Crafting Cinematic Brilliance: An Exclusive Interview with Vincent De Paula, Cinematographer of 'The Irrational'

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In the world of visual storytelling, few names resonate with the same level of artistry and precision as Vincent De Paula. As the cinematographer for NBC's psychological thriller series, The Irrational, De Paula has masterfully woven a visual tapestry that heightens the show’s enigmatic narrative. In this exclusive interview, we delve into De Paula’s creative process, his inspirations, and the challenges he faced while bringing the complex world of The Irrational to life. Join us as we uncover the intricate details behind the lens and explore the journey of one of today's most talented cinematographers.

PH: Vincent, can you share some insights into your creative process when working on "The Irrational"? How did you approach the visual storytelling for this series?

Vincent De Paula: I joined “The Irrational” right after the strikes were called off, eight episodes into the first season, so the show already had an established look. 

In season one I shot episodes 9 and 11, the last of which was the season finale, and I had a lot of fun working with director Ernest Dickerson. The series had an inherited slight dark look that I really liked, and I also wanted to play with color contrast and some creative framing compositions as much as possible. Most of our characters are african-american and I have always loved using a slightly warmer color palette with darker skin tones.

“The Irrational” is oftentimes compared to other shows like “The Mentalist” or “House” but we are definitely trying to go for a cinematic approach as much as we can, playing with light, contrast, color and composition, while dealing with the usual pressures of shooting network episodic TV on a very tight schedule and budget!

We are currently halfway through filming season two, and in my opinion, our stories have become even more ambitious than those in season one. 

This brings even more challenges to us in regards to filming them, but at the same time I really welcome those challenges, I never like it when it is too easy!

PH: "The Irrational" features a complex narrative and diverse set of characters. How did you ensure the cinematography complemented and enhanced these elements? 

Vincent De Paula: We like to play with different looks for different situations and our approach to framing and camera movement is also diverse depending where we are in the story and who story we are telling. 

We have tilt and shift lenses that we use in our flashbacks, where our look also has a bleach bypass treatment. Color contrast and composition is very important to us, and although this is network television we like to stay in the darker side of things. 

I personally like to often use clean-singles when doing coverage, but on TV it is common to do over-the-shoulder coverage. I personally like to be in the inside, as if I was placed  in between characters. I feel there is a stronger connection with the audience that way, avoiding the “objective” feeling I get when shooting over-the-shoulders. 

We don't always do it on “The Irrational”, but it is a technique we tend to do when we feel is appropriate, more so with the characters we may think of as potential suspects in every episode. Doing that we also don't connect them with our regular cast, but it is not something we do all the time.

We like to always show Alec Mercer’s perspective. Whether we are in a close up with him, where the camera could easily be at a higher angle than usual, or whether we have him in the background observing, or perhaps we are just behind his head, always  observing everyone around him and thinking how to solve the case.

PH: Working with a talented actor like Jesse L. Martin must have been exciting. How did his performance influence your cinematographic choices?

Vincent De Paula: Jesse L. Martin and I had worked together before, and he was one of the main reasons I wanted to do “The Irrational ''. He is incredibly talented as an actor, but he is also one of the smartest people I know, and he has a great vision and understanding of the filmmaking process.

He is a producer on this show, and is so passionate about what we do; so respectful towards the crew and the rest of the cast. It amazes me everyday when I see him deliver those performances, often times having to remember such long dialogue scenes with so many technical words. And he brings it day after day! He is pretty much in every scene of this show. I have nothing but huge respect for him.

The scripts of “The Irrational” are really great, but of course they come with so much dialogue, as expected from a procedural show, and we tend to block scenes with camera movement in mind, where we may have them walking and talking at the stages or on location.

His character, Alec Mercer, is always present in all scenes we shoot, we strive to always show Alec’s perspective to the story we are telling. Even though every episode is a stand alone with its own plot, Alec Mercer’s personal story takes us back to his days in college where a church bombing attack left him scarred for life. Alec’s personal journey is to find out what happened back then and who was responsible for that. 

PH: The show is currently up for Emmy consideration. What aspects of your work on "The Irrational" are you most proud of and hope will catch the attention of the Emmy voters?

Vincent De Paula: Procedural shows have a certain look and feeling, but we wanted to stay away from that by bringing that dramatic and darker feeling to this story whenever we can. On this show we actually have a few different looks that we like to use depending on where we are in the story.

I do like the way we are using color and contrast on the show, trying to help visualize the story we are telling, and in particular Alec Mercer’s perspective, which we like to show in every episode and in every case. We always like to stay in Alec’s head, he is always observing.

PH: Can you talk about any particular challenges you faced during the production of "The Irrational" and how you overcame them?

Vincent De Paula: “The Irrational” is shot in Vancouver, which has so much rain and short daylight hours in the fall and winter, and that is very, very challenging for us. When we go outside on location, when filming at that time of the year, I have to match my lighting to that, so my interiors end up having overall a softer and somewhat colder feeling.

And of course we always need to have a plan B for weather cover and constantly watching the weather forecast and planning ahead how to shoot some scenes under weather protection, etc.

