PRODUCTION | THE UNDERGROUND RA I LROAD
“Things between us were as similar as ever,” says Laxton. “When we got on set, the choices we were making – and how we made them – felt as they have for the past 20 years, which is organic and instinctual. That’s the process where we end up making the images we’re most proud of.” Yet, because of the scale, a different approach was taken to the pre-production process on a technical level, but that “everything creative felt just as always”. Laxton credits this feat, where all the technical challenges seemed to “fall by the wayside”, to the crew and “their ability to help support us in that way”. Indeed, Laxton is only too well aware of how important the whole ensemble is to a production. “We knew that if we were able to get what we wanted from Barry and myself, we could put the machine behind us and let it support our actors, our production and costume designers. It’s the type of trust you can only have after working together for so long,” he says. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IS STREAMING NOW ON AMAZON PRIME
On any given night exterior, we had upwards of six condors, with Arri 18Ks or 9K HMIs
all the different ways in which I need to be more efficient and responsible within the show,” he says. “It’s not necessarily just lighting, but talking to the special effects department, making sure I have the right rigging team, discussions with my producers and the AD department, and more. It was a learning curve.” Finally, it would be remiss to overlook his unique relationship with Jenkins. How did the process compare to the intimate sets of Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk ?
the significance of the task at hand. “Our scope in the show and this world is, in many ways, a stand-in for black people in America’s journey over the past few centuries. The responsibility of that is big. We wanted to make sure that sensation was visual,” says Laxton. “The hope was to create big, powerful images that felt the way we felt about the material – namely, our history.” Much of Cora’s world comes to life in darkness, so there could be no shying away here. “A small scene with a little bit of key light on someone’s face was going to do it. Any time we wanted to turn the camera around, even at night, we needed to see a cotton field or some distant trees,” explains Laxton. It required a lot of planning and pre-production to ensure everything was prepared come the shoot, Laxton explains. “On any given night exterior, we had upwards of six condors, with either Arri 18Ks or 9K HMIs. There were large LED softboxes to create a blanket effect, then some key light coming in elsewhere.” For his part, Laxton’s role as a department head on such a shoot required a bit of ‘growing up’. “I had to learn about
RIGHT As episodes unfold and locations change, so too does the look. Northern states often differ greatly from the golden sunset light of Georgia
10 DEF I N I T ION | JULY 202 1
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