A Glimpse Behind the Lens: “Westworld” and Beyond with Peter Flinckenberg

Photo from archive of Peter Flinckenberg.

In the heart of the filmmaking world, some projects stand out not just because of their narrative prowess but also due to the visionaries behind the camera. One such project has recently completed its production in the UK. Behind the camera of this intriguing project was the acclaimed cinematographer, Peter Flinckenberg, whose past work includes the final season of HBO’s “Westworld.” Fresh from his involvement in this enigmatic production, Flinckenberg opens up about his journey but remains coy when pressed for details. He mentions that the project was captured on the luxurious Arri 65 format and employed the finesse of the WPO TS70 and WPO HS lenses. Yet, he keeps the plot hidden, providing only a tantalizing hint that it embarks on an unpredictable plot twisting journey.

Rest assured, we’re as eager as you are to share more about this thrilling new production, but we’ll have to save the in-depth discussion for a future date, one that brings us closer to its highly anticipated release. Stay tuned, because when the time comes, you won’t want to miss the big reveal.

For now, let’s revisit the sprawling landscapes and futuristic milieu of “Westworld”.

Traversing the Maze to "Westworld"

It wasn’t mere chance that Flinckenberg found himself at the helm of Westworld’s cinematography. His collaboration with a unit production manager on Showtime’s “I’m dying up here” – a series echoing the Hollywood comedy vibes of the 70s – had left quite an impression. The producers, smitten with Peter’s unique visual style, had him top of mind for Westworld’s final season. They reached out, no formalities required, just an offer to make magic as the series’ cinematographer.

When asked why he picked “Westworld” amidst other offers, Flinckenberg highlighted the show’s reputation. Known for its impeccable quality and stunning visuals, the opportunity to shoot on film was too tempting to resist, especially given the rare freedom to work without major budgetary constraints.

A Filmic Odyssey

The production was a cinephile’s dream. Flinckenberg recounted shooting primarily on Arri’s 35mm film cameras. Jonathan Nolan, the mastermind behind “Westworld”, was insistent on preserving an analog feel throughout. Even while using the cutting-edge virtual LED Studio (production system, Volume), Nolan wanted film. One challenge was creating a futuristic Times Square; filming in the real location proved logistically impossible. The solution? Use the expansive virtual studio, Volume, allowing for the movement of main cast members and dozens of extras within.

Photo from archive of Peter Flinckenberg.

Nolan’s passion for analog was palpable. From shooting  car scenes practically  on process trailers (through the moving cars from different angles), to using drones with film, to avoiding the ubiquitous green screen, to using practical effects, the quest for authenticity was relentless.

WPO Lenses: An Artist's Brush

Photo from archive of Peter Flinckenberg.

Flinckenberg’s choice of the WPO swing & tilt lens for specific scenes was deliberate. With its immediate optical effect, this lens empowered him to mold the scene in real-time, eliminating a wait for post-production enhancements. In an era where digital effects reign supreme, having such a tactile tool was invaluable.

However, the journey wasn’t without its hiccups. Shooting on film brings its own set of challenges – meticulous planning for lighting, and more. But for Flinckenberg, these challenges were a source of joy. The amalgamation of film and exceptional lenses produced breathtaking results.

Directorial Dance

Richard Lewis, a longstanding figure in “Westworld” and a behemoth in the world of shows like CSI, praised Flinckenberg’s audacity to push boundaries. Peter recalls a particularly complex scene with Evan Rachel Wood’s character realizing a shift in her reality, a scene where he employed the old technique of double exposure to create a visually stunning moment.

Working with directors was its own thrill. From collaborating with Paul Cameron, a cinematography legend who’d played a pivotal role in shaping Westworld’s visual identity, to navigating the fresh perspective of Andrew Selkir, an editor-turned-director, every episode was a new dance.

The Creative Crescendo with WPO Lenses

Photo from archive of Peter Flinckenberg.

As the narrative arc of the season evolved, so did Flinckenberg’s use of the WPO lenses. The story’s initial calm and structure gradually gave way to a frenzied unfolding of events, making the latter episodes ripe for the WPO lens treatment.

The journey through “Westworld” was more than just a project for Flinckenberg; it was a symphony of challenges, creativity, and cinematic wonders. And as the reel comes to an end on this chapter, we’re left eagerly waiting for his next visual masterpiece.