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Beautiful color or oppressive color? "Broadchurch," Arri and aesthetics.


AndrewM

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The second season of Broadchurch is up on Netflix, so I have been watching. And after a while, I found myself thinking "what beautiful images, what talented cinematography, what great color." No matter what you think of the content of the show, it is made by incredibly competent people. Apart from some annoying, intentionally-jerky handheld work, there is great composition, some amazing tracking work and focus pulls, great control of light and beautiful colors for people and landscapes alike. And the lenses are just beautiful too - there is a lot of shallow depth of field work, and the backgrounds are soft and creamy and not distracting. Generally, the images just "pop" in all aspects. So I googled out of curiosity, and it was shot on Alexa.

But after a while longer, I began to feel... oppressed by all the imagery. And that is what I wanted to start the topic about - the aesthetics. Broadchurch has all the things that people on this forum often talk about positively, and that I would take as positives too - the intelligent and creative use of shallow depth of field that comes with big sensors, color that is vivid yet "real," and an organic "film-like" image. You won't see any clipping or noise on this show...

If you haven't seen it, you can pull up a few minutes online and see what I mean. It can be any few minutes.

I am trying to reflect on this oppressiveness I am feeling, because it is making it hard for me to watch. And I am wondering if anyone sees/feels the same. The best theory I have is this - on color, it is like living in an eternal "golden hour." The colors are absolutely lovely, but you wish sometimes they would go away - they are asking too much of you in their loveliness. On the shallow depth of field: the work is incredibly proficient, but sometimes you wish you could just see the scene and decide where to look, and not have your attention dragged around the scene by the decisions of the director and cinematographer. Again, you wish it would go away and ask less of you.

Maybe it is just me, and I am just odd. But I am wondering if anyone else has had this feeling, on this or some other film and their aesthetics. It is great, in many many ways, but in some way (for me, at least) it is "too" great. I would aspire in my dreams to produce images with a fraction of the quality of those in Broadchurch, but I find myself being distracted by them and not wanting to watch.

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A fascinating and insightful thought. I haven't seen much of Broadchurch myself but I think I had a similar experience when watching Tree of Life. The imagery is mind-blowing, delivered through artisan cinematography, but I actually found it exhausting to watch because every frame demanded your attention. It was also a tiring mix of fluid shots and sharp cuts.

I found its portrayal of life, especially the growing up scenes with the brothers, wholly truthful and evocative in places, but the continual movement of the camera and breaking from abstract to real was overwhelming at times. I would liken the experience to reading a literary novel or visiting an art gallery. You can gobble up the craftsmanship of each paragraph and painting for only so long before you get art indigestion.

I watch such films and read such books to learn, but when the art overwhelms, or is stronger than, the story then I start to lose interest, nay, get angry. This may be the problem with Broadchurch, that the visual art is drowning the story, which is made all the more difficult for someone like yourself who is tuned to spot beautiful cinematography.

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Sherlock has a ton of shallow depth of field. Don't know if it has really annoyed me, but it's noticeable. while the show was still decent I didn't mind it ;) . the shallow depth of field and constant camera movement in Scandal is just hilarious. Always weird to see what works and what doesn't. Some of my favorite shows have "terrible" image quality (Peep Show, The League, It's Always Sunny). Fincher's Gone Girl looks pretty standard and nice, nothing to write home about for cinematography, but I like the grade, even though.. it's pretty much all green and underexposed. I enjoy a bit of undersaturation and deeper depth of field.

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Depends what eyes you are watching with, a general 'non technical' viewer may not be very articulate in expressing the technical proficiencies or deficiencies of a production, they will simply like or dislike the viewing experience - Be immersed or 'taken out' of the show/film by the presentation experience. General audiences do not care (nor should they) about what camera,format, post production process was used for a TV or film production, for them it should support and serve the story,mood and vision of director and DP and to all intensive purposes be nearly invisible to them.

For example, Most audiences don't even realize that they have motion smoothing on thier TV's as a default setting in some cases. But audiences are more and more technically savvy now to what higher end productions 'should' look like - they have an expectation of quality now with high-end TV shows that often rivals film production standards

It is often true that 'style over content' can be seen - often in TV, less so in film - where generally time and budget is smaller so less time is available to perfect everything from art department to lighting, making a cheaper emulation of bigger budget shows or films fall short of the results of weeks or months of pre/post production time. There are many reasons why films take so long to make, when a TV show employs similar aesthetics they sometimes fall short and audiences can tell. This is often a trap I see happen in low budget film - when trying to mimic the style of a bigger budget production but without being able to see why it works. 'Greengrass shoots shaky handheld?...cool, let's shoot our entire film handheld...even for the dialogue scenes'! 

