Netflix ‘beef’ cinematography adds tension to Ali Wong and Steven Yeun

Cinematographer Larkin Seiple discusses how the camera derailed Netflix and A24’s road rage comedy.

This time last year, A24 released Everything Everywhere All at Once , in which the first version of Evelyn Wong we meet is the least successful of all the multiverse iterations her life’s decision tree has led to. worst result. But some of them are down to bad luck or chance. But in A24’s “Beef,” co-directed by “EEAAO,” Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong) seem to be actively making the worst possible decisions over and over again.

So Lee Sung Jin’s Netflix series presented cinematographer Larkin Seiple with a completely different challenge than his work on the Daniels’ film. The camera itself is often “Beef’s” straight man, finding the right compositions to frame and reframe the protagonists’ deepening spiral of revenge without drawing too much attention to itself.

“We wanted the characters to feel very real, and so we let off the gas a little bit, if you will, visually, and tried to allow us to actually connect with them,” Seiple told IndieWire. “The point of the show, the humor, is real people doing really stupid things in real places.”

The look of the performance therefore condemns the characters by merely observing their living space. The “beef” looks polished, edgy and painfully LA, but Seiple’s camerawork finds a way to create telling contrasts that make the characters’ actions seem even more desperate, smug and petty.

An early moment that captures the series’ dark hilarity finds Danny, caught in a cryptographic meltdown and with nowhere to turn, attempting suicide by turning on a bunch of Habatchi grills at once. “We liked the idea that he thought he had an elegant ring of fire around him. At the same time, a computer screen illuminated how to kill himself. Which was the constant bounce of the show,” Seiple said. “It’s something very real, but also something very absurd.”

Beef new Netflix series Steven Yeun

Steven Yeun in Beef

Courtesy of Andrew Cooper / Netflix

Seiple credits Grace Yun’s production design for helping to emphasize this sense of contrast. “Steven’s apartment is practically a mirror image of the apartment I first moved into (when I moved to Los Angeles), so I was really excited to get these vertical blinds. Despite having these windows, it is always dark. It always feels a bit like you’re in a cave, but it’s crowded and full of all kinds of wonderful set decorations. He had a wonderful Medieval Times glass above his TV, which I loved,” Seiple said. “Then there’s Amy’s house, which is beautiful and luxurious, but so cold and so empty that somehow it almost feels worse than where (Danny) lives.” It’s not like a family lives there. It’s like a piece of art designed to be admired and not actually designed to be lived in.”

The camera observes both characters with an acute sense of their emotional distress. “There is a lack of color (in the lighting of Amy’s environment). All are monochromatic. It’s a sense of control, if you will. Bugs are absent, while Danny’s house has constant sunlight and harsh fluorescent lights and warm sodium. The lighting in his world is always mixed because there is always too much going on. Everything, no matter what the scene, should feel like chaos.”

The lighting played only one role in speeding up the slow-burn tension of the 10 episodes. “We made a lot of rules,” Seiple said. “They don’t really notice it in the show, but the camera is only with the main characters in the first two episodes, and it never goes (follows) a secondary character until they’re (active) in the story. So in Episode 2, Paul (Young Mazino) flirts with a client while Danny is in the bathtub and gets a text from Kayla. And then this is the first time the camera leaves Danny. We pull back with Paul as he texts Kayla. You shouldn’t notice, but this is the first time that Paul is the main character, because now he’s part of the plot.”

Beef.  (LR) Steven Yeun as Danny, Young Mazino as Paul in episode 106 of Beef.  BC Andrew Cooper/Netflix © 2023



The show’s visual language remains restrained throughout most of “Beef”, presenting the characters only in their rightful light; the camera traps them in single shots that are just long enough to hint at the tenuousness of Danny and Amy’s lives, but without the sweeping camera movement advertising the Capital-O Oner. But these shots are still perfectly timed to shock the audience.

“There’s a flashback scene in episode 7 where (Danny) finds Paul’s college acceptance letters and he just leaves them there and you’re like, ‘That’s weird.’ really damn show,” Seiple said. “We’re like, ‘Oh. He’s not a good brother. And I like to live in the moment. We’re constantly trying to find ways to live in the moment and not cut into the show.’

But “beef” can’t live forever in the moment. The show’s visual language goes from, in Seiple’s words, the invisible and observable to “total Coen Brothers mayhem” by the end of the series, with some particularly wonderfully bold color choices in episode 9, during a robbery gone wrong. the wealthy Jordan (Maria Bello).

“We stumbled upon a Jewish temple in the middle of Simi Valley,” Seiple said of the imposing structure, which manages to deliver suspense and dark comedy at the same time. “This is a huge, insanely beautiful temple in the middle of a hill, in the middle of a summer camp, and the temple is designed to be cylindrical, like (the Torah scrolls),” Seiple said. “When we saw the doors that could open, we got excited and incorporated that into the script where Naomi (Ashley Park) is running away and the doors are closing. We found a muse, if you will. We knew that for episodes 9 and 10 we really had to find locations that could do a lot and still let the characters play out (their flaws).

The characters drove every decision Seiple made for “Beef,” including shooting in the dark and Episode 10’s more hallucinatory journey. “It doesn’t matter how dark it gets; If you can still see the light reflected in their eyes, it will work because you can feel what they are thinking. So with episode 10, especially where we’re literally at night in the middle of nowhere, where there should only be moonlight—luckily, because they’re on drugs, we can let the lighting be a little more surreal and let it shine. in a much more dramatic way,” Seiple said. “And I think you have to earn that. That’s why it works.”

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