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Cinematographer Jim Frohna Talks Apple TV+ Show Shrinking

5 min read

+ is undoubtedly paving the way for incredible original content. One of their first outings in 2023 is the limited series , following a grieving therapist who starts to break the rules by telling his clients exactly what he thinks. Starring and , the series explores a novel approach to loss and grief. Cinematographer talks through his role in the project. 


How did you come on board this particular project?

Well I am (and was) a huge fan of Ted Lasso, and as soon as I found out that there was another show being made by some of the main people from it, I talked to my agent and said, “This is the kind of show I want to be on.” The kind of show that makes you feel you can laugh, but you're also having a lot of human experience watching it, enjoying the characters. I got a Zoom meeting with some of the producers, including James Ponsoldt, who's the director of the pilot. I send to them, which was true, that Ted Lasso during the darkest days of the pandemic saved me and my family. I'm interested in shows that take people on this journey of who we are as humans and how we live.


So when you come onto a project like this — and as you said, you're a fan of the people creating these shows — do you come into it with a preconceived idea of how you'd like things to look? 

It definitely is a conversation that begins in that first meeting, but obviously once I got the job, that collaboration bloomed. I was able to read the pilot script before that meeting, so I had a sense of what the show was going to be about. It holds space for the comedy and the slapstick and then also the real grief and pain of these humans. What I tend to do is read a script and I respond emotionally. How does it make me feel? In that meeting, I didn't talk about visuals. I just talked about how it made me feel.


Talking about that personal journey that a character goes on, when you look at your body of work there's that thread running through all of what you do. Is that something that you're always drawn towards? 

I mean, it's fun to do things that are new and novel. But I think you're right — the through line is that I am drawn to stories about human beings on a human scale as opposed to a big sci-fi adventure or a twisted murder mystery. I am more interested in the questions of who are we and how we get by, and how we take care of each other.


One of the things I've really liked about the show is the unique blend between darker moments then in a split second, it can be really comedic. How do you use your skills and what you do to strike that right?

I think that what I tried to do with Shrinking is just create a feeling and a look to the show which I would describe as being grounded in reality. James Ponsoldt and I talked a lot about wanting to feel like Jimmy (played by Jason Segel) really lives here. This is a real office. It's not heightened or stylized in any way so that can be the baseline of these being real people dealing with real things. And then just inside that container, then you can have the comedy and the pathos and the pain. 


One of the spaces I really liked looking at the most was the therapist office. It doesn't feel like anything that I've seen or a stereotypical setting for that character. I love the use of space and light to create that intimacy. Is focusing on a sense of intimacy important, and how do you do that?

It is important to me and I'm not sure exactly how it comes about, but I think there are two things that come to mind. First of all, the therapist office is a set. My gaffer and my lighting and grip team worked very hard on figuring out the lighting of it so that it would feel very real. The way that the sunlight would come into a space, for example. That gives you the soft, diffused light and there's something very intimate about that, I suppose. But just making it so that the place felt very real. What is the sun doing on this particular day of the episode? And then the other thing is that I have camera operators that are doing most of the work and they are people I've worked with for years now. We've talked a lot about how who's in the room and who's behind the camera affects the energy of the scene and the actors. Talking to them about being in a place of openness and receiving what's happening as opposed to worrying about making a nice frame. They're actually opening up their heart to what's happening in the room. What's happening for the characters and actors? So I think perhaps that is part of what creates that feeling you're talking about.


How often for you guys behind the camera does the inspiration come from who's particularly in front of the camera?

They are fantastic all across the board. And it was certainly a major life thrill to get to work with Harrison Ford — a super cool, kind, silly man. Watching him get to do comedy with Jason Segel and Jessica Williams and then improvising off each other was really fantastic. I would say the one thing that comes to mind is Jessica Williams (Gabby) is so great as a human being and then as that character. You can see it in her outfits, she brings life and she wants passion and light. One thing that we always made sure of is that in Gabby's office, there was always going to be some sunshine and it was always going to be shining on her. It was just a pleasure to witness the extreme talent and abilities of the cast.


What is next for you this year?

I am so after right after Shrinking I did a feature film with Anne Hathaway. That was the first time I had done a feature in probably seven years — I've done mostly TV. So now I'm looking at feature films to satisfy that urge.


Shrinking is now available to stream on Apple TV+.