Q and A Netflix July 2016.
is a 10-part original series for Canal Plus, Esquire and Netflix,
Produced by Rola Bauer, Moritz Polter and Hugh Warren. The first two
episodes were directed by Pascal Chameil. It stars Marc-Andre Grondin,
Denis Menochet and Brendan Coyle.
influenced the look of the series?
was written to compete with the big American thrillers. From the start,
I approached the series as a hybrid modern noir. With director Pascal
Chameil, we started by looking at Scandi TV and apart from the writing
and bleak atmosphere, we were not that drawn by the production values
or look. There was more relevance for us in series such as ‘True
Detective’, ‘Broadwalk Empire’, Mr Robot and obviously
as a starting point ‘Breaking Bad’.
We were both huge fans of the work of Jacque Audiard and looked carefully
at his mis-en-scene and the brutal but simple fight scenes in ‘A
Prophet’. We consequently tried to keep our coverage visceral
and paired down in all violent encounters.
I also looked at the Coen Brothers “No Country for Old Men”.
There is a rye humour to ‘Spotless’ and we were influenced
by the treatment of the Anton Chigurh character. This psychotic killer
is such an iconic baddy and we wanted Nelson Clay, (played brilliantly
by Brendan Coyle) to have similar menace and constant danger. The
Coens shoot him in side profile or well below the eyeline, with wide
lenses, or very long lenses.
We looked at the harshness of Nan Goldin’s photographs, the
beauty, colour and noir sense of light in ‘In the Mood for Love’
and the photographs of Saul Leiter.
seem to play an important roll in this drama?
was generously given six weeks’ prep and it allowed me to work
very closely with director Pascal Chameil and designer Eve Stewart
in crafting the look of the series. It meant I could location scout
and not just come in late when the choices have largely been made
in design and costume.
London was a key character in the film – the landscape and how
we experienced London had to be through the eyes of an outsider. We
did not want London to be presented as iconic or immediately recognisable,
and yet we wanted to feel immersed in it. The dockland areas of Wapping
and the East End became our key focus, as they had an atmosphere of
counter culture. We also shot extensively in central London, which
was quite a challenge and up and down the river.
at times was trying to straddle many camps – it was to be an
American series, with strong European overtones, shot in the UK, with
French actors who speak English to each other. There are obvious contradictions
to some of this, but I hope that ‘Spotless’ does have
its own definitive identity.
sense of family seems very important to the series?
‘Breaking Bad’, family is what anchors Jean and what he
tries to protect. The house is a sanctuary of family life, but the
family are constantly under threat.
Eve Stewart (production designer), came up with a shadowy lower basement
living room and kitchen area with few windows and no views out, bar
a small enclosed terrace at the back. The walls were dark green. I
lit it with contrast and practical lights and tried to keep the sense
of menace and ever present danger firmly rooted within the family
home. This environment also seemed to echo Jean’s dark childhood.
The childhood flashbacks
were very poignant and a huge contrast to the London drama?
We see flashbacks of their childhood, set in the La Rochelle area.
It is a violent, dysfunctional and abusive upbringing, that seems
to inform Jean and Martin’s adult lives. The boys are party
to a manslaughter which Jean commits. I thought the psychology of
the whole series was rather brilliantly charted by writer Ed McCardie.
There is a bleak dereliction to this flat oyster-bed landscape. Littered
with used shells, it evokes a sense of decay and is one of the poorest
areas of France. It is a strong contrast to the urban metropolis of
London and we were keen to play on the sense of space.
We looked at the drawings of Van Gogh, set in a landscape where the
sky is ¾ of the image. Figures drawn from behind, detached
and isolated. The sea is always close by and a labyrinth of canals
lead out to larger estuaries.
I used Super Baltar lenses for this section. They have a more naturalistic
and colder look and worked well in contrast with the more modern look
of London. I tried to feature 70% sky in each shot and juxtapose wide
lenses with very long telephoto lenses. Often we used only three or
four shots for each flashback, and they needed to capture dramatic
The children hardly speak, and when they do, it is in French which
is subtitled. There is a sense of presence, amplified by the lack
of dialogue. We tried to shoot from a child’s angle of view.
All is shot from two feet off the ground – adults are all seen
as threatening. We tried to use natural light – flares, strong
sunlight, the aqua-marine colours of the sky and sea, the desaturated
greys, browns and ambers of the landscape. We shot for two weeks north
of La Rochelle during a cold but sunlit November.
thought Brendan Coyle as Nelson Clay, was terrifying.
Coyle was a smoldering gentleman mobster – he is a brilliant
presence and a total loose canon. As previously stated, we looked
carefully at the ‘Anton’ character in “No Country
for Old Men”.
I tried to light him in a half light – often with much harder
light than our two hero’s. He has a chiseled face that I wanted
to bring that out. Lighting him with hard light was the antithesis
of his well known Downtown Abbey character.
The ‘grand finale’ in episode ten, involves a lynching
on a roof top. Brilliantly directed by Philip John, Nelson Clay reaches
the epitome of evil and had us all quaking in our very cold boots
on set. For it was mid December and we were outside on the seventh
floor of a factory in the heart of the East End. We craned in lights,
two 160KVA generators and a 50ft technocrane and shot over two nights
-much of it stunt work.
I tried to mix neon with sodium and half green/blue night light. It
worked quite well and with a bit of desaturation gave us a strong
colour pallet. I think we terrified the whole neighborhood with repeated
gun shots, gang warfare and bodies being strung up.
gather that you posted in Prague?
We posted in Prague at UPP on a baselight. Thomas Urbye from ‘The
Look’ London, came out and did an initial pass on the first
two episodes and then we carried on with the UPP team. They were very
capable and talented.
I tried to avoid there being a massive difference in grade between
the flashbacks and London scenes. I wanted the movement from adult
life to childhood to be seamless. The fact that we go from adult actors
to childhood actors in a different landscape was enough.
American TV is becoming darker and bolder and more cinematic by the
day. If you look at such series at ‘Man in the High Castle’,
and ‘Preacher’, they have very strong looks. ‘Spotless’
did not go as far as I hoped it would do but that is often the nature
with a series that is screening on differing international platforms.
I would have preferred a slightly darker and more committed look.
Spotless was a great fun to shoot and I gather that another series
is currently being written.
“Spotless” is on
Netflix from late July 2016