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Interview: ‘Ozark’ Cinematographer Eric Koretz on Thrilling Final Season

Ozark. (L to R) Jason Bateman as Martin 'Marty' Byrde, Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore in episode 407 of Ozark. Cr. Steve Dietl/Netflix © 2021

The final episodes of Ozark have been available to stream on Netflix since April 29th. The cinematography displayed in the final episodes of the show was so mesmerizing and brilliant that it earned Eric Koretz an Emmy nomination for his work on the final chapter, A Hard Way To Go. Ozark has been of Netflix’s biggest hits. Since beginning in 2017, the show has received thirty two Primetime Emmy nominations, with Jason Bateman winning for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (2019) and Julia Garner winning the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2019, 2020) twice.

Below, you can find our interview with Koretz, where we discuss the final episodes of the series, and his creative process behind key moments in the story. We also talk about what it is like to work with Julia Garner and what it is like to work with Jason Bateman (The director) and Jason Bateman (The same director, acting in the leading role of Marty Byrde).

Awards Radar: My first question regarding Ozark would be what was it about this show that drew you to it?

Eric Koretz: It was probably my favorite show, if not top three. So just to be asked to do Ozark was an incredible honor. When I first got on the set, it was very surreal, just seeing the location that I had been watching as a fan. And then coming into the show and in seeing how they are in real life, sometimes rundown, sometimes beautiful sets, sometimes other things, the reality is always different than the film world.

AW: What were some of the challenges when shooting an urban setting, like Chicago, compared to the rest of the show, which mostly takes place in the natural environment of the Ozarks?

EK: We shot everything in Atlanta, actually. A lot of all of the Chicago stuff was shot in downtown Atlanta, or I believe there was some on a stage. There’s inherent challenges of shooting on a set versus shooting in a real location. And they vary from scene to scene because on a stage, you have more control. We have an amazing production designer, David Bomba, who builds these incredible sets based off of his discussion with Shawn, the other DP and I. You have more control on the stage, but you lose an element of realism sometimes. We always like to try and find the real location, if we can. A lot of the stuff downtown, like outside of the pharmaceutical company is on streets in downtown Atlanta, where you’re controlling traffic, and you’re subject to the elements of the sun, and people and all these intangibles. It’s always a challenge.

AR: It shows, the difference is really there! Now, most movies, series and productions use a very intense yellow filter when it comes to Mexico. I’m actually from there. So it doesn’t really look like that.

EK: (jokingly) It’s not yellow?

AW: It’s not (laughs). I can assure you. I hope you liked it. It’s a wonderful place.

EK: I loved it!

AW: I find it very curious that in Ozark you didn’t use those yellow filters that bad. And actually, the only thing you did was remove the traditional Ozark blue filter. Can you tell us more about that process of selecting which filter goes where?

EK: The main look, things like that have been established in previous seasons, with Ben and Armando, previous DPS, and also this season was Shawn because I came in halfway through. But the intention is to show that once they’re outside of this Ozark world, it’s a whole new whole new ballgame, a whole new era and different possibilities. It’s not necessarily as if Ozark was this cool, dark, place where it feels like you’re crawling out of the swamp out of the water. Mexico is warmer and the sun is hitting them and, that’s all of these other seemingly in a normal life would be inauspicious things or a new danger to Marty and Wendy, when they get there. It’s just really differentiating the two worlds without putting the yellow filter on it.

AR: Speaking about the final episode of the show, what was the highlight for you to work on that episode? What was it like when you found out you were going to work on this series finale?

EK: It’s also a very surreal working on the final episode ever of a series that I’ve been following since the beginning, and is also my favorite, favorite show. You soak in the moments but you can’t let it overcome you when you’re shooting because you have a job to do. But there’s definitely a few moments, that were surreal for me. For example, spoiler alert, but when Ruth dies,she’s a monumental character and force and filming her death was definitely very emotional. Also, considering it was the last day that we ever shot. That was big as well. But you try not to let the emotions overcome you and just be technical about everything that you’re doing. And Jason Bateman is an extremely technical director. So he made it very easy to just jump into the script and into the scenes and make them happen.

AR: You mentioned Ruth’s death. And I wanted to ask about that specific scene. We see the bullet enter her body in slow motion. And that was very surprising. I didn’t expect that. So why did you choose to display it in that way?

EK: I think that moment was slowing down for everyone who’s a big fan of the show and a big fan of Ruth and just to really drive that bullet home. I think it just to show you she’s dead. And this is happening and you gotta move on from it, quite unbelievable. It’s a very emotional moment for anyone who’s invested in the show. And we haven’t done that at all in any of the shows that I can think of. And I think it really drove that moment home.

AR: You previously mentioned working with Jason Bateman. And I wanted to ask, what was it like working with him as an actor and as a director at the same time?