Broadchurch is a show that employed a great deal of real locations in the South west of England, shooting in summer time - where it can be very visually attractive.

richg101 on this forum lives in one of the seaside towns (Clevedon) where they shot a decent portion of that show, and from his stills and videos from over the years you can see how nice it can be made to look. 'The Remains of the Day' and 'Never Let Me Go' are notable movies shot there.

Production value on screen are instant as soon as you shoot in interesting locations, Broadchurch was fairly unique in that regard for a UK drama often only augmenting natural light to get filmic results. Being relatively local and knowing people 'in the biz' who worked on that show, it's very clear about the constant battle with turnaround times for these shows have so it comes as little surprise that the final 'look' can be compromised to those who may be more opinionated on aesthetic values of film or TV production.

Often the grade is where things get better or broken, in TV it is often a limiting medium to go too crazy - as there are still legal limits to broadcast and people will complain that an image is too dark for example, even when it is an artistic choice for a noir feel....people want mediocre which is why most dramas (at least UK ones) look like they are graded in the same bay session as the commercials either side of the show - often looking too sickly saturated, or too flat and bland to not risk little 86 year old dorothy in Aberdeen to complain about not being able to see what's going on in a moody drama.

Saying that (and being a bit biased) UK drama can have the most diverse and interesting looks when it is allowed to. Channel 4's 'Black Mirror' / 'Utopia' and similar shows are visually outstanding, especially compared to primetime 'Broadchurch' type shows that always have the pressure of broader appeal and trying to employ 'commercial' styles that does not always compliment story or theme.

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But after a while longer, I began to feel... oppressed by all the imagery. 

fascinating

If you haven't seen it, you can pull up a few minutes online and see what I mean. It can be any few minutes.

i did this, and i gotta say, i found the look of the show – including all aspects of art direction which appear on screen – to be completely forgettable and boring

i watched several different clips from season one and two and my general critique is that color and lighting are not being used dramatically in terms of storytelling in a lot of the shots

dont get me wrong, its clearly technically sound, but its boring

but boring in a very pretty, attractive way, which forces you to look at it more than through it – like a window. and this is a disconnect in terms of immersion and suspension of disbelief – storytelling

in general it also looks too much like crappy-poo reality, which we all know too well

so my assessment is that you would like this show more if color was used in a more meaningful way

let me blow your mind with an analogy:

KJC29.jpg

which is better? why? more here

 

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Great example, Kaylee. I haven't seen a side by side like this before. I've seen recoloured single frames from films, but a single frame from a film means very little when you don't have the context of the story.

The left hand side, definitely, because instantly in that first frame I was on edge because of the red, which I should be because this is a dangerous scene. Also in the first frame the whole background is washed out in red. The red is the element of contention, but also the red turns the human in a cage into an inactive background object, better highlighting the joker as the subject. On the right hand side there is almost too much detail about the cage (because of the colour) and your focus is torn; is joker talking to the guy in the cage or what? Is he going to raise his head? No, he's not, he's beaten, he's defeated. The colour in the left better communicates this.

Also the last frame. In the right hand image the splash under Joker and the coke can pull the eye away from what's important. They are great details to set the environment, but the colour on the left turns them into background objects leaving your subconscious to pick up the details while your eye is drawn to what it should be. Also the colour adds ferocity and more movement to the frame.

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Great example, Kaylee. I haven't seen a side by side like this before. I've seen recoloured single frames from films, but a single frame from a film means very little when you don't have the context of the story.

The left hand side, definitely, because instantly in that first frame I was on edge because of the red, which I should be because this is a dangerous scene. Also in the first frame the whole background is washed out in red. The red is the element of contention, but also the red turns the human in a cage into an inactive background object, better highlighting the joker as the subject. On the right hand side there is almost too much detail about the cage (because of the colour) and your focus is torn; is joker talking to the guy in the cage or what? Is he going to raise his head? No, he's not, he's beaten, he's defeated. The colour in the left better communicates this.

Also the last frame. In the right hand image the splash under Joker and the coke can pull the eye away from what's important. They are great details to set the environment, but the colour on the left turns them into background objects leaving your subconscious to pick up the details while your eye is drawn to what it should be. Also the colour adds ferocity and more movement to the frame.

i agree!

i find this to be a fascinating example for several reasons; not the least of which is that the recoloring of this comic, The Killing Joke (1988), was done in 2008 by Brian Bolland, the extremely talented man who did the pencils in the first place – the guy who drew it~!

hes no amateur, but he missed the boat here didnt he?

to approach this as a black and white page, like a coloring book, i feel that its a natural first instinct to start coloring things the colors that they are, as seen on the right above and below. but our job is to do more with color... like....... an artist lol

here, commissioner jim gordon is being driven to insanity by the joker. on the left we see what he feels. the page on the right is clearly unemotional and anemic in comparison

KJC18.jpg

now, again, this is a metaphor in more ways than one when it comes to filmmaking, but its a literal point in terms of two dimensional representational imagery

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brilliant link and example.  You don't need to hit people over the head with color theory.  Less is more.

