A graduate of the American Film Institute, cinematographer Wes Cardino has the distinction of receiving a write up in the American Cinematographer Magazine for his award winning work on the film “Best Man Wins.”

Cardino enters the Emmy race in 2023 with latest narrative series, “Florida Man.” Ceator Donald Todd enlists actor Edgar Ramírez to star as a struggling ex-cop who is forced to return to his home state of Florida to find a Philly mobster’s runaway girlfriend. This simple job evolves into a spiraling investigation where morality blurs as buried family secrets are unearthed.

Cardino spoke to Awards Focus about the process highlighting and contrasting the worlds of Philadelphia and Florida, as well as his …..

Awards Focus: You gave a wonderful interview speaking about your approach using Sony Venice cameras on this gritty story. What about the camera suited this story?

Wes Cardino: There are always technical and creative decisions that go into choosing a camera and for “Florida Man” it was no different. I hadn’t worked with the Venice on a full scale show before so I was eager to try out the camera and put it through its paces. Adrian Correia and I co-lensed the show and we wanted to try something new on the camera side so we tested the Venice and liked everything about it. We knew we were going to be shooting a lot of night scenes and the camera really excels there. It has fantastic dynamic range especially in the shadow areas and also supports a true dual ISO setting for increased flexibility on set. I felt really confident pushing the camera to places I wouldn’t normally push a camera in terms of how much light I was using or where I would set my exposure.

When we saw the test images coupled with the LUTs we had built for the show we really liked what we saw in terms of skin tone reproduction and the boldness of color. The colors were rich and we could get deep blacks when we wanted them, which was essential for our overall look on Florida Man. Right off the starting line, the Venice just fit into what we wanted the show to look like.
The camera gave me the confidence I like to have on set technically so I could focus my energy on being creative and telling the story.

AF: Working on this project, what was the shoot schedule like and how did that limit or benefit the shots you wanted? Did you have a fair amount of time to prep and how many locations did you visit while scouting?

Cardino: Florida Man had an aggressive shooting schedule but I never felt like we were limited creatively. That was due to the extensive prep I had with directors Julian Farino and Clark Gregg and 1st AD Brian Galligan.

I always stress the importance of planning and prep on every project. In my view it is the key component to being creative when principal photography begins.

As for locations, for the first couple weeks of prep our morning ritual was to get coffee at the local cafe and then set off to scout locations. We’d drive around Wilmington and the surrounding areas looking for places that fit the vision and look of “Florida Man.”

Hard to say how many locations we actually visited but it was substantial. Not only did we need to make sure it was right for the story but since we were filming in Wilmington, NC and not Florida there was an added layer of consideration to make sure the locations looked and felt like central Florida.

AF: How many locations did you lose, if any, during filming and how did you adapt to that?

Cardino: It’s common to lose a location or two during production but we were lucky in that regard. We never lost a location that we wanted to film in. I think the bigger challenge for us was finding locations that looked like Florida and Philadelphia. We needed everything to feel cohesive, it needed that verisimilitude. Wilmington is not a large city but surprisingly we managed to find locations that looked and felt like their respective places and more importantly worked for the story. It was also immensely helpful that Donald Todd the creator grew up in Florida, so going in he knew what the environments needed to look and feel like.

AF: You’ve talked about the softer look of Philadelphia compared with Florida, can you talk about other differences you wanted to highlight and working with your showrunner and director regarding that look?

Cardino: We always knew we wanted Philly and Florida to have different looks. It was important to clearly differentiate those worlds. In the show Florida is its own character, its own beast. Like a gravitational black hole, it sucks all the characters in. Some make it out and some don’t.

One of the big differences was making sure the shadows in Florida were more inky and impenetrable. Where Philly had slightly smoky shadows Florida’s shadows were darker and hiding something more sinister.

As the series progresses and characters become more compromised and entangled in their own selfish interests and misbegotten actions of others we wanted the show to get grimier and less clean. Director Julian Farino and I started spritzing actors, especially Edgar’s character, for perspiration to make the heat of Florida more palpable. It was a visual reference to things heating up in the story the characters

AF: You’ve mentioned getting under the veneer of Florida and showing the darker, seedier, grimy world. It’s a great contrast from the bright world Edgar Ramirez’s character first encounters in his search for the runaway girlfriend. Is there a particular scene you feel really captures that contrast?

Cardino: Florida needed to feel a little sinister, shiny on the surface but grimy and dark underneath. It was always going to be that juxtaposition between the bright day and the inky sweaty nights with the color tying it all together. I’d say that Edgar discovering the sinkhole for the first time is that big contrast.

The scene preceding it is him looking for clues at a local flea market during the day. We deliberately shot it in the blazing bright sun that Edgar’s character seems to be melting under. Eyes squinted he spins, surveying the area looking for clues as the camera counters him (his world is starting to spin even as he’s getting closer to his goal) to reveal a security guard sitting under a rainbow sun shade.

The colors are bright and fun and pop. Florida is still a kind of amusement ride for Edgar’s character but it immediately cuts to night as the camera follows Edgar in and booms up to reveal the oily surface of the sinkhole. The blacks start getting deeper and the colors shift from those daylight primary colors to more garish cocktails of sodium vapor and cyan hues.

I deliberately chose to shadow Edgar’s eyes in that scene to telegraph his crossing the threshold into the underworld or in this case the underbelly of Florida. There are a lot of clever metaphors in the scripts and I knew that had to be reflected in the visuals, camera work and lighting of these pivotal scenes.

AF: Could you describe some of the most complex shots in “Florida Man” and how you executed them?

Cardino: For the final episode of the series, director Clark Gregg and I wanted to send the show off with an epic shot. It involved a 50’ technocrane, a moving plane, moving vehicles and the cabin door of the plane opening to reveal the actors as they delivered their lines, walked onto the tarmac and into their vehicles. It also needed to be scheduled at a specific time of day to accommodate the sun and it needed to work as one uninterrupted shot.

During the prep, I returned to the airfield location with the 1st AD and I walked through the area marking positions for the plane, the crane base, and where the cars should enter from all in relation to the sun and backgrounds we wanted to see. On the day of shooting, we made some minor tweaks to the positioning and checked our opening and closing frames and just went for it. The key was finding the timing for the plane and vehicle entrances in conjunction with the crane move. It is the type of shot that requires everyone be in sync, but also the operator and crane team having the experience and skill to anticipate the timing of it all.

The A Camera operator John Lehman and A dolly grip Darrell Sheldon did a fantastic job. It was one of those memorable moments on set where the crew huddled around the monitors to see it all come together. It’s exciting and gratifying for everyone involved when you execute a piece of complex visual storytelling. It’s a celebration of everyone’s skills and their commitment to the craft.

AF: How does it feel to be in the Emmy conversation for your work on the project?

Cardino: I’m just grateful to have had this opportunity and to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew. Being in the conversation is a real honor and I’m happy the viewers have enjoyed the show.

AF: What projects can we expect to see you working on in the near future?

Cardino: Thanks for asking, I’m excited for the upcoming Walking Dead limited series Summit created by Scott Gimple. I had the pleasure to shoot episodes 103 and 104 for director Michael Slovis. Fans will have to wait a bit for the release but I think they are really going to love it.

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

Related Posts