The Images of ‘Severance’: Ben Stiller on the Inhuman World of Lumon

Stiller: Jeremy Hindle had built the set so that all the hallways connected and took up the whole sound stage. Everything actually led somewhere and there were lots of little jogs and side halls that you could go through that made it seem like a maze. We knew we were going to have a sequence of Adam getting off the elevator and walking to MDR the first time we saw him go there, and I wanted to make sure that you felt like it was a really long walk. And also it was really confusing. We talked a lot about even maybe having it be different every time somebody walked to MDR, there’d be like a different route, so you could never figure it out. But then that was also a question of the reality of the show. And we ended up setting on there should be a route to go there, we just shouldn’t necessarily know what it is.

So when we were working on that sequence at the very beginning of the shoot, we shot different shots of him walking down the hall with coverage in front of him, behind him, his point of view. And then at the end I said, let’s just do one shot where we just stay on Adam the whole time. It’ll be really, really long, but let’s just see what it feels like.

Gagne: I think the hallways are one of the more challenging parts visually in the show to hack. Every time we had a hallway sequence, we needed to take a minute and be like, we need to talk about this with the AD, with the art department—we need everyone…. Every time we’re wondering, how do we make it new? How do we make it different? We had to use many different devices.

Stiller: But on Steadicam.

Gagne: Yeah. No Steadicam was an important one. Actually a lot of people in the cinematography world have been asking me if it’s Steadicam, and I’m like, no, it’s a rickshaw or a dolly.

Why was no Steadicam important?

Gagne: It wouldn’t feel like it does. If you watch it, there’s never any up and down side action, it’s very sturdy. When you’re following an actor and you’re adding a human to control the camera like that, it’s not as accurate. And we wanted that robotic feeling. [On the severed floor] when we pan, when we move the camera, we didn’t want it to feel human operated. There was a rigid kind of surveillance thing that was part of it as well.

Stiller: We ended up having to do Steadicam a little bit later in the show a couple of times, but that was our rule, that everything would be dolly. One thing about the hallways that I would always stress out about was sound. Like the walk in episode three, when they’re walking to Perpetuity—it’s really hard when you have a lot of dialogue and actors are walking. Everybody works hard to make the bottoms of the shoes soft or put felt on them or things like that, but they couldn’t put down sound blankets. When I think about hallways, I just think, for season two, we gotta figure out a way to make sure that the footsteps don’t get in the way of the sound.

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