Trick shots featuring the same actor in multiple roles have been around nearly as long as the movies themselves. Throughout most of the analog/photochemical era, split-screen processes in films as diverse as The Prisoner of Zenda and Disney’s The Parent Trap mainly utilized locked-off camera positions. This was also the case on television, where the “evil twin” became a standard plot device, with Patrick McGoohan squaring off against himself on The Prisoner and a multitude of occasions when Captain Kirk confronted his twin on Star Trek. Lindsay Wagner even managed to earn an Emmy for her dual role on The Bionic Woman.
The advent of motion control allowed for less-static twin scenes, as evidenced by Big Business and David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, while early digital magic allowed for more sophisticated sleight-of-hand, such as hand-offs from one character to the other across the split-line and juggling multiples of the same character, as was the case with Michael Keaton in Multiplicity.
Netflix’ Living with Yourself stars Paul Rudd as a beleaguered office worker who accidentally winds up having to deal with a cheerier duplicate of himself. The husband-and-wife directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, fresh from their feature Battle of the Sexes, selected director of photography Darren Lew to shoot the series. Lew realized early on that offering up visual pizzazz to match the spectacle of Rudd, plural, would be doing the project a disservice. “It’s a story about a guy who lives in a bland world, so this whole project was marked by a measure of visual restraint,” he explains. “There’s a tendency for modern productions to use very elaborate production design and bring shafts of light pouring into smoky rooms through venetian blinds. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like very exciting photography when you shoot a guy wearing a light blue shirt and beige pants standing up against a beige wall, but that’s the world this series takes place in.”
To reflect the character’s anxieties, Lew often kept his camera in motion. “Paul does a lot of running around to various places,” he elaborates, “and even when he is just in one location, it still usually felt right to be tracking him. That gave him a sense of urgency in this beige, bland world. We had a terrific A-camera/Steadicam operator in Jim McConkey, who had done Maniac with me, and also shoots [The Marvelous Mrs.] Maisel.”
Lew’s experience as a cinematographer, which includes second-unit work on the first season of True Detective and last year’s Maniac, both directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, has led him to a point of view that differs from some of his counterparts. “The longer I do this, and the better I know the directors, the less I feel the need to speak endlessly about the visual style.”
Developing the Look
The cinematographer found his directors to be terrific collaborators who were open to his input. “I was very surprised to find that, even after they had shot features with Linus Sandgren and Matty Libatique and Tim Suhrstedt and had made many music videos and commercials, they had never worked in anamorphic,” reveals Lew. “I brought them to Panavision and did side-by-side tests of the Sony Venice, first shooting on a variety of Panavision spherical lenses, and then anamorphic on T-series lenses. Even though anamorphic was new territory for them, it was very apparent that was the way to go here. An awful lot of this show features portraits of Paul, and they felt anamorphic would give those angles a different kind of dimension.”
Since the Venice’s 2500 ISO setting permits the camera to essentially see in the dark, a concern has been raised that actors might not be able to see well enough to play certain scenes. “Paul certainly never said anything like that to me,” states Lew, “but this does tie into how the look of a set can affect mood. Sometimes on a set that shoots film, things seem too bright, because you’re lighting to a higher stop to achieve the necessary depth of field. I do see how a dark scene that uses a ton of light creates a level of artifice that could work against an actor’s performance. By facilitating use of realistic light levels, the Venice should actually benefit performances.”
Lew employed two LUTs through the shoot and considered himself fortunate to have his regular DIT, Jeff Flohr, along. “From a creative standpoint, I like being able to play with color and contrast on the day and to talk with the DIT, who can feed the look to on-set monitors.” Light Iron handled dailies.
Lighting Sets and Locations
For the Top Happy Spa, the resort-cum-laboratory that creates Rudd redux, Lew worked in close collaboration with the art department and lighting personnel, creating a violet-purplish chamber lit by some futuristic-looking in-frame units. “We were shooting with practicals,” he says. “With schedules being so tight these days, working in existing light the way Venice does lets us move quickly. For the spa, we had carpenters working the set so areas in the walls were cut to just the right height for mounting these lights. We also used a lot of light ribbon.”
Lew notes that, with stage space being at a real premium these days, being able to evenly divide time between sets and practical locations proved advantageous in more ways than one. “To be honest, I prefer to shoot on location,” he declares, “to see the infinite ways light and angles present themselves. Of course, it’s a challenge to keep continuity but it’s a challenge I like — and I always learn something new. And it’s certainly great to connect the interiors and exteriors in one shot. But shooting in New York winters with short days and varying conditions can be challenging. Many of the available stages are on the small side and we often can’t get lights far enough away to make the daylight seem realistic. But we’re lucky to get to have a respite from winter location work and it opens up other creative opportunities, like taking down a wall to get a crane into the set.”
