‘Arrow’ Cinematographer On Creating The Look Of The CW Series

'Arrow' cinematographer Bruce Worrall shares behind-the-scenes details on creating the CW series and discusses his experience working on 'The Flash'.

Tonight, the heroes of Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, and DC’s Legends Tomorrow will unite for a two-night crossover event titled “Crisis On Earth-X”. Though all four shows exist within the same “multiverse”, they each have their own distinct style and tone with Arrow being comparatively darker than the rest of The CW’s superhero line-up.  One of the people responsible for creating the look of Arrow is cinematographer Bruce Worrall, whose work on the series includes the season six episodes titled “Tribute” and “Reversal”. However, the Leo Award-winning cinematographer was no stranger to Arrowverse, having previously worked on a season three episode of The Flash. 

Worrall spoke with Heroic Hollywood about his experience working on Arrow, discussing a wide-range of topics including creative freedom, the proficiency of the pre-production and post-production team, the challenges that the show can present a cinematographer, and his time working on the Killer Frost-centric episode of The Flash titled “Monster”.

When you come into a show [The Flash] that is a well-oiled machine, how much creative freedom is there when the visual tone of the series is already set? I imagine you have your own approach as well, so I was wondering how you reconcile creative liberty with what the show has already established for itself?

“Well, I was lucky in the sense that the director was the normal DP, so any questions I had to just ask him. But since the show is quite different from the shows that I’ve ever done in Vancouver, there was a lot of creativity just with the transferring to that style. […] But at the same time I would always be checking back with the powers that be, the director, the gaffer, ‘Is there something you normally do?’ and stay within those perimeters of not going too far out of the way but still trying push a little bit and saying, ‘well, do you mind if we do this?’ You know, always having that question up front first and then getting the feedback on that and still being allowed to push the show not in a different direction, but ‘in this one scene can we look at something like this?’ I would get a ‘yay’ or a ‘nay’ and usually it was a ‘yay, you can go ahead and try that.’ But I’ve been at this at this long enough to understand looks and so on, […] but you don’t really look for a personal style other than perhaps your shot selection or what it is you want, but I trusted a lot in what the DP/director wanted and just sort of tried my best to fulfill that.

When you’re establishing and coming up with how a scene is going to look, do you have to work with the special effects team that will come on later and discuss how you envision the scene so they can create the creatures, in the episode [“Monster”] especially, to fit that space or is that something they work out after the fact based on what you’ve provided?

“No, it’s worked out well in advanced. For any of the visual effects sequences there’s storyboards that everyone agrees on and this is how it’s going to be, these are the shots we need, and you don’t really stray outside what was agreed upon in storyboards. So, it’s quite specific and everything is agreed upon well before you go to camera.”

I noticed in your episode it’s a very Caitlin Snow-centric episode and a lot of her sequences were lit very brightly with a lot of white, especially compared to the S.T.A.R. labs sequences. That sort of does come with the environment – a research a facility – but I was wondering if that was a conscious decision considering the character and the snow and ice-related theme?

“The snow and ice not so much, at least not for my perspective just stepping in. I didn’t have that grounding in the history of characters and so on. It was more that the location we found… it seemed to lend itself to that look and it was in keeping with the mood. So, it was kind of those physical and dramatic elements that came together. Not so much, at least for me, in terms of the idea of snow. That may have been something that worked for people that liked the look of it, that would sort of fall back onto her more personal persona, but I did like the idea that being a light and cool environment to keep with her powers, so to speak.”

[Arrow] is comparatively a bit darker and I was wondering how you come to a show and approach the different style of Arrow?

“Dark is a tone I’m comfortable with, I like dark when I can do it. It is a grittier based show, so it’s a little bit more grounded in that style and it’s a style that I personally like. When I came onto the show, I alternate episodes, so the first episode was by Gordon Verheul, who’s been there for a long time. So I would just go down to set and locations and watch how he works and see kind of the style he goes for and, again, asking questions about what it is that you do or – more specifically – don’t do. But this particular dark, noir style is something that I like and am quite comfortable with, so it was a fairly easy fit for me, in terms of that, and again just making sure I ask questions when I had them. The more I go into it, the more I may put in my own stamp or style but I think the visuals are fairly constant throughout. It’s not like your looking at one episode to another and saying, ‘that’s different,’ I think it’s all quite homogeneous.”

The show does have a lot of costumed characters with a lot of different colors in their outfits. When you’re lighting a sequence or composing a shot I can imagine they each look different even under the same lighting and I was wondering how do you find the balance of making sure that the scene looks the way you’d like and ensuring that none these colorful costumes either fade into background or pop out too much?

“It’s a little bit schedule dependent. I mean, it’s a very fast paced show in terms of the work pace and you don’t always have the opportunity to finesse nearly as much as you’d like. But the costumes in and of themselves, the tones and so on, are again considered beforehand so they sort of know how they go with each other. There’s some costumes that are slightly more problematic but there’s always the opportunity in post-production, if there’s a glaring issue, you can perhaps address it in color timing if […] there’s an egregious mistake or something is bothering people you have the opportunity to perhaps take it down, make darker, or make it brighter on sort of a case-by-case basis. To date, for me anyway, that issue has not cropped up.”

Is there anything you can talk about regarding your work on Arrow, like maybe an exciting challenge that came up or something that you were really looking forward to?

“In broad strokes, exciting doesn’t really come into my style or my position. It’s more when challenges arise and your solution actually works or whether you find a location that you think, ‘yes, this would look good’ and when you actually come to shoot it what you thought would look good actually does look good. Those are the – if you want to say ‘exciting – moments when vision becomes a reality and it wasn’t just something in your brain that just didn’t translate. That’s the exciting bit, I guess, for lack of a better word. There’s also…again since I’m new to this genre, some of the stunt and fight sequences are challenging and exciting for me just because it’s not something I do or have done regularly. So, that’s nice to work with a stunt team and the stunt coordinator. See what they come up with and then the challenge is to make that work on film. So, that’s probably one of the better challenges there.”

Arrow stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance (Black Siren), David Ramsey as John Diggle (Spartan), Willa Holland as Thea Queen (Speedy), Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak (Overwatch), Echo Kellum as Curtis Holt (Mr. Terrific), Rick Gonzalez as Rene Ramirez (Wild Dog), Juliana Harkavy as Dinah Drake (Black Canary), and Paul Blackthorne as Quentin Lance.

The two-night crossover event begins tonight with Supergirl at 8:00 pm ET followed by Arrow at 9:00 pm ET and concludes tomorrow with The Flash at 8:00 pm ET followed by Legends of Tomorrow on 9:00 pm ET.

Sebastian Peris

Sebastian Peris

Canadian film buff, political junkie, comic book geek, and board game enthusiast.