English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: lighting

Light and Dark: Cinematography of Orange is the New Black

While the first season of Orange is the New Black is generally shot in the drab confines of Litchfield Penitentiary, frequent flashbacks spice up the visuals while providing intriguing backstories to many of the prison’s residents.

The show immediately kicks of with a series of quick cuts from a flashback of Piper enjoying getting clean, ending with a jarring closeup of her which eventually zooms out to reveal the confines of prison. Although the show is pretty much entirely shot in third person, the camera follows a variety of perspectives, some with minimal relation to the protagonist. The scenes generally only contain a few characters, but may start with a zoomed out view of many characters (such as in the mess hall), before focusing on the primary character in the scene.

The confines of prison are generally drab, but relatively well lit. There are several scenes that take place at night or in darker environments, such as in the prison theater or late at night in the dorms. There are also a fair number of romantic and sexual scenes, which are shot with much longer takes than other parts of the show. The solitary confinement is shot with an alternating focus on the inmate and the emptiness of their cell, giving the viewer a sense of that character’s isolation. Overall, there are many scenes with one on one interaction where the camera switches perspectives frequently, such as Piper’s meetings with Larry and Healy.

I believe the frequent cuts of the show serve to demonstrate how quickly change can occur in prison, while the longer shots emphasize individual relationships and emotions. The generally uninteresting background draws more focus on the colorful personality of the characters, who keep the prison from becoming too boring. Overall, the producers of the show did an excellent job keeping their shots in tune with the plot of the story, and using visuals to emphasize characters and emotions.

Below, I have linked an article that goes into much more detail on the equipment used in shooting OITNB.


Everyone’s Sad and Dramatic, and You Can Definitely See It

The cinematography of Grey’s Anatomy seemed ordinary at first. It’s a hospital drama, not an action movie or romance show. But, at a closer look, the show’s camera angles, quick cuts, and close ups provide a clear way to view these interns’ and doctors’ lives.

Much of the show is focused in Seattle Grace Hospital, with some time spent in the bar and Meredith’s home. Most of the camera shots in all three settings are of characters’ faces and expressions, which highlights their emotions and reactions to the many dramatic situations they are involved in. These shots are often shown at different angles too, and this helps to provide different views into their expressions. Other common hospital shots are of doctors and interns walking down hallways, doctors and patients, and doctors during surgical procedures. The shots are choppy and quick, switching from one character to another to show their reactions as soon as they can react. It also reflects the fast pace of the show; a lot happens in a short period of time, and there’s no time for panning around settings or long, sweeping shots, unless they’re of an important patient or doctor.

The lighting differs in each setting. In the hospital, the light is stark white and harsh, as is expected with hospital lighting. It’s unforgiving, just like the environment. However, the lighting at the bar is darker, as the interns often visit at night. But, this also sets the stage for more personal talk. Finally, at the home, the lighting is warmer and less harsh. The moments that occur in Meredith’s home are usually more homey, and they act like a family (a dysfunctional family, yet still a family).

Each episode has a bit of a different theme and focus, but the episode I analyzed was the Christmas Episode. It didn’t have large differences; however, the lighting reflected the Christmas theme. In the hospitals, families had trees and decorations. In Meredith’s home, Izzie decorated the house with as much Christmas related things as she could.

Image result for grey's anatomy christmas episode

Christmas cheer, right?

Making Prison Feel Like… Prison

A typical episode of Orange is the New Black goes like this: we open a relevant scene from Piper’s pre-prison life. Flash to Piper’s life now, in Litchfield. Plotline begins to develop, related to another character as well. Flash to that character’s past life. Flash back to Piper, in prison, with said plotline. More flashbacks to reveal the background of the other character. Repeat.

Although difficult to follow sometimes, the transitioning back and forth through different scenes does wonders for how the story is told and for the viewers’ understandings of each character. Episodes tend to follow one character and their involvement with Piper heavily, so the exposition of each character comes out by episode. For example, while Piper fights back and forth with Red, the kitchen boss, we see scenes of Red’s past life in Russia where she is alienated and rejected by upper class society. These flashback scenes allow us to understand Red’s deep pride, which Piper repeatedly accidentally insults, and to empathize a bit more with her. She is no longer a crazy, evil Russian lady but instead someone who has also loved and lost and is suffering her punishment.

