Michael Cera and Amy Schumer in Life & Beth
Amy Schumer (left) in Life & Beth
Jonathan Furmanski on a New York night shoot
When he was shooting documentaries back in 2008, NYU film school grad Jonathan Furmanski got word about a new comedy called Delocated — its producers were looking to give it a nonfiction look. Furmanski landed the gig, where he met then-unknown comic Amy Schumer, who had a bit part in the show.
Right after that, her pilot for Inside Amy Schumer was greenlit," he recalls. "I think I was the only DP she knew, so she asked me to do it." After working together for four seasons on the sketch comedy, Furmanski was thrilled when Schumer tapped him for a semiautobiographical project, Life & Beth, set to shoot in and around New York City.
The dramedy — in which Beth (Schumer) ditches a secure relationship and career to live a more authentic life — reunited Furmanski with many Inside Amy Schumer alums. Enjoying an easy rapport with his former colleagues, he took a fun, dynamic approach, avoiding static shots when possible.
"There were times I wanted to set up a lot of dolly track, and the executive producers would say it's too flashy, so we modified. Then I'd suggest a super-fun idea and they'd let me run with it."
For some pivotal flashback scenes to Beth's teen years (young Beth is played by Violet Young), Furmanski gleaned inspiration from '70s and '80s films and used older lenses. The experience taught him not to be beholden to one style. "You can mix and match and throw in different techniques," he says.
Days later, Furmanski lensed episodes five and six of Hulu's The Dropout, which explores the story of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. Coming to the project midproduction, he adopted the style of cinematographer Michelle Lawler, who'd worked on earlier episodes.
"She had built a strong visual language," he recalls. "The first four episodes set the stage for the second four." His job was to make dramatic moments feel as big as possible. "When Elizabeth [Amanda Seyfried] was fuming about something, I could use a special lens or have things be quite dark in a way that comedy doesn't allow for."
While both experiences forced him outside his comfort zone, Furmanski — now lensing the Showtime comedy I Love That for You — treasures his time on Life & Beth. "There aren't many shows that allow the DP to have a strong voice. I appreciated the trust."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #3, 2022, under the title, "Lensing with Friends."