HOWEVER :)

I think too many things are really desaturated. I miss the rich colors of kodak film.  The whole Red look with a muted palette drives me bonkers.  

Have you seen Broadchurch? It is saturated (over-saturated? not sure...), and I wondered if my reaction to it was based on too much desaturation everywhere else, making me feel like something was just "wrong" with the grade compared to what has been standard recently. Also, to my eyes the Broadchurch colors are the "canon" colors everyone claims to like in stills. So, so golden, always against blues and greens. Nice blues, nice greens, but still.

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I think too many things are really desaturated. I miss the rich colors of kodak film.  The whole Red look with a muted palette drives me bonkers.  

Yes. I keep seeing the same thing from Sony cams as well. 

On another note, I just started watching the old X Files episodes on Netflix again and I just love that look. It's a little dark for obvious reasons but so nice. If you haven't seen it in a while check it out. It's weird because it doesn't really have a look, it just looks like it's supposed to look. That's my new goal with color. Try to have them get out of the way.  

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hes no amateur, but he missed the boat here didnt he?

 

I don't think so. The spray can coloring in no way respects the drawings, in my opinion it even fights it. Some pages even became completely unreadable ... Bollands coloring might be boring at places but at least I can read the drawings ...and that should be the number one focus of any colorist. An other reason I don't like Higgens coloring is the use of the airbrush ...if you want to color with a graphical approach, don't be a wimp and use an airbrush, instead show the world you know your lighting and shadow borders and use a pen and bucket to prove it.

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I don't think so. The spray can coloring in no way respects the drawings, in my opinion it even fights it. Some pages even became completely unreadable ... Bollands coloring might be boring at places but at least I can read the drawings ...and that should be the number one focus of any colorist. An other reason I don't like Higgens coloring is the use of the airbrush ...if you want to color with a graphical approach, don't be a wimp and use an airbrush, instead show the world you know your lighting and shadow borders and use a pen and bucket to prove it.

so you would say that the 2008 coloring is better than the original?

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If DOF is overused, and I think this is more typical of the small sensor camcorders like the HVX or shooting on DSLR's or M4/3 cams, in an effort to hit one of the several "Holy Grails" of the filmic look (hate that phrase), to my eye it starts looking ridiculous. The reality is, if you were to shoot a feature in this way, it would either be mostly out of focus, or cost a fortune!...Used to shift attention in small dosages it has its place, but when I'm watching anything, the human eye is still the standard to aspire to and too much of anything else feels forced...in the same way that I don't want to "see" the acting, I don't want to see the presence of the camera...only the story...does not mean I did not like the washed out bleached look of 3 Kings...it made me feel the blinding light and heat of the desert...it served a purpose...

@Andrew M...great thread and important observation!!!

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I've been really impressed with season two of "The Leftovers". Overall pretty impeccable filmed. They do a lot of handheld and occasionally miss a focus pull, but it works with the aesthetic.

However - night scenes with a fairly openDOF - you can really see the soft filters in the bokeh. Watch the birthday party scene early in season 1 - every party light has a grid of black dots. Stuff my mrs. doesn't notice, but man - really surprising to see something so odd. I've caught it in season two every here and there, but nothing like that party scene.

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This thread sums up my own observations. I do believe that too perfectly lit, framed and colored images can get in the way of the story. Did you see Netflix' The Killing, first two seasons? It's Seattle, and it's raining most of the time. The light is grey. Very often, particularly in long shots, the view is obstructed by sometimes unindentifiable foreground objects (or the said rain). I saw a book recently on an american photographer (forgot the name unfortunately, I thought it was Abel Leibner, something similar, but I got no hits on Google, does anyone know?). His photos also feature the main motif framed by a lot of obstructions, distortions or as faint reflections. Very interesting style, the opposite of Broadchurch season 2. You intentionally place distractions in the frame and let the viewer find the most interesting detail (which is the action of the characters always anyway).

In the first episode of Fargo season 2, I liked the photography, but it doesn't seem to be good style, because now I just see it as decorative, and it distracts me. Maybe though that only camera nerds like us notice these things ...

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I saw a book recently on an american photographer (forgot the name unfortunately, I thought it was Abel Leibner, something similar, but I got no hits on Google, does anyone know?). His photos also feature the main motif framed by a lot of obstructions, distortions or as faint reflections. Very interesting style, the opposite of Broadchurch season 2. You intentionally place distractions in the frame and let the viewer find the most interesting detail (which is the action of the characters always anyway).

Found him: Saul Leiter.

saul-leiter-featured.jpg

saul-leither-008.jpg900_Leiter_PhoneCall1957_74800.jpg

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