HBO’s Somebody Somewhere is a comedy series the follows Sam (Bridget Everett), as she struggles to fit into her hometown's mould while grappling with loss and acceptance. The Kansas native finds solace in singing, whch leads her on a journey to discover herself and a community of outsiders who also don't fit in.
The show, which recently announced plans for a third season, brought together a powerful collaboration between cinematographer Shana Hagan, ASC, and Harbor senior colorist Nick Hasson. Together, they developed the look of the series, which includes bringing a level of intimacy to the screen.
Hagan described the visual goal for the series as being a very unobtrusive, observational “friend in the room” approach, allowing the actors’ performances to shine. The show was shot on the Arri Alexa Mini and recorded to QuickTime ProRes 4444. Season 1 was played a little wider, with a few well-chosen close-ups, while in Season 2, as the characters grew closer to each other, Hagan found the camera coming in closer too.
“No artifice, with mostly quiet, reactive handheld and the appearance of natural light,” she explains. “We want to make it look and feel simplistic and uncomplicated. The resulting visuals feel real and authentic, allowing the audience to connect with the story and our characters on a very deep level.”
Colorist Hasson was bought into the production early on, right after the pilot was shot, but before the rest of the series had started filming. He and Hagan created LUTs for the show and conformed on FilmLight’s Baselight system from the original camera files, grading in Rec. 709 for an HD delivery.
Cinematographer Shana Hagan, ASC
Creating intimacy behind the camera
Hagan operated the camera for every scene of the series. In her own words, there was an “intimacy that's created with me behind the camera.”
She described her love of being on the front line so she could make changes quickly, as well as to “vibe and feel out a moment with an actor or actress.”
For example, when series lead Bridget Everett is performing and giving her all, Hagan says, “I'm just there. I'm feeling it. I might do a little slow push in or slow creep around, in a reactive way. I would naturally lean in to get a little bit more, as if I were a friend in the room. I want them to feel that human connection behind the camera. I want to be that emotion, that intimacy that we're creating.”
Harbor senior colorist Nick Hasson
An unobtrusive grade
As the show is built around very observational, grounded and intimate camera work, Hasson and Hagan agreed the color should be a slightly desaturated look to match. Hagan described how the arc of the color over Season 2 follows that of the main character, Sam, as she grows more confident and begins to find her voice. Whether an intentional shift, the color becomes more saturated as Sam finds community.
“The saturation starts to dial in for the second season,” explains Hagan. “In Season 2, Sam finds her voice, finds her community and really solidifies deeper relationships with the people around her. Her world becomes a little bit bigger. Also, slightly more colorful. So, without going full Wizard of Oz – black & white to color – it's more of a slow shift from a deserted look at the beginning of Season 1, where she's in a horrible dead-end job. As she grows, there’s a slow increase in the saturation.”
Hasson adds that the color follows the emotional tone set as the series unfolds.
“You can find your somebody somewhere. Anywhere. And that arc follows her as she starts to open up. I think the visual language opens up as well, with more color and light. The camera work even gets a little more open and intimate as we go along.”
As Hasson puts it, the overall goal of the grade for the series is, “Try hard to be simple.”
One of the great strengths of the show, the duo adds, is its insistence on character.
“The look of the show should never be in the way of the emotion of the show,” says Hasson. “We wanted to keep the characters based in reality. I don't want to say it's like a doc look, because it's really not, but by stripping the cinematography down to the most raw and natural level, we can make you feel that you're in the room with these people – like they’re your neighbors or your friends.”
Influenced by Hagan’s strong background in shooting documentaries, 90 percent of the show was captured in-camera and not edited a lot in post.
“It’s impressive,” comments Hasson. “Shana doesn’t want to change what she shot. She shoots exactly what she likes, and obviously we polish, touchup and clean.”
Hasson adds that there were instances in which he would have to stop himself from tearing the images apart.
“This is the way that everyone's going to reach into the character, and this is what serves the story the best,” he explains of his restraint. “That it's just kind of set from camera. We know what the mood is and, obviously, we’re tweaking things for balance and to direct a viewer’s focus here or there. But for the most part, I think Shana nails it.”
With no DIT on-set, Hagan relied on her own experience to keep the highlights under control – or blow them out, when needed – and to keep the lighting levels where she wanted them.
“My amazing gaffer, Z. Alex Jones, would keep his eyes on our calibrated OLEDs to make sure we were in range with the color temp of the lighting on-set, and I’d keep my eyes on the exposure and the in-camera color temp,” explains Hagan. “Most of the lighting for our interiors was source driven — large heads thru existing windows and boosted on-set practicals.”
The team shoots the series with two cameras and Hagan prefers to light the scene rather than the individual set-ups.
“I encouraged the use of existing light sources,” states Hagan. “When going in for tighter coverage, we’d pop new lenses on and go again quite quickly, without massive lighting tweaks nor a loss of momentum. The actors loved it and we were successful in maintaining the observational, ‘friend in the room’ aesthetic we were going for.”
One camera, two lenses
A key challenge for Hasson was matching shots that were collected on the same camera with different lenses. Hagan shoots the show with what she described as “basically old, refurbished ultra and super speed primes from Panavision.”
Hagan used these legacy prime lenses for principal photography (shot outside Chicago as a stand-in for pastoral Kansas) and used a modern zoom lens for B-roll (shot by Hagan and a 2nd unit team in Kansas).
It was then down to Hasson to match the contrast and grain, pulling those two lenses together. To do this, he turned to Baselight’s Base Grade and sophisticated toolset.
“Sometimes I blurred the edges a bit because the zoom is a little bit sharper,” he explains. “Baselight’s balance tool in Base Grade, as well as the Hue Shift tool, allowed me to match small details perfectly – I lived in Base Grade and Hue Shift on this show.”
Another challenging part of the grade was its time constraints.
“But, Baselight’s tools and flexibility are so fast at grading,” says Hasson, “and I utilized group grading to make changes instantly.”
A true collaboration
“Nick has been an incredible collaborator since the beginning,” comments Hagan. “I love our working relationship. We bounce ideas off each other and it’s just so easy to work together. I was shooting another show when we were doing the final color for Season 2, so Harbor sent me a calibrated iPad and we did live remote sessions while I was on location with the other show. The color grading went so smoothly it felt like we were in the same room.”
“The entire show was a rewarding experience,” adds Hasson. “Helping tell these characters’ stories and working with this talented creative team was a joy.”
Seasons 1 and 2 of Somebody Somewhere are streaming now on Max.