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Interview: ‘Barry’ Cinematographer Carl Herse on Season Three’s Crucial Moments

HBO

The third season of HBO’s hit show Barry took the story to new heights when it comes to the action sequences and went into even more depth regarding the emotional state of the characters. Capturing such complex emotions certainly is a difficult task, but cinematographer Carl Herse did such a wonderful job that he scored his first Emmy award nomination.

Awards Radar had the opportunity of talking to Carl about the latest season of the dark comedy, where he elaborated about what it’s like to work with Bill Hader, the making of a thrilling motorcycle chase scene, and the theme of the third season of Barry: Consequences.

Awards Radar: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination. Are you excited about that?

Carl Herse: Thank you very much, I really appreciate it! It’s my first nomination. It’s really gratifying to see that people are into the series.

AR: They are! It’s a very popular and well received show. Speaking of which, what is it like working with Bill Hader as both an actor an a director?

CH: I think I’m really lucky because I got to start working with Bill right as he is hitting his stride as a director. He grew up wanting to be a director but wound up becoming an actor first, getting on SNL and thrown into this world as a performer.

But his passion is film. He’s a real cinephile and I think earlier in his career, when he didn’t have the confidence he has now, he wasn’t pushing things as far visually and also with the storytelling he brought to the third season of Barry. It’s really fun working with someone who is hitting his stride and very confident and bringing a lot of amazing ideas to the table.

AR: Were you a fan of the show before working on it?

CH: It was, if not my favorite show, one of my favorite shows. And everyone that I worked with knew that. So when I heard they were seeking a cinematographer for season three I started reaching out to anyone I knew that knew Bill.

Actors that I’d worked with, showrunners, agents. Just (saying) “get me in a room with Bill, I’d love to talk to him about what he wants for season three”. And when we met, we just clicked. We had a similar sense of taste, very similar backgrounds and just hit if off immediately.

AR: In the first episode of the season, how did you reflect the state of Barry and Sally’s relationship through the use of space in their apartment?

CH: It all begins with where Barry is. In the pilot, one of the first scenes Bill showed when he was directing Barry early on was him listlessly playing video games by himself in his apartment in Ohio. And here he is in season three again. Disconnected, doing the same thing.

In our show, we do so much with subjectivity, and telling a story through a specific character’s perspective. One of my favorite shots in that early sequence in season three is just on Sally’s perspective of Barry’s back.

He turns his back to her, he’s not communicating with her. He’s lost in a video game. Feeling that sense of distance between them, we show that they live together, but they don’t have a strong connection anymore.

AR: Coming back to Barry’s state of mind. There is an open field heavily featured in the season. Where Barry buries the bodies. What can you tell us about this location. How did you use it for storytelling purposes?

CH: Originally, that was scripted as being shot in a forest. Something I talked about with Bill early on was how it’s difficult to get a visual sense of geography in a forest. Everything looks the same, no matter where you turn the camera.

Since we were coming back to this location over the course of the season, we wanted a place with a really impactful geographic statement element. We expressed that in our location with Jonathan Jansen (Supervising location manager), who took us out to look at this tree that was on the wild hillside overlooking the desert and the landscape of L.A.

We knew that every time we’d come back to that tree, it would tell the audience “Oh shit, we’re back here”. And there was enough going on visually in that location which allowed us to show different iterations of it, different versions of what it looks like.

AR: There is a very intense scene in the second episode of the season. Barry yells very aggressively at Sally in her office, in front of her co-workers. There are a lot of close-ups during that sequence. Why was it shot that way?

CH: It’s about trying to convey what is happening in the story. Earlier in the scene, Barry pitched this idea to Sally where he can save his relationship with Cousineau by casting him in her show. Barry’s really excited about it.

But when Sally starts explaining to him why it wouldn’t work, the camera moves away from Barry, making him smaller. That is until he reacts violently and starts storming towards Sally in a very shocking way.

That retreat is similar to trying to get away from a fight, but then being pushed against the wall. When Sally is against the wall literally, we have a wide close lense. It feels as if you’re stuck between two people fighting. The intensity of it is very subject, due to the audience feeling trapped inside this fight.

The story there is that Sally got out of an abusive relationship and inadvertently slipped into another one. She’s probably seen glimpses of Barry’s violent side before, but this is the first time she sees such a reaction from him in a shocking, brutal way.

That’s why the camera is so close to them. Until the end, when Sally is left alone with the actress of her show and she realizes how bad her situation is. And she chooses to ignore it.

AR: During the sixth episode of the season there are a lot of action sequences, including a very complex motorcycle chase. What were the challenges of filming that sequence?