I always like to add layers with the use of light and contrast in the background while keeping my key lights soft for our cast on this particular show, using magic cloth as the main diffusion to go for about 80% of the time. We tend to go out on location about 40% of the time per episode..

Right now we are halfway through season two, and in the summer it is very sunny in Vancouver, the complete opposite, and we also have very long days with extensive daylight available to us, so I am able to play with a harder and warmer light in my interiors when appropriate.

PH: As an award-winning cinematographer, how do you balance technical expertise with creative vision to bring a script to life on screen?

Vincent De Paula: Even though I need to have a pretty strong technical knowledge of everything that surrounds my job, I am always trying to stay closer to the artistic side of it as much as I can. I don't want to be thinking so much in the technicalities of my job, that would distract me from what I am trying to achieve from an artistic and emotional standpoint.

I have a very large collection of photography books, and it is photography that I mainly refer to when I am finding inspiration while in pre production. 

The first time I read a script, I never think of it as something I will have to translate into images, I just want to immerse myself in the story. It is later on, when I read the script a few more times that I get more specific about how I want to approach it, from a technical, artistic and creative standpoint. I see myself browsing those photography books more often than not, as well as watching a bunch of movies that I choose in every project I work on, as a source of inspiration. 

And of course on this show, I have a great team of collaborators from my gaffer Trevor Crist, key grip Gary Brook and my wonderful camera team lead by camera operators Sean Elliot and Francoise Archambault.

PH: How does working on a television series like "The Irrational" differ from your experiences with other types of projects, such as films or commercials?

Vincent De Paula: I am in a place in my career where I am able to make choices about the work I want to do and the stories I want to tell, and I have been fortunate to be able to switch back and forth between features and episodic television. I alway need to have a connection with the story I am telling. If I don’t have that connection, then it is just a job to me, and I do not want to be in that situation at all.

I used to do lots of commercials and music videos in the past, especially earlier in my career, where I was a young cinematographer in London, trying to find my voice as an artist. But right now I am mainly focusing just on narrative; I have been doing such a variety of work in terms of the genres I have chosen to do as of late, from the period tear-jerker drama on the feature film “2 Hearts” (Universal) to the very raw and naturalistic approach we had on “Maid” (Netflix), to the different period looks we had on “Firefly Lane” (Netflix), to the musical genre we had on “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” (NBC), then the horror / thriller genre on the upcoming feature film “The Inheritance” (Vertical), to the superhero genre I briefly tackled just to experiment and experience that world, to now the procedural world of “The Irrational”.

So I seem to keep going through different genres, which I love because I don't like to repeat myself, and always welcome the opportunity to take on projects with visual approaches that are different depending on the story we are telling.

When producers ask me about my style, my answer is always the same; I have the style of whichever project I may be filming at the time, whether it is drama, period, horror, musical, etc. one just has to adjust to that story and environment.

PH: What was your collaboration process like with the director and other key members of the crew on "The Irrational"?

Vincent De Paula: I actually knew a number of key people from “The Irrational” as I have been working in Vancouver on a number of shows over the last few years, from features to tv series. 

The beauty of alternating with another cinematographer is the time I have to be able to spend with the upcoming directors while scouting locations, referencing film, photography and other art forms like painting, literature or music, while in pre production,  and getting to a common visual ground about how to tell the story visually for every episode. 

PH: Are there any specific scenes or episodes from "The Irrational" that stand out to you as particularly rewarding or challenging to shoot?

Vincent De Paula: The finale of season one, “Reciprocity” is the episode currently being considered for an emmy nomination, and I shot that episode with Ernest Dickerson, which was a dream come true for me, as I have Ernest way at the top of my favorite people to work with and as a former cinematographer, he has always been an inspiration for me.

That episode was so wonderful to shoot, Ernest and I were inspired by techniques used by Hitchcock and we referenced a few of his films. 

“Notorious” (shot by Ted Tetslaff, ASC) and “Vertigo” (shot by Robert Burks, ASC) were in our daily conversations as well as the camera work and blocking of another masterpiece, “Sweet Smell of Success” shot by the great James Wong Howe, ASC. We also pay homage to a scene from “All the President’s Men”, shot by the great Gordon Willis, ASCwhile we were filming a scene at a car parkade location. 

We “borrowed” some ideas from those films and incorporated them into our vocabulary for this episode. 

Ernest and I designed some scenes where the camera was moving from a wide shot to an extreme close up. We really liked how the camera could end up at a higher angle for those closeups in given circumstances, it just added an edge to them. We also played with some “older” techniques like split diopters on a couple of occasions. 

PH: What advice would you give to aspiring cinematographers who look up to your work and hope to achieve similar success in the industry?

Vincent De Paula: Never give up. I come from a very small town in Northern Spain where most of my family and friends still don’t know what it is that I do to this date!. With no film industry history at all, I knew I had to go elsewhere to find my voice as an artist so I packed my bags and moved to London, UK where I started my personal journey to become a cinematographer. 

It is not an easy path and it can take a very long time, but what I always say to everyone who wants to make it in this industry is to never give up. 

If you really want to do something, whatever that is, if you work hard and keep yourself busy creatively, and push yourself to learn on a daily basis by ways of simply observing light, people, places, etc, you will get where you want in the end. 

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