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‘Black Mirror’ DP Seamus McGarvey Talks About Finding the ‘Photographic Heart’ of ‘Nosedive’

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey worked with director Joe Wright on a number of feature film projects through the years. So when his “old pal” signed on for the “Nosedive” episode of Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” and asked McGarvey to join him, there really was no question he would say yes. “The main reason I was excited to work on this episode was that it was Joe directing,” McGarvey says. “But I’d always admired Charlie as a writer [too], first as a journalist and then as a writer of the series. ‘Black Mirror’ really gripped my imagination in a way that I haven’t felt in television since ‘The Twilight Zone.’”

As the first episode of the third season of “Black Mirror,” “Nosedive” sets the tone for the batch of episodes. Did that offer extra incentive to sign on or present additional challenges?

I didn’t know it would be [the first]. I don’t think that even Netflix knew that! They decided the order after the fact, and I know that Netflix is particularly proud of it and wanted to kick off the season with it, but it is different from the other ones in the series — from the previous [seasons], as well. I think they wanted to mark those changes and say this is a much more kaleidoscopic series of stories. It’s not just what the fans of the series know as a kind of house style. This, in some ways, was a departure.

What is the dynamic like between you and Wright, given that you’ve worked so closely together for so long?

There’s a real democracy of ideas in terms of involving the look. Direction, production design, cinematography, hair and makeup all go hand-in-hand. There’s always a cohesiveness to his visual approach. He wanted to create a look that had a pastel feel but also signaled its futuristic nature and the idea of homogeneity and all of the themes of the future world where people try to fit in and strive for approval. The look was going to be crucial in that world from the get-go, and we all set about to create this look, so the props were very carefully chosen — the paints and the costumes all followed the color code of a sort of peppermint green, duck egg blue, strange peach colors.

Why do you feel the look and shot design is so crucial in “Nosedive?”

Even the drinks people are drinking and the biscuits people are eating all have a cohesiveness to get a sense of this world. I wanted to add to that with creating this not exactly “Stepford Wives” environment but a sickly pastel feel that would be so sweet as to be almost indigestible. Through the gritted teeth and rictus grins, there’s a kind of underlying malaise. That’s the world. We had to get elements of that in every frame.

What was the toughest part of creating that look for you?

Normally I shoot on film, but Netflix insisted we shoot on 4K. At that point I hadn’t shot on 4K, and I was kind of shoehorned into shooting with a camera I had never worked with before. But actually the constraints of that were good in a way. It was also intense and fast, a four-week shoot, the prep period was much reduced from what we’re used to.

What do you feel is the most important part of your job?

Finding the right, appropriate photographic heart of any script that I read — to find something distinctive to those words to make it unique. Every project has a photographic signature that a writer feeds onto the page, and it’s up to us as filmmakers to mine that and to bring our own sensibilities to it. So it’s about looking and it’s about thought, and that’s the exciting part, too, the part I love the most of all.

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