame, having picked it himself – as to whether [the scene is] dark or rich [with color] and the mood itself.”
For location shooting, Deming said that the conversations revolved around what the location needs and he’s often not able to zero in on what Lynch wants until he sees the actual location itself.
“I’m not really sure based on the name of a location [in the script] what it’s suppose to look like,” said Deming. “For instance, Karl the Giant, he lives in this strange house, there’s not a lot of description on the page, so I’m sort of trying to pull information out of David, but once you find the location you can zero in on what he wants it to look like. If it should feel normal, very odd and weird, what in the room were seeing – he’ll be very specific about the parts of a location he doesn’t want to use – to get a sense of the room.”
Unlike lighting, Deming is not left to translate Lynch when it comes composition and coverage.
“He’s very specific about what shots he wants and what shots he thinks he needs, and whether we need to cover something or not,” said Deming. “He’s very much in control of that process and sometimes we say, well we could get this piece of coverage or that, and a majority of the time he’s pretty decided he doesn’t need it. He also sticks very close to the script. I know that he and Mark [Frost] invested a lot of time in writing this and that it was very much a fine polish, which is very rare these days.”
In terms of choosing cameras and shooting format, Deming and Lynch haven’t always been on the same page during the digital era, but they ended up finding common ground for the third season of “Twin Peaks.”
“David went digital before anybody, at least in his mind, and he shot ‘Inland Empire’ [the one project in which Lynch served as his own DP] with a digital camera. He and I would disagree on the quality of [that camera], but he became very enamored with becoming a small self-contained unit and the sort of do-it-yourself situation,” said Deming. “And he was still very much interested in that type of set-up for this.”
The problem is that with the amount of special effects required for the new season of “Twin Peaks,” smaller, less expensive DSLR cameras have a “rolling shudder” and don’t supply a constant frame, which makes it extremely difficult for visual effects artists. In addition, Showtime, like Netflix and Amazon, wants its original shows to not only to deliver in 4K resolution, but shoot in 4K. This made Lynch’s preferred, smaller digital cameras an impossibility. The happy medium became the Arri Amira, which is popular in the documentary community and has been used on indie films like “Goat” and “The Fits.”
“The Amira is essentially the same sensor as the Arri Alexa, records at 3.2K which is easily up-res’d to 4K and Showtime was nice enough to say, OK, you don’t have to originate in 4K,” said Deming. “It was the smallest camera that could do that and I had a lot of experience with the Alexa, which I love, so when I tested the Amira it was basically an Alexa in smaller housing to me. So I was please we went out with that camera and I think at the end of the day David was as well.”
They rented older 1960 ultra speed lenses from Panavision to “rough up” or soften some of the sharpness of the digital image.
Deming started color correcting Lynch’s silent picture locked cut back in January, but ultimately the cinematographer has been parsing “Twin Peaks” alongside other viewers, appreciating and for the first time piecing together “Twin Peaks” week to week on Showtime – except that shooting the new “X-Men” movie has put him a few episodes behind after he attended the premiere in May. It’s an experience he relishes.
“When I see the imagery with David’s soundtrack, I think, ‘Oh, that looks better than when I was [color] timing it,'” said Deming. “Of course, it looks the same, but because half of David’s work is sound adding sound to picture is one plus one equals five. I’m lucky to be in that position where he elevates the imagery with his sound work.”
As to what it all means and how the story fits together? “I’m still trying to figure it out myself,” he said.
As for plans to collaborate again on a new project, Deming thinks people need to give Lynch some time. “This was such a huge undertaking for David, it probably took four and half years of his life and certainly from the beginning of shooting until it aired it was literally seven days a week for him,” said Deming. “I haven’t seen him since the premiere. I’m sure I’ll connect with him this fall and see what’s on his mind.”
Editor’s Note: This feature is presented in partnership with ARRI, a leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of motion picture camera, digital intermediate (DI) and lighting equipment. Founded by two filmmakers 100 years ago, ARRI and its engineers have been recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for contributions to the industry with 19 Scientific and Technical Awards. Click here for more about ARRI.