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July 05, 2018

Satisfaction in Action

For this director of photography, nothing beats crime and action series, especially those from Dick Wolf.

Libby Slate
  • Lisa Wiegand on the set of Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders with stand-in Jim Lindsey; at left: Harry Hamlin, as attorney Barry Levin

    Justin Lubin/NBC

Lisa Wiegand, ASC, pauses as sirens scream past. "You can hear the fire engines now," she says, speaking via phone from Chicago.

It's a fitting accompaniment. This particular week is a homecoming of sorts for Wiegand: she's booked an episode of the Dick Wolf NBC drama Chicago Fire, having served as director of photography for the show's 2012 pilot and first three seasons.

Television action and crime drama, particularly for Wolf, have become a specialty for Wiegand. She was DP for most of the recent Wolf/NBC limited series Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, having previously shot the pilot and several episodes of Chicago Justice, also for Wolf and NBC.

She's also lensed episodes of ABC's American Crime and Detroit 1-8-7. "I enjoy shooting crime and action," Wiegand says. "On Chicago Fire, you're doing huge stunts and special effects. It's really fun and challenging to make it happen."

Because most of the fire is real and not CGI, Wiegand is working closely with special effects coordinator John D. Milinac. "Photographically, I have to know how big the fire will be, how much smoke there needs to be. The focal length of the lens can affect how it looks. A longer lens can make the fire look bigger. If you're on a wider lens, you're expanding the space, and you need more fire."

Whatever the project, she says, "I consider myself a translator of the writer's and director's visualization."

Wiegand, who was born in a Detroit suburb, remembers having a television set in her crib. She fell in love with cinematography at age 15 and went on to earn graduate degrees at UCLA and AFI. She shot indie films, documentaries and music videos for 10 years before moving into television, where she became DP for Fox's Dollhouse in 2009.

"I'm either working with an auteur director for a pilot or a miniseries, or a guest director on a show," she says. "With an auteur, I have more time to get into their brain about how they visualize things. I can explore themes of the story. With a guest, I can talk to them about the style and visual language of the show."

Being admitted to the male-dominated American Society of Cinematographers in 2014 "means a ton to me," Wiegand says. "But I never want to get hired because I have a vagina. I want to get hired because I'm a hard-working, fun-to-be-around, talented cinematographer."


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2018

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