Cinematographer Jonathan Freeman earns Emmy nomination for bringing miniseries ‘Defending Jacob’ to life

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Cinematographer Jonathan Freeman is nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on “Defending Jacob.” (Photo courtesy of Accolade Publicity & Consulting)

Jonathan Freeman caught the bug for making movies early in life.

Born and raised in Toronto, Freeman was fascinated by the visual effects of films like “Star Wars.”

“The magic of how they pulled this off a lot was through the lighting and photography from visual effects,” said Freeman. “As I went through school, I liked making films. I eventually went to film school and continued to focus on cinematography, and got a couple of breaks afterward.”

Freeman worked on a number of independent films in Montreal before landing a spot in a Canadian film company that allowed him to make several science fiction movies such as the 1994 film “Replikator.”

The producers wanted something moody and atmospheric and encouraged me to experiment,” said Freeman. “It didn’t hurt that they wanted it dark enough that the rubber monsters weren’t seen very well. It was really a great training ground in that part. They took a chance on me, and we produced several films during a two-year period.”

Freeman has since gone on to work on projects such as “Boardwalk Empire” and “Game of Thrones,” the latter of which he served as the Director of Cinematography. Last year, Freeman was approached to work on “Defending Jacob,” a crime drama miniseries on Apple TV+.

“I had previously worked with the director, Morten Tyldum, a couple of years ago. He reached out to me and sent me the first five scripts,” said Freeman. “The scripts were so intriguing that I read them all in one sitting — I started in the morning and couldn’t stop. It’s normally a story that I wouldn’t be completely drawn towards.”

“Defending Jacob” is about a family dealing with their 14-year-old son being accused of murder. Based on a novel by the same name, the miniseries stars Jaeden Martell as the titular character Jacob Barber and Chris Evans as Andy Barber, Jacob’s father.

Freeman knew right off the bat that the actors were the most important in bringing the drama to the miniseries. 

“The reality is that most of the drama was going to be communicated through the performance of the actors,” said Freeman. “We felt that the way in which we covered the story was critical.”

For “Defending Jacob,” Freeman and his crew ultimately decided to take an approach that utilizes point-of-view and framing the shots close to the actors and making the scenes through the characters’ perspectives. 

“ We had a great idea as the story unfolds — as [Jacob’s] parents start to question if their son is guilty, we wanted to intentionally make some scenes where we would shoot him from further away or over the shoulder to create separation,” said Freeman. “The biggest challenge is applying a specific approach and for it to not become redundant — finding the nuance was the biggest challenge.”

Freeman was recently recognized for his work on “Defending Jacob,” landing an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie. 

“I’m very honored of course to be nominated. There are so many people that are worthy of a nomination, the quality level of cinematography has skyrocketed in the past 10 years,” said Freeman.

Freeman had earned an Emmy Award previously for his work on “Boardwalk Empire” for Outstanding Cinematography, as well as earning a similar nomination for “Game of Thrones.” Freeman says that though the nomination is for him, it is truly a reflection of the hard work that he and his crew put into “Defending Jacob.”

“I recognize that any nomination for my work should be shared with a lot of people who have contributed to it,” said Freeman. “I have an amazing crew in Boston and Los Angeles that worked together, as well as Morten, who has a strong influence on this as well. It’s a great honor, but a shared honor.”

“Defending Jacob” is streaming on Apple TV+. For more information about Freeman’s work, visit freemandp.com.