Netflix 'Glow' DP on 'Embracing the Imperfection' of '80s-Style Cinematography
On Season 2 of Netflix's "GLOW", Adrian Peng Correia upgraded to an 8K RED Helium to capture the dimensionality of the show's vibrant colors.
You don't have to know a thing about wrestling to appreciate the aesthetic grandeur of Netflix's GLOW. The series, which airs its third season on August 3, revolves around the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.), a women's professional wrestling promotion that began in 1986 and featured vibrant characters and performances, including over-the-top comedy sketches and choreography. The Jenji Kohan creation (Orange Is the New Black), which stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron, was lensed in Season 1 by Christian Sprenger, who set the tone for its '80s-fueled cinematography, featuring bright lights and flashy colors.
DP Adrian Peng Correia, who most recently worked on Hulu's Ramy, took up the mantle for Season 2. Upgrading to an 8K RED HELIUM, he continued on Sprenger's trajectory of practical lighting and motivated camera movements but encountered many new challenges, including a lower budget, structural changes to the show's narrative, and the inclusion of a show-within-the-show (a nod to the original production of G.L.OW.).
No Film School caught up with Correia to discuss how he navigated the show's second season, how to balance the visions of specific episode directors and showrunners, the major differences between shooting for television and feature narratives, and more.
"As a cinematographer who's there for every episode, you have to shepherd the look of the show over directors' different visions for the course of the season."
No Film School: How did you originally get involved with Season 2 of Glow?
Adrian Peng Correia: I was recommended by a friend, Reed Morano. I got my reel in the room, and I got an interview off the reel. And then we had an interview with Leanne Moore, who's the producer. I headed out to Los Angeles and conducted production in September through about the end of January in 2017.
NFS: You shot Season 2 in its entirety?
Correia: Christian Sprenger shot Season 1. I shot Season 2. And now Chris Teague, who did Russian Doll, has shot Season 3, which premieres soon.
NFS: How did you think about aligning the aesthetics of Season 2 with what had come before, from Christian, in Season 1?
Correia: Well, I talked to Christian about Season 1 and things that he'd like to see carried over, cinematography-wise, into Season 2. He wanted stylistic adherence in terms of naturalistic, motivated lighting and motivated camera moves.
Season 2 is a bit different because the structure of the episodes changed a bit. In this season, the actual show and the wresting plays a much bigger part—you're going into the production of the show of GLOW. And thematically, the thing that was really interesting to me about Season 2 was these women are seeing this intersection between their normal ideas of self and the professional aspects of their life that carried over into their reality. I felt that that gave us a little bit more freedom in terms of how to interpret lighting.
We were still relatively motivated by practical lighting. But we also had directors who had drastically different visual styles. Lynn Shelton simply doesn't like to move the camera. Kate Dennis is much more active with the way she moves camera. Mark Burley, who is our executive producer, wanted to introduce the idea of the wrestling show and the nature of it over the course of a "oner" for the beginning of Episode 2. And then Claire Scanlon had a few ideas that were also really ambitious.
It's an interesting mix between having some real dynamic elements to the camera movement for certain directors and for certain set-ups, and then having a little bit more of a reserved style that counts on the nature of the edit to carry comedic timing and effects.
NFS: When you work with directors that have different visual styles, how do you reconcile your vision and the continuity of the season's aesthetic with their specific needs?
Correia: As a cinematographer who's there for every episode, you have to shepherd the look of the show over all those different visions for the course of the season. Season 2 of GLOW has a significant number of directors. I believe we had eight. You have to try and allow the director to have the freedom to bring the idea of what their episode should be in the context of what the language that you've established for the show already.
"The comedy needs coverage to be able to express itself in the edit. So you have to really be strategic with the way you move and implement a camera."
The comedy in the show and the writing needs coverage to be able to express itself in the edit. So you have to really be strategic with the way you move and implement a camera. When it comes to jokes and comedy, you need the coverage to be able to make some of those lines stick, or to be able to cut things if a particular joke isn't working, or if we just want to lose something. It was interesting to try and fit in a concentrated and expressive visual style with a show that has such requirements in the context of the edit.
What you end up doing over the course of the season is just trying to allow the directors to have that freedom, and then trying to persuade them to a different direction if what they're suggesting isn't in line with your show, or if you just don't think it's going to work in the context of the edit.
For specific examples, you have Episode 4, where John Cameron Mitchell started directing and then fell ill, and we lost him. So we then went to Mark [A. Burley], and had to balance two different directors' visions for a particular episode.
On Episode 8, "The Good Twin," with Meera [Menon], we had a chance to really create and define the language of the show-within-the-show in the context of a single episode. "The Good Twin" is probably the most extreme example, where the nature of the language is completely different. And the grounding thing for me with that episode is the fact that Sam [Marc Maron's character] is actually the director of the show. So when we were thinking about how Sam would do things, you end up having a second director on board in terms of how he would do things. How does Meera want to do it, and then how also did Sam produce this TV show? That was a really fascinating thing to try and wrap your head around.
