Severance Cinematographer on Using Light and Dark to Create That Weird Innie Aesthetic [Interview]

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I know you’ve worked with Ben Stiller before, but I’m curious how he introduced “Severance” to you at the very beginning, when he brought you on the project. How did he describe the show to you and what interested you?

Ben and I worked on ‘Dannemora’ and other little things together, and ‘Dannemora’ was a pretty big, long project for both of us — it was the first limited series I did, the first TV series I I did, and the first [dramatic] TV series he did. Through that, we really developed a lot of creative confidence, so he had been sending me projects here and there, testing the waters on what he wanted to do next. And then he sent this to me saying it was something he really liked and he thought it could move forward. He just sent me the script, he really didn’t say anything. He usually doesn’t say anything when he sends me stuff, and then I just reply.

I responded by saying, “Interesting script, but I don’t know if it’s something I want to shoot. I looked at it maybe more from a bit of a selfish point of view there, just because of the environments that were on paper – offices, windows, basement – ​​they’re settings with nothing. I was more afraid of it, I think, than of wanting to do it.

It’s obviously an underground office space, but it has a very specific look, a very retro look, a very open-space but claustrophobic vibe. How did you contribute to this aesthetic? What was your inspiration for bringing this to the screen?

Well first of all it was just written as an office. It didn’t say “mid-century office with all that visual stuff.” So, we had to come up with some out-of-the-box visual references, and I think for me it was really about pushing the aesthetic as much as possible. I was so worried that it would just be a desktop display, and that it would just be beige, that I was really pushing for some really striking visual references. I came across this book called “Office” by Lars Tunbjork, and this book, for me, really defined a lot of the aesthetic and where we could go visually. It showed me that there can be so much beauty and simplicity in the absurdity of a desk, and you can really make everything visually iconic in some way, like even a pen can be really beautiful.

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