HBO’s “The Last of Us” Episode 7 Cinematographer: Interview
Cinematographer Ksenia Sereda explains that the camera tells us more than we want to know as she captures Ellie’s journey from a neon mall to a snow-covered cult building.
There’s a tension in “The Last of Us” that has nothing to do with fending off hordes of ravenous infected or Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) pulling each other through near-death situations. The HBO series does its best to emphasize the constant terror of living in a zombie world and the beauty of torn apart landscapes, revealing that both are always true.
The show’s setting changes dramatically as Ellie and Joel cross the country, so the show doesn’t fall into the trap of a gloomy color palette or an endless stretch of jagged concrete. But the series’ cameras also play an important role in creating compositions that show what the characters fear, what they hope for, and what they’ve lost all at once.
Cinematographer Ksenia Sereda, who laid the groundwork for the series as DP on Episodes 1 and 2 and shot the pivotal flashback for Episode 7, described the series’ camera as a scene partner that gives “The Last of Us” immediacy. and soundness. The key is to capture as many layers of the world as possible: Ellie’s anguished, shocked expression after killing a man. and the arresting painterly quality of the blood that then speckles his face.
“(The series) works with so many textures and layers. When you’re looking through the characters’ perspective, you have to be there, but at the same time, you have to be in close contact with the environment around them,” Sereda told IndieWire. The camera in “The Last of Us” looks for environmental details that are exquisitely beautiful in their own right, whether it’s dappled patches of light in a strawberry field or mold in a hastily scribbled “Back in Five Minutes” from 20 years ago. The characters may not make the world go round, but the camera does – and this texture lends a sense of tragedy and possibility to the images you observe.
Sereda (with fellow DPs Eben Bolters, Nadim Carlsens and Christine A Maier) draws attention to the eco-friendly compositions that complement the exciting action sequences. “I was looking for lenses where close-ups could be stitched together and what you can see in the environment, said Sereda.
The solution was a set of Cook S4 lenses, which Sereda says captured the right level of richness, texture and detail across multiple planes and really made the close-up moments sing. “I really like working with actors and close-ups, like my heart is there,” Sereda said. “It’s all about people and following the characters and (helping) the viewer stay connected to what the characters are going through.”
One of the key tools that the camera uses to visually represent the characters’ struggles, in addition to production design, is color. “The Last of Us” tweaks the colors (or lack thereof) precisely in the post-Cordyceps world, pumping up the warm lights of early nostalgia in the pilot to cast the entire world in darkness. There’s nothing more beautifully or softly photographed than the story of the home Frank (Murray Barttlet) and Bill (Nick Offerman) built in episode 3 (despite the nighttime raid) — and it’s immediately followed by the black shadows of Kansas City. .
Sereda plays off this color shift in his work in the first season, setting the template for “The Last of Us” tense mines from not-so-abandoned buildings. But in episode 7, which recounts the best and worst night of Ellie’s life (so far), Sereda has become almost painterly, a blur of color and light reflecting the romantic feelings that develop between Ellie and her best friend Riley (Storm Reid) before they are bitten by an infected.
“It’s even a little dizzying at certain points, the neon, pinks and purpleshow much you can see there – said Sereda. “It was really important to put Ellie in an environment (that visually matches) that makes this the best night of Riley’s life. This is the first time you see Ellie truly happy.
But Sereda was able to paint with light even in the darkest moments of the show. “You always have the concept art and the preview and everything, but there’s nothing like seeing things for real,” says Sereda. “(For the plane crash in episode 1) we tried to get all the lights on set. There were lighting signals as (the truck) passed us, and as the plane went down, a huge light crane struck, creating a shadow of people fleeing the plane crash. It was a lot of fun to do and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to make something like this. It was a huge adventure.”
However, creating a convincing, frightening sense of darkness always runs the risk of making the image illegible. A lot of testing resulted in a darkness level that didn’t tempt the viewer to adjust the screen – including extensive testing of flashlights.
“Some scenes are just based on flashlights, like the museum scene (in episode 2) where they go in, and we had to find the right balance between the darkness and the flashlights we were using,” Sereda said. “We tested all different types of flashlights (to find ones) that would give the viewer the same experience as the characters discovering things.”
The essence of the series’ world-building is that we want to discover things alongside the characters, while being terrified of what lurks in the dark. We are shown how comprehensively wrong these characters or their worlds are, but in the journey with Joel and Ellie, we can hope that one day they will be. “It’s an absolute paradise for DP,” Sereda said.
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