Awards Daily communicates with Avenue 5 cinematographer Eben Bolter on a 26-second delay about turning a space disaster into gold in Season 1 of the HBO comedy series from Armando Iannucci (Veep).
If there’s one thing we can say about 2020, it’s that being stuck is in—on both television and in real life. This year, we’ve seen TV scenarios like Snowpiercer, about the last group of people on earth hurdling around the globe on a train, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, comedy series Avenue 5, about a space cruise liner delayed from six weeks to 3 years with a ring of shit orbiting it (literally).
But if you’re going to be stuck somewhere, it would probably be pretty cool to be stuck on Avenue 5 (sans shit of course). There’s an ice rink, ball pit, and cinematographer Eben Bolter’s polished look of it makes it look a lot better than the climate back on earth in the futuristic series.
I got to chat with Bolter via email (a little longer than a 26-second delay!) about his inspiration behind the look of the show, going Poseidon in the first episode, and what day and night look like in space.
Eben Bolter: Yes, gold was the key colour at the front of the ship which came out of a desire for warmth. We didn’t want to do the usual desaturated, cold, science fiction look; rather we wanted to explore colour and warmth and the gold was integral to this. We also looked a lot at some of the more vulgar “luxury” hotels that a certain president owns and how gold is overused to reassure his guests.
AD: HA! The colors are so different compared to Judd Galaxy back on earth, which has a purple hue. Not what we’re typically used to seeing when it comes to mission control in pop culture. How did you want to differentiate Avenue 5 from Judd Galaxy and also differentiate mission control from what we’re used to seeing?
EB: Contrasting our environments was something we talked a lot about in prep and worked hard to achieve, so thank you for noticing! We actually had three distinct areas; the front of the ship with the warmth and gold for the passengers, the rear of the ship with the grungy industrial lighting and dark corridors, and then earth. On earth we used a different style of camera work with zoom lenses and all hand-held shots to instantly give it a different feel, but the colours of mission control actually just came out of experimentation. We knew we wanted to contrast with the warmth on board the ship, so blue was always our starting point; but when we started pre-lighting the set, we experimented with graduations of colour from blue to purple and that’s what stuck.
AD: I want to talk about a couple of scenes. The gravity flip in the first episode is an epic way to start. What was it like filming that?
AD: This might be a strange thing to notice, but I feel like there are certain things the camera does to let us know if it’s “night” or “day” in space. Am I crazy or did you do something to the camera? I also realized that would be, like, a real issue if you were in space and didn’t know what time or day it was!
AD: When Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird) goes to meet the second president back on Earth, I noticed that the air looked thicker and she was fanning herself like it was hot. How did you achieve the effects of global warming in these scenes?EB: Armando wanted to hint at all sorts of things on earth without directly referencing them and global warming was definitely one of them. After the problem in space of no weather as mentioned earlier, it gave me the perfect opportunity to really embrace weather back on earth. For our White House location, we used 18K HMI lighting to blast sunlight through the windows and used a haze machine in the room to thicken the atmosphere and accentuate the sunlight. The makeup team then provided subtle sweat on the actors and the art team dressed in moving fans and other visual hints that it was uncomfortably hot.AD: How do the shots and style within the series change as the season goes on? I feel like it’s very open in the beginning, but it feels more narrow and claustrophobic as the season wears on.EB: I think it was a case of how best to tell the story in the moment. At the beginning of the series we’re presenting the illusion of grandeur and luxury, so wider lenses, smooth steadicam, and big wide shots made visual sense. As the farce is slowly revealed and chaos takes over, the characters’ actions and motivations lent themselves to a more claustrophobic, handheld, long-lens feel as you’ve rightly observed. We’re just about to start work on Season 2 and I’m very interested in where Armando is taking us next and if series 2 will have a similar visual story, or if we pickup where we left off.