To underscore the strange spin on work-life balance in the new Apple TV Plus series “Severance,” cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné worked closely with production designer Jeremy Hindle on a variety of subtle lighting choices to deliver a world of contrast to audiences.
In the sci-fi drama, which is currently streaming, workers at tech company Lumon Industries have agreed to be microchipped, dividing their memories between home and office.
The corporate world of Lumon is windowless and sparsely furnished, with stark white walls, a deep green carpet and four cubicles for new employee Mark, played by Adam Scott, and co-workers Helly (Britt Lower), Irving (John Turturro) and Dylan (Zach Cherry).
Gagné was able to find lighting cues and nuances in the script to offer variation in the overwhelming white office. “There were things like emergency lighting or a music-dance experience, and every little door they opened or space they used, we tried to make it as complex as possible.”
Though Patricia Arquette’s middle manager Harmony Cobel has a glass office, she doesn’t want to be seen. To show the murkiness of what Lumon is up to, the office was lit largely from outside windows. “In her space, purposely, her lights were always off,” Gagné says. Arquette requested a light well in the walls from Hindle to help soften the look, which the DP used as a subtle source of illumination. “I wanted to be able to do something where we didn’t just light her from above,” Gagné says. “I wanted more mood in her world.”
Gagné admits the white wall space was scary, so she went through numerous camera tests to see how contrast would work against the white and how color would pop. In pre-viz, she says, “we made mini sets and test-shot them to see where we landed.” She settled on the Sony Venice digital camera, which was particularly helpful for highlighting color, especially if audiences watched the show in HDR.
To suggest the difference between work and home, Gagné explains that lighting outside the Lumon sets would be less harsh and infer the characters’ choices. Mark’s house, for instance, was practically lit and ambient, because he was the kind of person who would turn lights on depending on the room he was in. “We made it a mood,” she says. “His place was about stripping down the layers, and we had a couple of [lighting] details to give it shape.”