Fall TV: <I>Last Man Standing</I>
Issue: November 1, 2018

Fall TV: Last Man Standing

In the sitcom Last Man Standing, Tim Allen plays a sporting goods store employee in Denver, who is a married father of three daughters. The series ran on ABC from 2011 to 2017 and was recently picked up for an additional season on Fox.

Emmy-winning cinematographer Don A. Morgan, ASC serves as the show’s sole DP. FotoKem’s Keep Me Posted put the workflow in place since the beginning to meets the needs of the creative team and keep things running efficiently. 
Morgan, KMP colorist Ted Brady, and online editor Michael McLaughlin recently took some time to detail their work on the show exclusively for Post’s readers.

Can you describe the look of the show and how has it evolved over the years?

Don Morgan: “Last Man Standing is a traditional situation comedy but the set is a little tricky. It’s got nooks and crannies, and I shoot upstage and on the side of our set. I try to make it look as clean as possible, modeling on the set walls but keeping a nice clean face. Having a good post house to take it to the next step is really important to me.”

Ted Brady: “I started on the show with Season 4. Consequently, the look of the show was well established and initially it was my job to keep things headed in the same direction. When I got the first episode for Season 4, Don came in and we learned how to work with each other. Don uses the B and C camera on this show for wider and mid shots with one set of lenses, and the A and X cameras have different lenses for closeups. My job is to enhance the images, so that if it’s daytime and the actors are in the kitchen, then we know we want it to pop. The lights on set are changing all the time, and that’s where I come into play. If one close-up doesn’t match to another, I bring them closer together.”

Photo: Donald Morgan

What camera are you using to shoot Season 7? 

Morgan: “We are using the Sony F55 with Panavision 11:1 Primo zooms on the outside pedestal cameras, and Fujion 20-120mm on the inside dolly cameras, and Blackmagic Number One filters.”

What are some of your biggest challenges shooting Last Man Standing? 

Morgan: “One of the most challenging things about the show is that we use three boom microphones and sometimes we use a boom from the green beds above. We also shoot more than just the proscenium, using a Jimmy Jib to shoot around the outside of our set so we are able to reach into it and get angles that you normally can’t get with the dolly or a pedestal camera.”

How do you communicate your vision with Ted Brady at KMP?

Morgan: “Ted has a really good eye, and Von Thomas, my DIT/video shader on stage, gives a good base for final color. If I have any notes, I can call Ted and he implements the change that is needed, but most of the time they schedule color timing when I’m free to come in. Ted spends about six to seven hours getting it ready, and then I come in to put my final little touches on it with windows, shading and vignettes. It’s a lot of fun to be there. We’ve been working together now for about four years.” 

What does the workflow look like for this show?

Michael McLaughlin: “The show has always been offlined in Avid, and onlined in Symphony. For the first three seasons at KMP, we did a 1:1 10-bit traditional assembly. Then in Season 4, a new associate producer adjusted the workflow, which actually is quite common now on sitcoms. Now, they give us a flattened DNx175x file of the entire episode. We go through it and check for boom shadows, tape on the floor, etc., and we clean those up. Things not addressed in online go to our Flame artist for more complicated paint fixes. Then, I mix that down and give a new DNx file to Ted with the EDL. Once Ted is done, I create the final format, and apply titling and end credits.”

Brady: “On average I work on 300 to 350 shots per episode. I’ll watch the cut and ensure we are where everything should be at mechanically, and get a sense if there is a swing set or a scene with any special effects, or anything else that might be a deviation from the usual. Once I have a sense of the mood and color for the episode, I go back shot by shot — setting the look for time of day, evening everything out, darkening areas too bright, and brightening areas too dim. My work isn’t supposed to be noticed. It’s all very subtle. Don’s images speak for themselves.”

What gear are you using for final color? 

Brady: “I work on Nucoda, which has an exceptional array of both the tools that affect hue, saturation and luminance, as well as tools that allow me to isolate areas of the image. On Last Man Standing, typically I have a window with one vignette that I designed and showed to Don. It helps focus the eye on the middle of the frame and knocks down hot edges. I also usually have a highlight key to address specular highlights or practical lights on set to make sure they don’t get blown out. With the new color correction system, I can add more and more windows and more tiers. Nucoda also provides the ability to import luminance and RGB alpha channel mattes from VFX and compositing artists. Those really come in handy when matching color divergent background and foreground material.”

McLaughlin: “Additionally, everything I do in the Symphony syncs easily with the Nucoda. We push things back and forth and I can drop updates right into the timeline.”

Photo: Ted Brady

What’s it like working with Don Morgan? 

Brady: “Don is a knowledgeable, talented and committed cinematographer who makes great images. We talk a lot about light. As a colorist, I can sneak light into the set and brighten faces, or if something is too bright, bring it down. I spend a lot of time thinking about the focus of the image and where the audience’s attention should be. When we’re together, he’s not only thinking about shaping the picture in front of us on the screen, he’s thinking about how to make adjustments to the lighting grid on set when he goes back to shoot. His dedication makes me work harder to help him do those things. I consider it part of my job to ask questions and come up with solutions to make the whole show look better.”

Have any new technology advancements changed the way you work?

Morgan: “LED lighting technology and camera technology have made vast strides. The chips are getting more sensitive and that gives us more information, so we can use less light and still get amazing quality.  I’m finding that the studios and producers want cinematographers to give them as real of a source look as possible. But what’s really funny is that all this new technology has us cinematographers using a lot of filters to soften the picture. The newer cameras almost give you too much information!”