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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Director of Photography Tommy Maddox-Upshaw for SNOWFALL (2021)

Director of photography, Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

Director of photography, Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC shot five episodes (Ep. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10) of the recently released FX Networks Season 4 of the series Snowfall. He also filmed half of Season 3. The series crime drama focuses on the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles.

When asked about his experience working on the series, Maddox-Upshaw stated, "This is where I live with my family, so I care about the history of this town. These stories are like the societal problems I observed in Boston during the 80s, which was also infested with crack cocaine."

Maddox-Upshaw grew up in Boston. He holds an MFA in Cinematography from the American Film Institute and now resides in Los Angeles. His earlier work includes Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu (2016) by director Mandla Dube about the eponymous South African freedom fighter, shot entirely on location in South Africa. The film earned an official selection at the Camerimage Festival in 2017. He is also known for his work on the sixth season of Fox's series Empire for creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, the second season of Netflix's critically acclaimed On My Block, and the first season of Huge in France. Among multiple other film and series titles, he has filmed commercials for high profile brands NFL, IBM and Microsoft.


When did you realize you wanted to be a cinematographer and how did you go about realizing

your dream?

TOMMY: When I was 19 years old my sister Kyla presented an opportunity to work on a music video set as a Production Assistant for a Brandy Music video that Hype Williams was Directing.


What were some of the films you first saw that were your greatest inspiration?

TOMMY: Some of my favorite films that made an early impression on me were Malcolm X, The Usual Suspects, Do The Right Thing, even such things as Gremlins, Gotcha!, The Explorers, of course, Star Wars. I’ve always loved the movies.


Can you tell us about the work you have done leading up to Snowfall?

TOMMY: I did a few independent and small studio movies such as “Kalushi” for Director Mandla Dube and even had a short run in some music videos, the TV space was introduced to me by Stan Lathan and Ralph Farquhar for the last season of Real Husband of Hollywood, which lead to things such as On My Block Season 2 for Lauren Iungerich and TALES Season 1 by Irv Gotti. Which lead me into Season 3 of Snowfall.


Can you tell us about your work on Snowfall?

TOMMY: Snowfall for me is an emotional accumulation of my life as an inner-city kid in Boston that saw the crack epidemic take over my neighbor and affect my immediate family. My visual approach is my experience of the Black people in my life from childhood to adulthood in the gorgeous diversity of the brown and black skin tones that I love.


Can you tell us a bit about the series and what audiences can look forward to?

TOMMY: The series Snowfall addresses the drug epidemic of the 1980s in South Central Los Angeles, and our lead Franklin Saint represents the story of many young black men trying to understand their place in a society that’s stacked against them, with narrow options for excelling their lives. Putting him in a place of making bad decisions that adversely affect himself and the community at large.


Do you have a project you have worked on thus far you are most proud of?

TOMMY: One of my most proud projects would be Kalushi the story of Solomon Mahlangu which I shot in 2015 in Pretoria and Johannesburg South Africa. It was a life-changing project in many ways.


What have been your biggest challenges so far in your career?

TOMMY: The biggest challenge in my career would have to be trying to be considered for many more types of stories outside of the Black Urban genre of storytelling


What have been some of the biggest rewards?

TOMMY: Some of my biggest rewards would have to be for my work on Kalushi, On My Block and my work on Snowfall.


How has life since Covid changed your career for better or for worse?

TOMMY: My life since the pandemic hit has gotten better. it forced a change in our approach to Life and Career that was needed for us all. It made things slow down and open up in terms of cultural and professional progress over the recent months.


What will you be working on next?

TOMMY: I’m am heading to London to start a new show entitled The Man Who Fell To Earth with Director Alex Kurtzman. It’s my first real stab at Sci-Fi and I’m excited about it.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon. Posted on March 18, 2021.



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