<I>Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin</I> — Cinematographer Anka Malatynska
Issue: July/August 2022

Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin — Cinematographer Anka Malatynska

HBO Max’s Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is a dark, coming-of-age, horror-tinged drama featuring a new generation of Little Liars. These teen girls are being tormented by an unknown assailant, who is out to make them pay for the secret sin their parents committed two decades ago. The series debuted in July and has already been renewed for a second season. Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Zaria, Malia Pyles and Maia Reficco star as the new generation of Liars. 

Anka Malatynska (www.ankavision.com) served as cinematographer for the show, coming onboard not long after the pilot. Here, she shares insight on shooting the 10-episode series.

How did you get involved in Original Sin?

“I think my agent got a call. They were looking for a DP to take over after the second episode. They were looking for someone with young adult horror experience. In some ways I felt they sought me out on that premise. They needed someone who had experience in that genre to come shoot a beautiful and challenging series —  in the Catskills, in the middle of winter, in the woods.”

How was this show different than other projects you have worked on?

“I think it has an incredibly-texturized, very-specific designed world. We called it a non-descript vintage time period, where all of the town of Millwood is falling apart and the cars are old. But all our characters have cell phones, and for all purposes, live in the modern world that we live in. It was visually so exciting. I think for me it was different because in its style of production design, our production designer did such a beautiful job. It felt like a completely fantasy-created world — almost fairy tale like - little cabin in the woods with the big, bad wolf, leaning into very iconic imagery. Also, really drawing on the history and legacy of the horror genre. [Adding] another layer to the series is a commentary and a reference, and a history of the horror genre. In terms of, one of our characters is a filmmaker. So we are also laughing at ourselves. Some of it is almost over the top. I know when we shot the previs of one of the scenes in the finale, it’s almost comical and over the top, but at the same time iconic. You do suspend your disbelief and buy the world. It is a very exaggerated world with wide angle lenses, close to people’s faces, feeling like you are right there, inside their life with them. Super low angles. So many of our setups were from sliders on the ground, camera as low as possible.”

What camera and lenses did you use?

“We used the Panavision DXL2 camera package with Panaspeed 70mm primes. They were large-format lenses. It was a large-format camera. I had just shot an independent film with the same camera package with some of the lenses, so when I found out what they were shooting on, I thought, ‘What a wonderful gift and sense of relief,’ because it’s exactly what I would have chosen. This is exactly where my instinct with this story would lean. The DXL, the chip has a very natural curve. It’s very soft in a way. It’s the most natural-looking image, the most film-like and natural. It has a little bit of texture. [It doesn’t] have all the sharpness of the Sony cameras, which are so awesome and wonderful, but I had just by accident worked with that camera. We shot in 5K, so we shot in 8K with 8K lenses, but shot in 5K. I would go to 8K sometimes to utilize our wide-angle lenses. I feel like that’s something I brought into the language of the show. I started jumping out on our 17mm lens to 8K, rather than keeping it at 5K, so that I would get these really exaggerated, epic angles.”

Can you describe the look you were trying to capture?

“It’s a very dark show. It started very dark and in color correction and unfortunately when they air, they always like to elevate these things. I think I used the lower 30 percent of the curve most of the time on the show. We were working at very low-light levels. Our middle gray was kept darker than a regular middle gray. And leaning into very iconic, horror imagery. It’s almost gothic, falling apart. There [was] black wallpaper in some of the houses. There was reflective wallpaper in houses. At the same time, all the girls were always dressed to the nines. It was an explosion of color. It’s this dichotomy of darkness and a lot of color saturation. Red was a really big motif. I have never used that much red in my cinematography. [Writer/executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa] loved red, he wanted red lights and red nightmare scenes. What our pilot director, Lisa Soper brought in, she lived and breathed the horror genre and everything was really steeply referenced. 

“I remember my first episode, which was Episode 3 with Maggie Kiley, we were referencing Jaws in it. There is a scene when we are taking shots from Jaws and then putting them in our visual language. It’s like Scream, but Scream was in the normal world. So this is like Scream, but very art directed, with production design representing a very specific world of this falling apart, New England town, where creepy things can happen. There is an atmosphere behind it, kind of like the film Hereditary. It has a very strong, specificity of the world. It’s very gothic, yet very Terry Gilliam-like in the use of wide-angle lenses and exaggerated reality. It’s some of my favorite imagery I have ever created.”