12-22-2023 - Case Study
Shot on VENICE 2: DP Bernard Couture shares an up-close look at the highly anticipated second season of ‘Reacher’
By: Victoria Graham
After a wildly successful first season, Couture was tasked with reimaging the epic series by bringing a darker, edgier look to the show. The results? A perfect score by audiences and critics alike.
Bernard Couture is best known for his work on A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017) and Altered Carbon (2018) and has a reputation for bringing highly stylized shots and unique lighting elements to his projects. When the Canadian born DP was approached by Amazon to reimagine the look of the second season of Reacher, he brought his daring and artistic style developed in Quebec.
Developing the look for Reacher: Season Two
The second season of Reacher debuted earlier this month with a nearly impossible perfect score by both critics and viewers. Critic Adrian Ruiz noted, “Reacher is Sherlock Holmes meets ‘Commando’ in the best ways possible. Jack Reacher brings all the physical presence of an 80s action movie star while maintaining the mental ability of a 90s crime-thriller detective.”
For the second season, Couture once again shared DP responsibilities with Michael McMurray and the production was tasked with creating an edgier look. Couture met with Director Sam Hill to develop the new look for season two. They wanted to push the envelope and give the viewers more movement and contrast to create more dramatic imagery. This can be a difficult balancing act.
Couture often plays with light and color to depict transitions in place and time. The second season of Reacher bounces between present day and the past. Couture created flashback scenes with warmer, golden tones. He also uses color separation to add depth as he explains, “when I have a very warm looking scene, I like to put coolness or another color in the back that's going to make the picture feel more three-dimensional. When we have these scenes that are cooler, we can add a touch of warmth, a touch of green or something, so it's not too monochromatic. It's one big part of giving a show more depth.”
Reacher’s cinematic style
One of the major recurring elements of the show’s look is Reacher’s size. Both the books and the show require Reacher to be a large, intimidating figure. Likewise, part of the Reacher cinematic style is to ensure Reacher is always the largest person in the frame. Couture explains, “When doing a wide shot, sometimes you must put the camera at a certain angle to ensure that perception of height. If he is with another tall person, you may have to raise him a bit just to make him look a bit bigger.”
Another subtle treatment is often used to create a feeling of closeness. The trick? A short lens for closeup shots. “I would say about 80% of closeups are shot with a very specific, 24mm lens. What it does is give you more presence of the character. When you're on a short lens and you lean forward, you feel more like he is moving toward you, while we tend to use a wide lens for most other shots. This is quite particular because when you are shooting with a short lens, you lose the ability to add a second camera. Since the camera has to be so close, you don’t have access to the actor with a second camera.”
“Creating this look is a big commitment. It forces you to shoot directly in the actors’ eyes, and they are unable to look at other actors in the scene. He has to look inside a matte box, and that's really demanding on the actors, but it makes a very strong contact with the audience. It feels more intimate.”
The last major element of the Reacher season two style would be the use of darkness. As Couture recalls, “Someone may say ‘I want it darker.’ But, darker for you, darker for him, darker for me, are three different tastes and perspectives. It can become a juggling act to capture each person’s vision for what that means.” Couture urges filmmakers not to fear using darkness as a cinematic device.
Working with Sony VENICE
Season one of Reacher was shot on both VENICE and VENICE 2 cameras so, naturally, it made sense to keep continuity in the look of the show. Couture observes that both cameras and lenses add their own unique textures. “Camera is part of the look. The Sony VENICE camera is very good in low light, extremely good. It has extremely good definition as well and the internal NDs are extremely nice to have.”
After camera selection, choices regarding lenses, color correction, and lighting bring it all together. “There were certain aspects from the look of season one look that week needed to keep, and then you bring a little salt and pepper of your own, and you just put your spices in it, and it just becomes your own somehow, but also respecting what came before. The show was already such a success, we needed to carry it through while adding just a touch more.”
In season one, Mini Hawk lenses were paired with the VENICE. The lens looks like an anamorphic, but it is actually a spherical lens. “It's constructed in a very particular way with an oval iris, which is not typical. Usually, there's one iris, but this lens has two irises. One permits light to go in, and the other one gives a shape to the highlights. For season two, the production moved to the Hawk MHK Hybrid Anamorphic lenses. Couture explains, “This is significant because the large format introduction in year two gave a big plus factor in the depth perception and in the closeness. We got the first set ever coming out of Hawk. It has a bit of an old-fashioned texture to it because the way it's built and how many elements are in the glass and the irises, it gives it the special touch. The lenses have a texture of their own that works well for the show. I think this is what helps give Reacher it’s unique look.”
Catch the latest episodes of Reacher streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.