We love a humanized character.

Flashing back to Larry, Piper’s fiancé, and the rest of her family and friends allows the audience to also remember that life is continuing without Piper, bringing up a very real conflict that many long-time prisoners experience – they are disconnected from their families, friends, jobs and all other aspects of their life, leaving them with very little left of what they had before when they are finally released. Although Larry attempts to continue to involve Piper, including trying to have her listen in to a call with a Barney’s executive regarding her soap line, there are small signs that he is beginning to re-adjust to life without her, including hiding her picture as he watches Mad Men without her (something that he had promised not to do).

Notable also is the lighting, and the stark variance of the lighting between real-life and flashback. While showing prison scenes, the lighting is fluorescent and sterile; it gives the impression that the inmates are just that, and there is no coziness. Even at night, the highlighting that allows the audience to observe what is occurring is white and cold instead of yellow and warm, as a night light would be. In contrast, almost all flashbacks have softer lighting. They feel homier, friendlier and happier, even when the events depicted may not be. Here, the filming clearly aims to invoke feelings of emptiness, general hopelessness and longing for freedom while the inmates are shown in prison and aims at showing their happiness and satisfaction with life outside of prison.

Through this method of storytelling, viewers find themselves respecting and empathizing with each character, not just the protagonists, and they can begin to see the events of the show unfolding from different perspectives. It is genius, really – and we get sucked into it every time.

Everyone Must Wear Black!

The color scheme of this show is easily characterized as black. The three main characters all wear black. Boss lady Jacqueline wears all black. Supporting characters wear black. Even blurry figured extras in the background wear black. Day in and day out, the characters dress as if they are going to attend a funeral. Occasionally, characters do run out of funeral attire and begin to experiment with other colors.

Are they at an office or a funeral? The world may never know. I can only provide guesses to why the characters in the Bold Type are so opposed to wearing colors.

Aside from what the characters wear, the background typically displays a normal color scheme (grass is green, water is blue, taxis are yellow, etc.); indoors typically favors more neutral colors. In The Bold Type, cinematographic decisions are made to keep the focus on the characters because it concentrates on character development. The characters likely wear black the majority of the time so that their outfits don’t outshine them. The typical shots, in episode four especially, are long and follow the characters as they move within their environment, the audience sees what the main character sees. By doing these long, sweeping shots, the show has a smooth flow and the audience can really connect with the characters. Another way that the show keeps the characters highlighted is by shooting in shallow depth of field, meaning that the foreground which typically contains the characters is in focus whereas the rest of the scene is blurry. In terms of the lighting of this episode, the company building is always shown glistening in the sun, and unless it is night time, the characters are always well lit. Episode four stands out due to the way that it manipulates the lighting and shooting style during several critical plot points. One example of such cinematography is when Sutton had just found out that she is likely out of the running for the job she wanted, the lighting changed in such a way that it washed her out with almost a screen of fog, and there was bokeh ( typically appears as circles of unfocused light) all over the screen.

The circles of light in this picture are called bokeh if my description in the parentheses was not enough to understand what bokeh is.

This change in lighting is not only for dramatic effect but also to symbolize how things are unclear for Sutton because she rejected the stable job, but now the dream job has rejected her. Another moment that stood out in this episode is the series of quick shots that flashed between Sutton working on her mood board and Kat in the city at night. It was done partially to create of sort of montage of Sutton completing her project and partially to create a sense of suspense and mystery around where Kat was and what she was doing because the short takes only gave slight glimpses. The last element of unique cinematography is when Kat and Adena kiss, a sort of heavenly light shines down upon them. The episode concludes with this scene, this light, but heavenly light in the middle of the night cannot be trusted…

This moment is super important plot-wise, character development-wise, and of course cinematography-wise.

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