NFS: How, specifically, did you change the format of the show to fit the show-within-the-show?
Correia: Well, there's a sort of elegance to the way we move our camera and the way we shoot for the show. But then there's also the slight stylization of the nature of the show—not the show-within-the-show, but the actual event that the audience watches. Liz and Carley wanted to have a more dynamic camera for that stuff. So we had to communicate great energy. Those scenes are comedic and have all the different performances in them. So you have to have something that has this great sense of momentum, but also has time and clarity to be able to capture performance and deliver comedy. Those things are really important, especially to the creators.
"We built a certain sloppiness into the nature of the show-within-the-show. You end up using the old-school techniques."
And then when it comes to episode eight, for "The Good Twin," Sam doesn't have a ton of money to produce this show, so he uses camera people and crew that probably are below studio level. And he did horror films and exploitation films. So the cinematography shouldn't be perfect. Lighting doesn't have to be absolutely perfect. Camera operation and movement isn't exactly state-of-the-art. So pans and tilts can cut off heads, or be late to the action. And Sam would probably end up being like, "It's good enough, let's move on." So we built a certain sloppiness into the nature of the show-within-the-show. You end up using the old-school techniques, like using old, iron shutters in front of lights to create lightning effects instead of using modern techniques that might look better, but wouldn't have this specific anachronism to it that gives it the '80s authenticity.
NFS: When you were conceiving of how you wanted to visually approach the season, did you have much control over the rig? What decisions did you make, and why?
Correia: Well, I did test a couple different lenses and camera systems that were different from the first season. Ultimately, Liz and Carley felt that the lenses from the first season were too specific to the show, and they didn't want to change.
But for the camera body, we did upgrade to a different 8K RED HELIUM camera, which had a new color science. Considering the vast array and expressiveness in the colors used in the production design by Todd [Fjelsted], and the costumes and the hair and make-up, I felt like the HELIUM, which had a new IPP2 color science, actually ended up giving us more information. We could hold onto those really vibrant and expressive colors and lean into the highlights. The 8K Super 35 sensor also gave us the ability to resize, which increased our options and changed the field of view of the lenses.
NFS: What about lighting?
Correia: Well, for lighting, there are certain things that are locked into it. There are period lamps, like PAR cans, which are a little bit more traditional theatrical lighting for the ring. They call attention to themselves. They're not going to be seen in-shot, but they have to be at least period realistic.
And then we coupled that with a lot of LED technology because the ring set is basically built right to the edges of the stages. There is not a ton of room to be able to use different lights.
"Skypanel LEDs gave me the most versatility and control for the buck."
We had less money, also, for Season 2, so we had to change a few units that were more expensive to stuff that was a little bit less expensive, but still carried the same idea of continuity photographically from Season 2. In that regard, we had a lot of leeway to basically change the nature of the lighting, because they changed the nature of the sets. And now the gym is no longer just the gym; it's also the studio, in a sense, for the show itself. So that naturally mandated a little bit more creativity. We used a lot of new techniques in terms of LEDs and tube lighting and whatnot.
We also used a lot of Skypanels. And we used a lot of Quasar. They were a particular favorite of Patrick's. We used LED ribbons when we couldn't fit in certain elements. Pat would know more specifics about those particular units, but the big guns were all Skypanels, because they allowed us to have the ability to change and program on the fly, and deliver the right quality of light and color. Those units gave me the most versatility and control for the buck.
If we ended up having to shoot things at night, we used larger Tungsten units, like 20K Tungsten Fresnel, because I just like the quality of light on the faces.
"I've always dug the Cooke look. The way they render faces in terms of dimensionality is really pleasing."
NFS: What about the lenses that you chose?
Correia: I tested Panavision Anamorphics because the show is anamorphic and it's cropped 2:1. But they had used Cookes on the first season. Christian definitely had some really specific visual peculiarities that he found in these lenses. They had this almost star-like, but vertical, glaring, that Liz and Carley really liked. I personally like the way Panavision lenses rendered the faces. But there were some specific things about those lens abnormalities in the Cooke Anamorphics that was what I really thought defined the show.
So we ended up going with those Cookes. They're beautiful lenses. I've shot Cookes for a very long time. The way they render faces in terms of dimensionality is really pleasing. So I've always dug the Cooke look.
Correia: There is a certain slimming nature to some of the Cooke lenses, in terms of rendering faces a little bit more oval as opposed to round-ish. One of the interesting things about this production was that the [actors] trained really hard for the show. A lot of the time, they're losing weight over the course of a season because they're working such long hours and they're training. It's incredibly taxing on them physically. We wanted to make sure that we had lenses that rendered their faces oval since we wanted this kind of roundness of their faces and rounding of the features. And Cooke does that in a really naturalistic but specifically cinematic and beautiful way.
