The cinematic hacks that make ‘Severance’ TV’s best sci-fi thriller

Like applying for a job at Lumon, cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné balked at her job filming the now-popular series Quitcurrently streaming on Apple TV+.

“I said, ‘God, I don’t know. An office? ‘” Inverse.

Gagné’s journey into Quit It all started when she got an email from actor and director Ben Stiller, who worked on Showtime’s. Escape from Dannemora – in which Stiller raved about the project. But Gagné didn’t feel it.

“I am very private,” she said.

Served as the director of photography for shows like My lady and commercials for Gap and Hitachi, she thinks a drama about a boring office would be as interesting as submitting a TPS report.

“If I’m being selfish, this seems like a place where I can’t be happy,” she said. “I love doing things differently, and I think Ben loves to do that. We always challenge ourselves to create something new every time we approach something. I don’t feel like there’s space for that [in Severance]. I was not able to seize the opportunities in it. ”

Jessica Lee Gagné, on the set of Apple TV + horror film Quit.Apple

Gagné had no idea what she had come for. Since its launch in February, Quit has won acclaim as a delightfully weird sci-fi thriller where half of its story takes place inside the spartan offices of fictional Lumon Industries. Think Office space meeting 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you are there.

Gagné’s work has received particular attention online, with Twitter users praising its visuals as “Absolutely amazing” and like “a drawing.”

The work speaks for itself. See Quit like a feverish dream of minimalism, where clean architectural lines, bold colors and harsh fluorescent lighting create hauntingly beautiful images. There’s also the way the characters move through their space, with the unique framing – sometimes too far to the sides or completely missing from the center – creating uncomfortable tension.

Inspired in part by the work of photographer Lars Tunbjörk and his 2001 series OfficeGagné sought to tell a story of contrasts informed by the duality of distinct selves in the film.

Quit based on contrast,” she said. “It’s an oxymoron. There is a harmony [in the frames]It feels right, it feels good, but it’s not what you think it is. It’s trying to be comfortable, but it’s extremely uncomfortable.” This is literally illustrated in QuitAs Gagné points out: “This harsh world has nothing in it and nowhere to sit, but they have a wellness center.”

In Quit, the employees at Lumon undercover, the worldwide leader of the … sensible people, are mentally “severed” from their outside, personal lives. They barely even know their own names. But when employees finish working hours and return home, they will be left without any memory of their working day. The show’s characters refer to their severed selves as “Innie” and “Outie.”

Gagné says that she tries to visualize the contrasts between these worlds based on identity.

“Ben loves contrasts; he was a bit obsessed with it,” said Gagné. “There are white people who are white people and there are black people who are black people. He likes pop music. That’s what he would say, pop music. ”

“Everything put in front of them is a reason to bring something from them.”

Contrast is mainly seen in the way the offices inside Lumon are brightly lit – at least the spaces where employees are allowed to roam – while the outside world is shrouded in darkness.

“The outside world is a lot darker, a lot more textured, and all of that is reality and real life,” says Gagné, adding that humans influence their spaces as much as space affects them. “You become who you are because of your environment so much.”

But inside Lumon is a destructive environment full of nothingness. It was a “purified, empty” place under constant surveillance, as if the people in it were the subject of an experiment.

“It’s like they were babies born in this space. Everything put in front of them has a reason to bring something from them. “

“Ben loves contrasts; he’s a bit obsessed with it. ” Apple

While Lumon’s decor is bare-bones, some of the objects the characters use are enhanced in importance.

Usually, cinematographers like Gagné delight in encapsulating frames of information. “You want a lot of them.” Textures, foregrounds, and backgrounds filled with shapes are what all visual artists look for, but Quit is another beast.

“Working on a set with almost nothing in it, we had to ‘reverse-engineer’ what was interesting, using negative space to give importance to specific things,” she says. based on a reason; every Thing designed in a particular way. Because there is so much nothingness, everything becomes very important.”

Gagné says that this factor to Quit shows how Lumon is in control. “When you have a frame, and all you see is a calculator, a pen or a Post-It, that gives way to what Lumon is about. This controlled trial they’re doing on people. Everything has a reason.”

The sparse offices of Quit Illustrating a septic environment devoid of life, how director of photography Jessica Lee Gagné took advantage of this do Filling the frame feels important.Apple

There’s some darkness in Lumon, too. Many corridors, including those connecting the room to the goat herd, were left in the dark, which Gagné said was a foreshadowing of the secrets that lay at the heart of the company.

Gagné describes it: “We’re seeing them reach these edges, where the characters stop in front of the pitch-black void. “You don’t know what’s behind that. It’s telling the audience there’s a lot more, there’s a secret there. It’s funny because [the characters] don’t even really admit it. They do not know. That’s how naive they are. But the audience already knows.”

The contrast between the world of Quit symbolizes the program’s ideas about human consciousness. The Lumon office is a huge space because the people who work in it don’t have any memories. “The world inside is empty; there is space to create,” says Gagné. “It’s like they’re creating new memories.”

Gagné’s job as a cinematographer is not only to compose images for the camera, but also to move the camera. In Quit, the hand-held movement symbolizes the immediacy and spontaneity of life. However, inside the Lumon, the image turns static and still. Smooth pan-like movements and tracking footage deliberately mimic the inhumanity of surveillance cameras.

“Here the perfect word is starting to fall apart. ”

“Approach [for us] is to do a traditional style, maybe even more humane [of filmmaking] on the outside and the robotic, mechanical, internal surveillance aesthetic,” says Gagné. “Inside, we want to take humanity out of it. Like this observation machine is not necessarily controlled by a human. That’s why it feels like a robot.”

Hand-held motion finally makes its way inside Lumon as the characters begin their daring escape plot. According to Gagné, series producer and co-director Ben Stiller looked for hand-held motions to indicate their outer humanity was infiltrating their office.

“It’s seeping in,” she said. “This perfect world is starting to fall apart.” By the end of the series, “you are subjectively following them in a very interconnected way.”

Gagné recalls one of her favorite scenes: “We zoomed in on Milchek (Tramell Tillman) through the text on that projector. It’s an old school projector like they have in school. And the camera is zooming in on him doing something weird, a red aura. It has an Indian god feeling. It is really amazing. ”Apple

Initially, Gagné questioned what gun to shoot Quit how possible. She doesn’t take all the credit for how Quit looks – “It’s a beautiful example of teamwork” – but it’s an ever-growing experience in challenging conditions. The film begins production in late 2020. “It is very exciting for everyone in the industry to re-establish work-life balance. We are all back after a long time of not working,” she said. “It helped me understand a lot about working with people.”

When there’s so little on the screen Quit, everything in it is important. Even the goats.

Quit currently streaming on Apple TV+. The cinematic hacks that make ‘Severance’ TV’s best sci-fi thriller

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