In its third season, “Westworld” stepped into the human world and, in doing so, raised the question of how much power former theme park host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) would have on unfamiliar turf. The season premiere episode answered that immediately, first when she overrode a smart home to get access to its powerful owner, and then again in an expertly choreographed fight sequence that all began with her breaking out of restraints and resisting what would have been a fatal drugging if she had been human. Shot across three different fields of vision (close-up inside the car, in the distance and in the car’s reversing camera) in one continuous take, the scene signaled that Dolores’ murderous capabilities were stronger than ever, while delivering the kind of breathtaking, technologically complex action that “Westworld” fans had come to expect.
“For the most part, I’m not terribly keen on oners, but this moment felt like an exception. So much of what we did in the first season with Evan’s character was about building sympathy for her, and we would literally put the cameras ever so slightly closer to her to make the audience [be] on her side. I wanted to explore, in this season, the question, of what does it mean to be a protagonist? So when you’re in that car with her for the shot, we’re pushing the audience into the host space for the first time this season, but you feel the power dynamic shift. You start to feel like she’s more of an adversary; we’re portraying Evan in this moment as an unstoppable force who is trying to wipe out humanity.”
“Timing was absolutely the most important part. The guy who got stabbed in the neck, sitting next to Evan, was key to a lot of it because that camera in the back was small and the mark he had to hit was very precise. For the rear shot, we asked the guy who got run over if he could fire his weapon right before he got hit and that went perfectly. He went down, and we had another guy standing there next to him who pulled him out of the way. I think we actually had a slider unit that he laid on, and then we put down sandbags for Evan to actually run over. We have ones that are specially designed to sound like bodies in our stunt kit. The whole thing went so smoothly — three rehearsals and then I think we nailed it all on the second take.”
“I think that shot is really 100% Jonathan. He visualized the action; the unique point of view of that scene was all in the writing. What I liked about the idea of these different fields of view is that I knew it would force the audience to search the frame for what’s going on; it would keep the viewer active and engaged. The idea was to make it a balletic action sequence with a very simple camera move. The tricky part was timing the lighting and action with the two cameras, because we wanted to shoot the action in the rear-view camera at the same time as we shot the front action.”
“For the most part, everything was captured in-camera in terms of the size of the guys in the back of the car and the focal plane on which the camera is doing its slow push towards the car dashboard. Where we came in was to create the visual aspect of the dashboard itself, because obviously, the dashboard in-camera was that of a normal Range Rover. So we created this kind of whale tail vibe. We imagined that in the future, the entire console is a LED screen and that any part of it can have the heads-up display and any part can be illuminated or can play back. Creating that technology, that look, was part of our task to make it feel integrated, but not too futuristic.”