NFS: When you think back on the entire season, what jumps out at you as a specifically challenging sequence to shoot?
Correia: The "Mother of All Matches." That's Episode 4, the match between Gabby and Tammé's character. The competition between the Welfare Queen and Liberty Belle is built up over the course of the season. Here, it's not even so much about the nature of the shots. It's about choosing shots that balance things really specifically—trying to communicate a very specific nature of performance, in terms of Tammé's fight with her son And then you have this outlandish jerk performance for Liberty Belle.
And then you have all these different elements of the physical nature of the match itself. You want to be able to sell those and create a sense of excitement because you've been building up with it. That stuff to me, in terms of being able to construct it shot-wise over the course of the episode, was probably the most difficult thing.
"There's something really schlocky about the show. As much as you would want things to be absolutely perfect, you have to embrace the imperfections in things."
The most difficult to film, technically, was the dance sequence in "The Good Twin." We didn't have a ton of time to rehearse camera with the dancing between Tamika and Shakira. We got to see it a few times performed, but then we didn't really have any time to perfect the nature of the camera. So you're trying to construct camera moves that would give a sense of this Technicolor dance number, like a Singing In the Rain or An American In Paris kind of thing. But then you also have to embrace the fact that there's something really schlocky about the show. As much as you would want things to be absolutely perfect, you have to embrace the imperfections in things.
So it was an interesting conflict between myself as a cinematographer always wanting to demand perfection, and then finding the sweet spot of imperfection. It could be absolutely perfect choreography between actresses and camera, but is that really in the spirit of the show Finding the nature of that in "The Good Twin" was something that was really difficult in the beginning. And then as we started to shoot it more over the course of the evening, it became something that was a little bit freer and exciting.
NFS: I can imagine trying to conceive of that in abstract terms—trying to lean into the schlockiness. But how do you do that in a more practical, tangible sense?
Correia: Well, it's just something where you have to play it on the fly. And then you have to get everybody on board. If we're doing a particular move and we cut the actor off in a way that isn't pleasing or elegant... There are tons of people at the monitor scrolls who have specific ideas about how the show should be. You always have to coax and remind them: "Listen, we're not making the perfect idea of GLOW, the Netflix show. We're making Sam's idea of what he'd be able to do and what he'd be able to achieve on the budget he has for the show-within-a-show." So you basically end up playing it almost like Eli Wallach in The Good and The Bad and The Ugly, putting his gun together with pieces of a bunch of guns. It's the same kind of thing.
"In GLOW, there's so much camera movement. But when it comes down to a particular joke, is it selling? Those are those things that end up dictating camera."
And then you just keep on layering flavors, so to speak. You just keep on building the recipe. If you give people the proper elements they need in the context of the edit, then you don't have to worry about it. In GLOW, there's so much camera movement. But when it comes down to a particular joke, is it selling? Those are those things that end up dictating camera. And as a cinematographer, you have to be able to not only understand that but also let certain things go.
NFS: You've got a really extensive resume that includes and a lot of great experience in both film and TV. Say you were talking to an up-and-coming DP who has worked on some low-budget features but is looking to get into TV. What advice would you give?
Correia: If you're a true believer in the power and the authority of the director—if you believe in auteur theory, or at least in the theory that the director is the person who has the picture in their head, and you have to be able to extract that vision and help realize it to its fullest expression—that is essential of the cinematographer on narratives.
Correia: When it comes to television, there is a larger scope of people that have to be pleased and excited about the things you're shooting. The director is there usually for an episode, or maybe two. Every once in a while, you get lucky and a director does multiple episodes or even the full season. But for the most part, in television, the director of photography is the person over the course of the season who has the most consistent responsibility in terms of maintaining continuity of the show visually and in many ways in terms of general pace.
"If it's the type of production where the comedy and the telling of the joke is paramount, you have to be able to give yourself outs and understand the nature of coverage, like an editor."
That's a balance that people have to work on when they first come to TV: being able to respect the director and allow them to shine for the episode. but also satisfying the writers and the creators, and making sure that the director's vision congeals with the writers and creators' thoughts and wishes. That balance is one of the most difficult things to handle when transitioning between narrative features and television.
Another thing you have to understand is that, especially if you're dealing with comedy, the meritocracy of comedy is of the joke line. If it's the type of production where the comedy and the telling of the joke are paramount, you have to be able to give yourself outs and understand the nature of coverage, almost like an editor. Because if you don't, you can end up really painting yourself into the corner with what you give the production. You have that responsibility as a cinematographer.
So to me, it's important to understand that difference between television and narratives: the director's responsibilities versus showrunners and writers, and then just basically understanding the nature of what television edit is. As a cinematographer, you have a lot of power and sway over what you give the editors, but you also have that responsibility.
I would suggest to every young cinematographer that they at least read about and start studying editing. I think it just makes you a stronger cinematographer.