“One thing I hate when seeing stage work is a new scene looking exactly the same as the last, even if it is a different time of day,” he says. “On stage, you have the opportunity to decide exactly how you want to make things different, and that can be a very subtle process. But honestly, I prefer to be on location, where I can take inspiration from all the things you could never think up on your own, like how an unusual cloud formation can change the look of a scene. The main character’s house was a place we found in Westchester County, a good hour-fifteen outside the city, but we capitalized on the reality of it, so the benefits far outweighed any inconvenience.”
For one shot of Rudd’s character behind the wheel of a car as he experiences a meltdown, a process trailer was employed. “Our directors each had particular ideas about how we should shake the camera, as did our operator – and me, too,” he admits. “You would have cracked up to just listen as we devised ways to get the right shake for that shot. ‘You move up and down, then hit it!’ ‘No, push hard on the pan handle, then give that a knock on the side!’ It was like playing jacks. We were moving on a 125–450 zoom, at the same time hitting the camera while trucking down the road.”
Keeping It Natural
When it came to working out the particulars of scenes featuring Rudd playing the two characters, the production made a unique effort to keep technology from becoming a tail that wagged the dog. “We were very fortunate to have a period during pre-production when we could rehearse with Paul,” Lew acknowledges. “This gave Paul a kind of forum to explore what he wanted to do with these two selves. I shot those on an iPhone, which gave us an idea of what kinds of technical issues we would have to address in advance. By making sure performance and character was driving the process, rather than concentrating on how fancy we could make it via trickery, the scenes stayed natural, without hindering Paul’s end of things.”
Typically, a twin scene usually features a stand-in on the empty side of the scene to provide an eyeline to the actor. “But Paul sometimes didn’t want to look into the eyes of another actor playing opposite him,” explains Lew. “It was less distracting for him to look at nothing, plus you just know that with the specific needs for comedy, that another actor is never going to have Paul’s unique timing anyway.”
Motion control came into play, but with that came the complication of making the system work within small spaces. “A Technodolly is not a small apparatus, but our technician was able to take just the head of the dolly and put it on a mount,” Lew reveals. “This approach came about while we were shooting, letting us place it on a tripod or standard dolly. So the brains of the thing were elsewhere, which meant we didn’t need to take this enormous base along everywhere. That gave us all the advantages of motion control with none of the usual limitations. Otherwise we’d be building ramps and tearing up interiors just to get the Techno inside. This innovation meant we could go inside even the smallest apartments.”
Lew also sought to increase the sense of a cameraman capturing a move on the fly during the motion-control shoots. “When the two Pauls are arguing, you need a very organic approach to capture their back-and-forths,” he states. But often when I see motion control used in a show, it seems very obvious, because the moves feel like somebody is turning the wheel. Well, what if we could grab the Technodolly or the head and move it like a handheld camera? We couldn’t put it up on a shoulder, but we could move it on its arm and record that, giving us a handheld feel that could be duplicated. That got us some life to the move, like the camera is responding to the performer. We found there was a limit to how much we could manhandle the camera and the pan and tilt, so if we pushed it further, it wouldn’t repeat the next pass properly. So long as we didn’t reach that threshold, we still were able to capture and repeat all this natural movement.”
A Gentle Finish
Lew likens the DI on this series to his process on Maniac. “I like to leave very little open to chance or misinterpretation,” he declares. “There were only one or two times when Light Iron colorist Steve Bodner called with a question about resolving a look or requesting a reference to make sure he knew what I wanted to see. I was there for pretty much all of the color-correct, and in the end, we stayed almost entirely with the decisions made up front. We spent the bulk of our time just gently shaping the image and doing some tracking of faces.”
The cinematographer’s strongest memory of Living with Yourself revolves around the opening moments in episode one. “We started in fall and went through winter, which is when we buried Paul in the ground,” he admits. “It was a big safety concern, making sure he had enough oxygen, and figuring a way for him to signal us while buried beneath the dirt. So we also had a backup plan in case he got in trouble. And after that, we had Paul running around in his underwear, while I’m off-camera wearing two pairs of thermal underwear, ski pants, parka, gloves and a hat! He’s not pulling any star attitude, he’s out in this freezing countryside in a diaper. Along with Jonathan and Valerie, he’s a big part of why this was such a great project, and why it was so much fun all the way through.”
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