Megan McLachlan speaks with Yaron Orbach, director of photography on the romantic comedy anthology series Modern Love on Amazon.
For believers in love, one of the drawbacks of a romantic comedy is that it’s fiction—meeting someone like that could never happen in real life. But with Amazon’s Modern Love anthology series, each episode is based on a true story published in the New York Times column by the same name. Over eight episodes, we see love bloom in a variety of forms, including in dysfunctional marriages, between doorman and apartment resident, and even self-love.
I had a chance to chat with Yaron Orbach, director of photography on the series, about what the lighting and color says about some of these characters, why it might look similar to other famous romantic comedies, and what Modern Love city he’d like to film in next.
Awards Daily: Were you a fan of the Modern Love New York Times column before taking on this project?
Yaron Orbach: I was aware the column existed, but I wasn’t a follower. My wife was actually the one reading it. Once in a while, she would tell me—you have to read this!
AD: You worked with director John Carney on Begin Again, which is also set in New York. What was it like working together again?
YO: It was great. We actually worked on two movies together (Begin Again and Sing Street). Then when this opportunity came about, John called, and it worked out because I had just finished filming HBO’s The Deuce. John is a unique director. He has a unique approach, a confidence paired with fleeting spontaneity, kind of like a John Cassavetes. There’s a lot of freedom. He’s willing to let things go. He doesn’t want to tell everybody what to do, but for them to find very magical small moments, which make his projects filled with a human touch.
AD: I feel like this series is inspired by Woody Allen and maybe Nora Ephron in the way it’s shot. Were they influences at all?
YO: No, not necessarily. I guess the correlation comes because of the subject matter. You’re right, when you see [the episodes], you get that feeling. We just work very organically. We create an environment for the actors so they’re free to move around. Now that it’s our [Carney and Orbach] third project, there’s a shorthand, but something John never wants to do is overplan. I think there’s a Woody Allen feeling to the project because of the city and because we’re coming from a more cinematic approach. We wanted to keep it organic, loose, and lived-in.
AD: Is romantic comedy cinematography different from other genres?
YO: I would say traditionally there are expectations or tendencies to make them bolder looking. I’m coming from shooting dark shows like The Deuce, where the photography is inspired by those settings. I don’t do anything much different for Modern Love, but I didn’t over-light it either way. I just tried to keep it a natural mood. I kept it in the middle.
AD: Each episode seems to have its own color palette. Like the first one with Cristin Milioti is lots of golds, and the Anne Hathaway episode is a lot of red. Was that a deliberate style you were going for?
YO: [In the first episode] we didn’t set out for that, but we fell in love with that particular lobby and sometimes a location feeds into that. That’s an interesting concept. There are so many scenes in the lobby that the gold color becomes part of the scene. With the Anne Hathaway episode, we wanted poppy colors when she was on a high and more drab colors when she was down. We did do that consciously to show separation.
AD: With every episode offering new characters and settings, how much was that a challenge?
YO: No, that was a blessing! What happens in general with a TV show is that you can’t be on location the whole time. You’d probably go back to the same character’s apartment 20 to 30 times. What’s beautiful about this anthology concept is that you only come for that location and you’re done. There’s a preciousness to that. It makes the stakes higher—you have to nail it that one time. It’s fantastic.
In regard to actors, we decided consciously not to have every episode have a different look. We shot them all similarly. In the Anne Hathaway episode, there are flashbacks and we go to different places, but that was more integral to the story. Over the eight episodes of the show, we wanted them to feel part of one long movie.
AD: Not every Modern Love story takes place in New York. But this show does. Would you be interested in shooting a different city with Modern Love stories if there was a Season 2?
YO: What I would say is that decision is above my pay grade, but everyone’s hoping they would have a second city. They are talking about a different city. But if it was up to me, it would be Mexico City. I love it there.
Modern Love streams on Amazon Prime October 18.