EK: He’s always got a director’s mind when he’s acting. He’s also an executive producer on the show. So he’s very involved in every aspect of the filmmaking. I was sort of used to it, seeing Marty Byrde on the screen. And then all of a sudden, Jason Bateman will come around the corner and be like, “Hey, what are we doing here?” It was a lot easier when he was directing because it was a direct line of communication or there’s no in between. So he has a very detailed plan of what he wants to do. He can turn Marty Byrde off and Jason Bateman on just like that. Once you get used to it, it’s a bit of a mind a mind trick. But he’s an incredible director. So it is pretty easy.

AR: Coming back to the final episode, the sequence where the Byrde’s car crashes. How did you shoot that? How many cameras did you use? What did you like and didn’t like about filming this car crash?

EK: Sean Kim, he did the first part of the first season. And they shot that during the very first couple episodes because they needed it for the opening scene. So I know that it was very involved, but I didn’t have anything to do with the actual car crash part of it. I filmed the aftermath when they’re getting out of the car, and realizing that they’re okay, and what just happened, and that they just live through it. And now, that was also an emotional scene, because that was the last day. All the family was together. It was a very fun day, but also an emotional day because it was saying goodbye to a few of them. It was great.

AR: There is a dream sequence where Ruth sees all of the Lagmore family just having fun around their trailer park. There’s a beautiful tracking shot involved in that scene, showcasing all of the family and following Ruth around her own home. How did you plan it out? Did you like how it turned out?

EK: That was great. For one because I hadn’t worked with a lot of those actors before, because they had died in previous seasons. Seeing them come back and just meeting them all. And it’s her fantasy fantasy, a world for her. It’s a little brighter, there’s a little more sun into it. Dave Chameides, the Steadicam operator, with Jason and I worked out this beautiful wrapping shot. Took a bunch of tries. And most of them were great. And each had different variations. But it was the technical achievement because it was actually two shots, but one matched into the back of one of the characters with a guitar. So it was shot over a couple of days. That was an achievement in itself. But it was a fun technical exercise to figure it out and to keep the emotion in it as well. With a very technical shot, you still want to keep the emotion of the shot and the characters. And I think we achieved that.

AR: How did you manage to place every Langmore family member? Because they had very definitive positions where they were sitting or standing. How did you come up with that process?

EK: Jason thinks all of these things through over and over and he’s very meticulous. That was really Jason j placing them where they had been in previous scenes, where it worked for the blocking to hide the camera. Where we could highlight each of these characters and bring them through the shot. That’s all Jason really figuring out the blocking in each moment.

AR: Before we get more specific, is there one shot or scene that you are most proud of from your Ozark episodes?

EK: There’s just so many that I love for multiple reasons. I love the death scene fromthe end. And I love just the simple dialogue between the Byrdes and the other two characters when they’re realizing that Ruth is not going to be saved. I do particularly love Javi’s death scene, because it’s one wide shot where all of a sudden, it’s just a quick pop, and he’s dead. And it ends and it’s almost like a stage play, where you see all the reactions to it. I do love that shot a lot. So I don’t have one favorite, but anything with Ben. And Ben was such an incredible character to bring back and having him interact with Nelson. That was an incredible scene too, which I loved.

AR: Oh, beautiful. Speaking about Ben. When he’s on the phone, on his way to be killed. the lightning’s very specific about it. Because we see his face: Half of his face with the streetlights and half of his face completely hidden in darkness. Was there a story element to it that you thought of?

EK: And you notice that sometimes it’s frenetic lighting, and sometimes it’s darkness.I wanted the lighting to sort of match his character at the moment where he goes from frenetic and whatever mental problem he’s going through, then to calmness into shadows, and into darkness.I wanted the light to sort of reflect on that and mimic that in a way.

AR: Perfect. And just a few more things before we go. Ruth gets a totally new power dynamic in these final episodes. And of course, you got to shoot her death. What was it like working with Julia Garner? Now that her character is so much more present and independent in these final episodes?

EK: She’s amazing. She’s just a force of nature. She’s incredibly kind and collaborative. And really just goes for it when the moment calls for it. She’s great to work with. It’s too bad, she had to go in the show. We all gotta go sometimes.

AR: My final question would be: The lining used during Navarro’s death was very clear. Considering you had very few sources of lightning because it was a dark street in the middle of the night. But you still managed to create this mix of blue and orange and green, because it’s a very impactful scene. What was the thought process behind that scene for you?

EK: Thank you. That’s observant, because that is tricky. We want it to feel secluded, but you also wanted to feel the danger and the possibility of escape. They could feel like street lights, and having some sort of walk out of that warmth, maybe into the cool of the night and maybe to escape. A feeling that possibility of escape with the color. And then as he turns around, you realize it’s not happening, and it’s all over. It’s really just about playing with the emotion of the scene.

AR: That’s brilliant. And you could tell from the show that it was a lot of work. It was a very special scene.

EK: Thanks.

AR: I think this would be all of the questions. I really wanted to thank you for your time. And again, congratulations on your Emmy nomination.

EK: Thank you so much, Diego. I appreciate it.


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Written by Diego Peralta

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