CH: Too many to count! (laughs). We don’t really shoot coverage. We shoot with very intentional shots. Normally, with a sequence like that, you would shoot with four or five cameras to get different angles so you can put it together in the edit.

But Bill thinks in a very linear way. One shot leads to the next. And everything we do can only be edited in one way. Very early on, he had a plan in his head for what we wanted to do. We were able to make an animated version of the sequence.

From there, it becomes a matter of finding locations that match the type of shots and geography he wants. Then we just break down what the equipment is and what the stunts are for each of those shots. The annoying part of it is putting it all together because we already created the plan. Now it’s time to execute it and get everyone on board with what we’re doing.

The hardest part of the sequence was the very end. The final shot. We wanted to do it at a specific time of the day and we wanted it to feel as one shot. That was probably the most challenging moment of the whole sequence.

AR: Jumping forward to episode seven, Barry’s dream sequence with a lot of characters on a beach was one of the most haunting scenes in the season. How did you feel while filming it?

CH: It was really fun! It started it out as a more visually elaborate sequence, we planned to do it differently. But once we got to the beach, it was a very weird and cloudy day. It felt like the kind of purgatory we wanted to express in that scene.

Bill and I looked at each other and thought “Why don’t we just shoot it like this instead of waiting for the sun to break out?”. So it became a race against time while we’re setting up shots. Because ultimately we wanted to express this idea of where Barry has come from, where he hopes to be, and the purgatory state he’s at.

His dreams of redeeming himself and changing his character may or may not come to fruition. What we got with the cloudy environment was this alien sense which we felt was really evocative and allowed us to strip down what was most important storywise.

AR: During that same sequence, how did you move the camera through the characters to convey this feeling of purgatory?

CH: So much of what we were trying to do there was telling a story with depth. We used the foreground, the background and just people placed in a certain way that felt visually expressive. Over the course of the series, the desert has always been representative of death and failure. The ocean represents hopefulness and potentially, redemption.

That means we have tracking shots through this group of people towards the water. That is where Barry’s character wants to go. He wants to be redeemed. He wants to feel hopeful and change who he is. To change his human nature.

But we’re taking him through this beach that is littered with the bodies of all the people he’s ruined. When he sees Sally and Cousineau at the back of the group during episode eight, that tells you he knows he’s ruining another relationship that are important to him. He knows that, if he doesn’t change, they will also suffer a dramatic fate.

AR: Regarding the final episode of the season, there is a scene where Sally kills an attacker and Barry says he’d take the blame for it. How did you come up with the decision of making that fight one long take?

CH: On my first day of prep, I was talking with Bill about the whole season. Because we treat the season as one big story, we don’t treat it episodically, and that’s how we know how to shoot certain locations and how that evolves.

What Bill pitched to me was the idea that when Sally kills someone at the end of the season, he wanted to use sound design and lighting to suck all the life out of the scene to show Barry has now ruined the person most important to him.

Coming back to what I mentioned earlier about how each shot has a purpose, and every shot leads to the next, to us it felt like the most impactful way to do it rather than cutting constantly. We have a very long shot just telling you the story.

AR: When Barry gets arrested, there’s a lot of slow motion involved. Was it always planned out that way?

CH: The sequence was going to be very different originally. There was going to be a lot more slow motion. The main hero shot is Cousineau and Barry interacting, with Barry having this shock expression in his face because Cousineau tricked him by being a great actor.

In the final edit, there’s this one shot of Barry passing Cousineau by the camera lens. Originally, we had a reverse (shot) that was over Cousineau to Barry. Barry would be brought outside and there was going to be a sequence of cops beating him because he is a cop killer and there’s a theme of vengeance hanging over the entire season.

We were filming in real locations, where you adapt to what you’re given because the place is not like a set that you build to get a specific shot. We were sitting in the living room, and I saw Bill looking at the front window and he came up with this moment that was not about redemption. It was more about trauma and consequence.

Jim Moss standing in the window, and seeing all the cops outside, saying goodbye to Cousineau, while you have plenty of visual chaos on screen. It goes on until the end, when you have Jim in the background and a small picture of Janice in the foreground.

It’s about telling a story about how, even though the good guys won and Barry gets caught, the house is still empty and Jim Moss, as a character, is still a broken person and that is because of Barry. To us, it felt as if it wrapped up what the theme of the season was. It wasn’t about vengeance, it was about consequence. It was about trauma. When something bad happens, there is no real justice. The trauma remains, which is why we chose that end the season with that shot.

Barry is available to stream on HBO Max.

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Written by Diego Peralta

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