As you may have seen in my last post, I love mystery shows, and I’m practically addicted to watching reruns of those from the UK. Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, among others, will literally cause me to forget what I was doing a moment before. Last night my local PBS station showed (what for me was) a new Poirot episode – Hallowe’ en Party followed by the Miss Marple episode Pocket Full of Rye. Considering that their budgets are likely half that of US network programs, these British productions always amaze me with their overall quality. Aside from the amazing acting, the historically spot on sets and costumes, there’s always a level of artistry to the filming that I think many American shows lack. Often there’s an obvious visual style at work, and last night it really caught my attention.

While watching the first program (Poirot) I noticed some beautifully framed shots, with compositions that had been lovingly planned, and could not have been accidental as the basic concepts for these shots were repeated throughout the show. At first it was more of an observation than anything, but early into the second program I noticed compositions and framing devices that reminded of things I had seen minutes before. This prompted me to pull out some paper and start sketching various shots that appeared on the screen. There was some spectacular design thru the use of objects and actors to establish situations and depth.

Not to mention emotional levels being heightened by camera placement. Shots with actors grouped to one side, leaving an empty room on the other to emphasize the sense of loneliness held by one character as she verbally related that feeling to another.

After a while I was simply in awe, and I was convinced that the photography in both films had to be the work of one person. On a whim I pulled out my phone and hit the IMDB app. I found that both of these episodes had the same cinematographer, Cinders Forshaw.

Everything she does only serves the story, but even while doing so she establishes her own visual style to the viewer. There’s something about her work that, to me, is very comic like. Ms. Forshaw uses everything in a shot with purpose, and she does not randomly situate things just for clarity. She uses placement to establish depth—

To pull the viewer into a conversation—

Helping to separate characters visually that we learn later are morally at odds—

She shows the “two-faced” nature of a person by use of their reflection during a conversation with another character—

Drawing focus to characters with perspective when an environment could be overwhelming to the viewer’s eye—

She emphasizes the emotional isolation of characters thru their position in an environment—

There’s also a great use of angles, as this one where she shows how a character feels “lost at sea” by placing them on a blank floor.

Or how the same set seen from another angle can represent the long challenge ahead of a character, as seen here when the inspector arrives upon the murder scene.

This isn’t to say that all of her visual decisions are made with some emotional motive in mind, but every shot is treated with care and attention. Even daily challenges characters face are reflected by the camera; as seen here with a secretary trying to carry a tea tray without spilling any while navigating doors in an office environment.

She shows the intent of a character without the use of dialogue by focusing on a simple prop. As she does here with a character about to go a personal journey; showing the attention to her appearance in a mirror, while the clues of her next action are seen on the bed.

Here she makes the viewer feel as if they’re part of a scene by having props close enough to touch—

Making the viewer feel they’re sitting in another chair somewhere in a room listening in on a conversation—

Close-ups of characters in conversation are handled in a way that prevents them from feeling cramped, or confusing the viewer with heavy flips. She manages to give characters space, while helping the audience keep track of them by placing them on opposite sides of the screen. One could argue this was more difficult before TVs went to a letterbox format, but she has made full use of what is available to her.

The witness talking to…

The Inspector.

By pushing them to opposite sides, she creates a wider space in the viewer’s mind, allowing for a proper, realistic environment, for them to converse in.

Ms. Forshaw has a great ability to use walls, open spaces, furniture, and props to help frame her scenes and characters. She can make the viewer feel as if they’re listening in on something they shouldn’t by placing the camera out in a hallway—

Outside a window, making the viewer feel like a spy—

Or to make the audience feel as if they’re snooping along with other characters, searching for clues—

  I’m sure you’ll recognize the following images from the sketches above; which they were inspired by.

There are a great deal of images that I could show to give further evidence of Ms Forshaw’s ability, but the greatest compliment I have is how she never detracts from the show.

The saddest thing about how credits of a show are presented these days, is that they’re either flying by at warp speed, or squished to one side like a loaf of bread under a gallon of milk. As an audience, we rarely get the chance to see who the artists are that build a show, so if you have the chance, I strongly suggest that you visit Ms. Forshaw’s IMDB page and/or website to check out the programs and films she’s worked on. In addition, the next time you watch a TV show or movie, take a moment to look at the credits, and read who made up the crew. The cinematographer, storyboard artist, lighting director, sound engineer, editors, are all doing more than just making sure a program hits the airwaves; they’re bringing a love for an art form to a project in a unique manner. Perhaps this little glimpse into one person’s abilities will help you stay more aware of what they all bring to a project.

All photographic images seen are shown for educational purposes only and are the property of the copyright holders.

TV time

July 1, 2011

The wife said, “Those are neat hun. You should post them.” So here they are, a few TV time sketches. My mom is the one who got me hooked on mysteries, from Sherlock to Mason, to Matlock.

The gang's all here.