When it came time to film the “Lowkey Happy,” the eighth episode in season 4 of HBO’s hit show “Insecure,” director Ava Berkofsky and cinematographer Kira Kelly knew that creating the right ambience for Issa (Issa Rae) and Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) reunion date would be essential.
In the latest episode of Artisans presented by HBO, Berkofsky and Kelly walked Variety through their planning process for Issa and Lawrence’s dinner and the art event they attend afterwards.
“We found this great restaurant in downtown L.A. called DAMA which had really unique angles,” Kelly said. “We basically just tried to figure out okay, let’s get the coverage, let’s get everything we need, and then there are moments where we know we want to use specific shots. Like we knew there was going to be a high angle shot that we wanted for each of them to isolate this one section of the conversation, and there was always the plan to do the push-in on Issa.”
Though it’s not a complicated technique, Berkofsky found the zoom on Issa to be especially important, as it’s when she is able to finally reveal her true thoughts to Lawrence.
“That was something I talked about with Natasha Rothwell, the writer, because to me this is the distillation of what she hasn’t been saying for however many years. This is what broke the relationship, so that was the only move we did,” Berkofsky said. “We could have kept moving the camera, we could have made it exciting in other ways, but we really just were trying to let the actors lead.”
The subsequent art walk that Issa and Lawrence embark on was also a key opportunity for the location to become a character within the show. To set the ambience, Kelly and production designer Kay Lee created a cloud installation for them to walk through.
“I put some astro tubes, which are tubes that we can program into the dimmer to change colors, so we were changing colors overhead of the clouds and having them glow this warm color. And then, when we got into the art walk, Ava had the idea as part of the set piece to have an old movie projection happening on the wall,” Kelly said. “And so over the art walk I had a softbox that was rigged with some sky panels and we were able to match the color of the sky panels which were creating the ambience of the scene, to the color of the projector that was on the walls.”
As Issa and Lawrence’s date comes to a close and they have their final conversation about what makes them happy, Berkofsky used a variety of strategic shots to show how the distance between the characters – both emotionally and physically – diminishes.
“To me, it was really important in that scene to show Issa taking the step. This is where she takes control of her own happiness. She says, ‘You make me happy,’ and she’s the one who takes the first step so that wide shot was really important to show where they start,” Berkofsky said. “We had to pull a wall out of the set in order to do that, it was not easy, but I really wanted to show that and slowly, we used still frames for them to walk into and come closer and closer until they come together.”