Nicholson Ren | Cinematographer & Colourist

What's Left Production Diary

The Visual Style

If I had to describe the visual style of this web series I would say that it was simple, open and wide. The style didn't really come about during discussions in pre-production but rather it was found on set during the first day's shoot. I had always intended to shoot it as "normal" as I could without trying to influence an art style that seemed deliberate like a Wes Anderson movie. However circumstances; which I'll explain below, that were out of our control meant that we had to adapt on the fly to get the most out of the location for the story.

I would describe the style as something between Mr. Robot and Her. The framing is not quite as extreme as Mr. Robot nor as dynamic as Her but the concepts of negative space and awkward framing to depict the themes of loneliness and isolation are influenced by their cinematography. Mr Robot is about the search of a person's identity, who they are and what they do to fit in, the framing and negative spaces give a sense of discomfort and displacement similar to what all our orphans are feeling. In Her, the main character remains separated from everything despite believing he was content through his relationship. Again, similar to our characters each orphan finds solace in one another's company but they don't feel that they belong where they are. 

What's Left 

Reference Shots - Mr. Robot and Her

Another interesting reason why I decided to shoot with plenty of space was the fact that we had no control over much of the design of the hotel. The walls in every room were an off yellow colour which was very similar to skin tones and made the actors blend in when doing close-ups (CU). While others may be more likely to try and "cut out" the blandness of the walls just because they were lacked textures by shooting more close-ups, I decided to do the opposite and keep it all in to emphasize the bleakness and ugliness of their situation. Additionally by framing a little off-centre I feel that it keeps the shot slightly interesting and distracts the viewer from the emptiness of the backgrounds. As long as there is justification to why shots are framed the way they are there is no "right" way to shoot the story.

The lighting was designed by enhancing what was already there. We didn't have a budget to put our own lamps on the walls, or re-position a light fixture so I decided that the natural light would be our main source and all the equipments we had access to were to compliment and work around that. I rarely tried to cut or replace what was already there as there was not enough resources to design something new. Shot breakdowns will be covered in another post.

There were also limitations with equipment that meant that I had to find the best shot that could tell the scene without using too much movement to add to the story. Time limits meant that we had to mainly shoot masters and use CU as "extra" coverage shots. Some scenes will be told just using one shot; an unconventional way of telling a story, but the majority of shots were designed to try and hold its own for the whole scene while still conveying a message.