PRODUCTION | THE UNDERGROUND RA I LROAD
ABOVE There’s plenty of delicate interactivity between characters and tiny key light sources, such as candles
characters discuss a certain energy that exists within all living things. It’s a theme referenced throughout the show and I needed a way to represent that on-screen. I started thinking about early photography – more specifically, the Native American belief that having your photograph taken removes your spirit.” Laxton admits it was a challenge to capture the on-camera flash look with motion picture. But he felt it was important to include, because “those moments were a reminder of the energy that exists within the slaves and their masters”. Unsurprisingly, the eye-catching contrast was a careful choice, too. “Colour is a tool that I tend to utilise in bolder ways than others might,” says Laxton. “It was also important to have as much interactivity between the subjects and small light sources as possible. Used as a key light, a candle could feel significant in that way – without it, we would be in complete darkness.” With such difficult subject matter at hand, other decisions had to be handled with care. Jenkins and Laxton made a strong choice to avoid gratuitous violence, not labouring this aspect, but instead choosing to cover the impacts of it. However, they were also cautious not to paint an all-too-pretty picture. “We shot the show in Georgia, which was a major state in American slavery,” says Laxton. “It is very beautiful at times,
and people in our history will have witnessed some very dramatic events, against a backdrop of the sunset shining through the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. You can’t avoid that – and I think it would have been strange for us to change the way we approached the natural beauty of our location. You tell a story about a subject in the place it exists, but we didn’t want to embellish it in that sense.” The show sees Cora go on a journey across the United States, and with that comes an inevitable change in tone and appearance. It was an evolution Laxton worked hard to communicate as a reflection of her path northward. “Cora interacts with new people, visits new spaces and undergoes personal growth,” he says. “So, we changed the way we photographed episodes, adapting them to what seemed appropriate for the tone of particular scenes. “With my feature films, I try to be as conscious as possible about making choices that are unique to each story. There are through lines in the way we shot the whole series, but each episode was unique – and we knew they needed to come across that way visually.” In part, the look of certain episodes was shaped by a somewhat unusual choice – a move away from the spherical Panavision Primo 70 lenses, used for the bulk of the series, and towards anamorphic T Series glass.
Those tunnels were the biggest and most challenging set build – we had real trains running through them. We built around 200 feet of tunnel over existing tracks
08 DEF I N I T ION | JULY 202 1
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