We spoke with two of the team, Imogen Leadbeater, Lead Motion Graphic Designer and Tom Cressey, Camera Operator/Editor, to share some creative insight into the latest Netflix must-see – Anatomy of a Scandal.
Imogen: I watched Netflix’s latest binge-offering the other week, Anatomy of a Scandal. This was one of the first scenes from the first episode, and it caught my eye in a few ways. In this scene, we find James Whitehouse MP (Rupert Friend) sitting on the sofa with his wife Sophie Whitehouse (Sienna Miller). He’s telling her that a scandal exposing his workplace affair will hit the headlines in the morning, and he’s giving her the heads up. How thoughtful.
Anyway. Why did it catch my eye? Well, initially, it was the off-centre set of 4 family pictures. I love interior design and found this lack of symmetry and seemingly odd wall-positioning unsettling for a moment. But then I realised how clever this entire shot is.
Imagine this image is split down the middle vertically. Those four family photos are purposely on her side of the shot. She is warmly lit, has pictures of their children on her side, her face is brightly lit, and she’s wearing warm toned clothing—a picture of ‘homeliness’ and warmth.
On the other side of the image, you have a man dressed in cold greys/blues. Cool, blue lighting streaks along the back wall. No pictures of family on his side. Even the book choice is blue on his side of the table. His face is obscured by a dark shadow—void of warmth and family, much like his scandalous storyline.
There is so much intention that can be unpacked from a single image of what you watch. So many deliberate choices that you may consciously overlook but serve a colossal purpose subconsciously in setting the scene and telling a story.’
Tom: “When looking at any frame from a film or tv show, everything you see in the shot appears to complement each other and be “natural” within the scene. I mean that nothing looks out of place and yet can draw our eye to it or make us focus on specific aspects. Filmmakers call this mise-en-scene (setting the scene). It can be a complex idea to wrap your head around. It’s highly nuanced and subjective, made up of hundreds of creative decisions by the director, production designer, director of photography and costume department. The idea is to elevate the film from a series of moving pictures to an art form with purpose. Something bursting with atmosphere and emotion pulls viewers in and doesn’t let go. This is often the area of a film where filmmakers lose the casual passer-by as describing the more profound meaning or theory of a shot immediately has a sense of snobbery. Still, it’s imperative, as mise-en-scene guides the viewer without holding their hand.
There are patterns, colours, contrasts, or even lack of the aforementioned elements that subconsciously speak to us and give us an insight into the characters or the environments without blatantly explaining things. Cool tones, blues, and purples; indicate darkness, negative emotion, and jeopardy. Warm tones, oranges, and yellows; tend to indicate safety, happiness, and stability. When you mix the colour with light and shadow, more dimensionality is added; shadow naturally means bad, danger, or evil. And light represents the other side; good, prosperity and health. In the frame above, James’ side of the frame has cold Venetian lighting cast over it. This is a style of lighting popularised during the early 40s in film noir classics such as The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra. It is typically used to create an unstable or ambivalent mood and makes the sense that James is hiding from the world or could be hiding details from his wife. In contrast, to how his wife is lit, the practical light (film jargon for a light seen in the frame) is high up with a warm tone, serving as a beacon holding back the dark, perhaps indicating how James is comforted by his wife. The split composition of the portraits, all placed towards the left of the frame and the lamp behind Sophie, indicate how James is separating from his family. He is feeling alone.
The rule in film is “Show, don’t tell”, meaning if you go around explaining everything to your audience constantly, you’re going to have a very dull film. No one likes being lectured to. However, suppose you tell a story and place your characters in an environment that you have designed through placement of objects, lighting and composition. In that case, your audience will understand the deeper meaning or intentions simply by watching.
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