Wednesday, July 18, 2018
  • Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017
Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC Reflects On 1st Career Emmy Nomination
Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC
Cinematographer discusses his contributions to "Black Mirror," ongoing collaborations with director Joe Wright
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Twice a Best Cinematography Oscar nominee--for Atonement in 2008 and Anna Karenina in 2013--Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC, recently earned his first career Emmy nomination for the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror (Netflix), the British sci-fi anthology series created by Charlie Brooker.

McGarvey said that becoming an Emmy nominee “means a huge amount to me--to be nominated alongside great colleagues of mine, cinematographers whose work I admire.”

The other nominees in the Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie are: Yves Bélanger, CSC, for the “You Get What You Need” installment of Big Little Lies (HBO); Luca Bigazzi for “Episode 1” of The Young Pope (HBO); Fred Elmes, ASC for the “Ordinary Death” episode of The Night Of; and Dana Gonzales, ASC, for “The Law Of Vacant Places” episode of Fargo (FX Networks).

McGarvey observed that Emmy recognition is a high honor in that television has come of age. “A shift is happening at the moment as television more and more is actually displaying some of the great cinematography currently being produced. In the last number of years I’ve noticed this extraordinary spirit of experimentation that’s happening in television. I’m very happy to be part of that dynamism that propels our own art.”

One steady, propelling dynamic of McGarvey’s art has been Joe Wright who directed the “Nosedive” episode kicking off season 3 of Black Mirror. McGarvey has lensed five features directed by Wright including the Best Cinematography Oscar-nominated Anna Karenina

It was Wright who extended the Black Mirror opportunity to McGarvey. “We’re regular collaborators and I could see Joe was excited to tackle something that was a very short shoot compared to what we’re used to in features,” related McGarvey. “In TV we didn’t have the normal luxurious period of feature pre-pro where Joe and I could work out everything meticulously in advance--which is his style. Instead we had a built-in imperative to get things done well and fast. That proved to be tremendously invigorating as an approach for both of us. We had to get the essence of the drama with no time to be tricky or to luxuriate in cinematic devices.”

Still, while McGarvey found “approaching something with speed” to be a creative catalyst, helping to “streamline the visual perspective,” he acknowledged that lending itself to this approach was being able to work with a director whom he knows so well. “Shorthand is built in because of the films we’ve done. We have a great rapport that is valuable when you have to work quickly. Joe is such a sophisticated visual director but we can attain the desired simplicity because we have worked together so extensively.”

Each episode of Black Mirror is a standalone story. “Nosedive” is a mesh of dystopian fiction and satire, starring Bryce Dallas Howard as a woman living in a society where people are ranked according to their social likability. Her rating takes a hit but an invitation to a wedding becomes a means to boost her quantitative score. Things don’t turn out, though, according to plan.

“We shot in South Africa during our winter, their summer,” said McGarvey. “But Joe did not want to show that we were in Cape Town. He didn’t want a sense of locale. We tried hard to choose blank, nonspecific locations. We had a trajectory of looks for the journey in this film. I worked closely with production designer Joel Collins and costume designer Jacqueline Durran to create a world that had a very specific color palette initially--pastel colors, slightly drained, using filtration. At the same time, the look was part inspired by Stepford Wives and films that have a sense of a dystopian setting--a place where life is kind of rarefied and slightly insipid. We made it pretty but almost to the point of puking---ripe to the point of rotten. That’s the vibe we were going for photographically speaking. Then there’s the struggle of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character to get to the wedding, setting off a domino effect of disaster as things start to disintegrate. Visually the sugar-coated candy veneer of pseudo perfection cracks bit by bit, revealing a more hellish, contrasty, grainy, colorless, real and true world. The shell cracked and fell away as we descend into this journey.”

McGarvey lensed the episode digitally, opting for the Sony F-55 to satisfy Netflix’s requirement that content be shot 4K. While McGarvey normally shoots digitally with the ARRI ALEXA, he worked with the Sony camera to great effect, deploying Panavision Primo lenses and using filtration “to kind of pull back the look.”

As for what’s next, McGarvey at press time was about to embark on a theatrical feature with director/writer Neil Jordan in Dublin. Titled The Widow, the film stars Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz.