From 'Handmaid's Tale' to 'Altered Carbon': 4 Cinematographers on Shooting "Epic and Intimate" Scenes

12:00 PM 6/20/2018

by Carolyn Giardina

DPs on shows including 'Counterpart' and 'Here and Now' shed light and darkness into their scenes in order to create unique worlds for their characters.

Courtesy Photo

  • 'Altered Carbon'

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Sci-fi series Altered Carbon, set in 2384, "had to cinematically immerse the viewer," says cinematographer Neville Kidd, a 2014 Emmy winner for BBC and PBS series Sherlock. He used the Arri Alexa65 to produce a large-format world, "ensuring the viewer could have an epic visual experience of the future," he says.

    For the show, which is set in a world where memories can be stored in a disk-shaped device on the back of a person's neck, a strong color palette was used to form a future that Kidd calls "both strange but also recognizable." He adds: "This duality was also seen in the way we used light to define the two opposing worlds of the story, the haves and the have-nots."

    Says Kidd: "Camera choice, lighting design and composition within the frame were all carefully considered to highlight the opposing forces in the story: the epic and the intimate, the rich and the poor, life and death."

  • 'Counterpart'

    Starz

    Courtesy of Starz

    Berlin-based sci-fi series Counterpart is centered on the concept that there's an alternate universe with "doubles" of every person living slightly different versions of their lives. "We wanted to create a moody but real-feeling atmosphere for both places," says cinematographer Martin Ruhe.

    When it came to creating the difference between the worlds, "we wanted to be subtle and not broad. We went for slightly cooler tones on one side and slightly warmer in the world in which our hero lives. The visual language is pretty much the same apart from that."

    He also avoided direct sun wherever he could. "In both worlds we wanted the light to be grim, no morning sun through the windows or beautiful sunsets, almost as if it was overcast in every episode," he says. "The quality of light is soft, very natural but at the same time moody and contrasty. You always feel that there might be some secrets, things you don't really see or characters who don't really reveal themselves yet."

  • 'The Handmaid's Tale'

    Hulu

    Courtesy of Hulu

    Cinematographer Colin Watkinson, who won an Emmy a year ago for the pilot of The Handmaid's Tale, was back behind the camera for season two of the dystopian story, which was filmed largely on location around Toronto. New to season two are the Colonies, a polluted area where Handmaids are taken as punishment. Watkinson says they took some inspiration from Christina's World, the 1948 painting by Andrew Wyeth of a girl in a field, which served as the starting point for the colors and contrast in the Colonies.

    One shot in season two, featuring Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) sitting in Handmaid Offred's (Elisabeth Moss) room, is backlit by a window in a way that's very reminiscent of a shot from season one. "It was a directorial choice," explains Watkinson. "It represents how Serena was thinking about her baby that Offred is carrying. It's a theme that runs through the season, connecting her to the baby."

  • 'Here and Now'

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    "Alan Ball's writing seamlessly blends the ordinary with extraordinary moments, so I wanted the visuals to fulfill his vision," says cinematographer Quyen Tran of the HBO drama centered on a multiracial family in Portland, Oregon, that stars Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter.

    "I strived to create a naturalistic environment in which supernatural events could occur out of nowhere, so I had to select camera and lighting systems that could achieve both," explains Tran, who began her career as a still photographer. The show, which debuted on HBO in February, uses its premise to explore multiple issues, including race, identity and mental illness.

    To create this mix of the supernatural and the natural for the show, which shot in Portland and Los Angeles, Tran says she "utilized in-camera lighting effects, altering the shutter angle and changing the frame rate for specific moments to bring the audience into our characters' mental landscapes as organically as possible."

    This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.