tells Joey Moser (Awards Daily) what’s different between Seasons
1 and 2.
first episode of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag”
is a doozy. At an engagement dinner, many secrets come out, and it
culminates in multiple people getting punched in the nose. While Waller-Bridge’s
“Fleabag” continues to glance at us throughout the evening,
it is cinematographer Tony Miller who makes us feel like we are sitting
at the table for the dinner from hell. Throughout the entire season,
“Fleabag” looks through Miller’s camera to gaze
There are a lot of themes of light and dark in “Fleabag” and Miller’s
lighting reflects that throughout this second season. As “Fleabag” falls
for Andrew Scott’s priest, she exposes herself to him in scenes
of surprising vulnerability. There is a lot to laugh at throughout
Waller-Bridge’s magnum opus, but Miller’s placement of
the camera is paramount to the emotional payoff.
In terms of the nomination, was it a surprise to you? “Fleabag” was really represented in this yearís nominations.
You just never know what you’re going to be nominated for. The
things I think I might be nominated for, I don’t get it. When
we were making “Fleabag” Season 2, I think we all thought that this
was Phoebe’s masterpiece. Season 1 was very successful, and
it was very unusual. But the second season, when we were making it,
felt like it could be very successful. You’re like a player
in the drama. You are because of the camera. You’re breaking
the fourth wall. and you’re implicated in a way.
Do you feel closer to “Fleabag” since youíre right there?
I got hired on this because I wanted to reveal - through the lighting
and camerawork - the emotional context of the characters. I wanted
to try to do that in a way that was cinematic but also seriously implicated
our audience. The psychological journey that “Fleabag”
takes is something we can all relate to - her dastardly behavior,
her dysfunctional family, her aggressive sister, her partners that
we want to get rid of because they embarrass us. The breaking of the
fourth wall is absolutely central in being complicit in her journey.
There were many ground rules that we established for ourselves. First,
I shot Phoebe from lots of different angles with different lenses.
I chose the anamorphic frame because it allows relationships within
the frame, and we decided that every time “Fleabag” looks
at us, we must find her attractive. She is a conduit through the camera
to us. She reveals herself in those moments, and those revelations
hopefully trigger us. I wanted to make her beautiful at that time,
because she’s often so bad that I wanted to shoot her in a way
that went against that. I looked at theatrical films of the 50’s
like “Sabrina”, and Gordon Willis’ masterpiece photography
in “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan”. What did
come across was I wanted to cross-light her. If we were ever aware
of the cinematography, I failed. The whole thing was handheld, except
for two or three Steadicam moments in the season. That let me dance
around and try to catch those moments that felt more organic. I could
have never done it with just lighting it. I had to light and operate
it - which is not the norm for a lot of TV work. It had to have that
intimacy with the actors. We were all great friends now, and I have
to be close to them in order to do this.
You worked on both seasons. Was shooting “Fleabag” different in Season 2 because she was making such a conscious effort to make changes in her life?
We knew the characters more this time. “Fleabag” is trying
to be good, but she’s fundamentally the same person. She doesn’t
succeed all the time, but this season felt psychologically darker.
In episode one, there’s a Freudian sense to this deep family
dysfunction that informs Phoebe and how she is. There’s all
kind of shit going on, and I think the lighting had to be darker.
I’m always interested in what’s dark and what’s
light. Light reveals emotion. There’s this claustrophobia at
that table, and Phoebe has to retreat to have a smoke or go to the
bathroom. As a cinematographer, I’m really close to those emotional
beats. I’ve never done a Season 2 before. This was very much
an ensemble piece. I found lighting this was harder than with something
period and fantasy like “Carnival Row” that I finished
for Amazon. You kind of know where you are with “Fleabag”,
but it felt like unchartered territory because it broke that wall
with the audience. We wanted to avoid the tropes of any other comedy.
Phoebeís voice is so singular, so I think it helps that we can hear her voice in everything she writes. Whether itís “Killing Eve” or “Fleabag” - we can hear her in her words and “Fleabag” has created its own style.
It’s a psychologically deeper piece of work, and you have to
approach the cinematography from that emotional point of view. You
have to ask the questions about lighting around the characters so
they can reveal themselves in what they do or don’t say. The
emotion has to work on many levels. Sometimes it’s very funny,
but it’s always dark. In the end, The Priest chooses his faith
and she can’t believe. If it touches the audience, it works,
and the cinematography has to do the same. Phoebe makes it fun. “Killing
Eve” is more of a genre show, and “Fleabag” has this contradiction of
realism with being cinematic.
And thatís what I love about the second season. That last scene between Phoebe and Andrew makes me cry like an idiot every time I watch it. I do think it touches a lot of people.
That realism is there.
If The Priest wouldíve picked “Fleabag” over his faith, I donít think it wouldíve felt as true.
It would have been a much bigger political statement than it would
be a statement about two lost souls who are trying to find themselves.
To be honest, that’s many of us
in relationships. That’s why I think it’s such a brilliant
end. We fought for that bus stop, and we wanted it to be a profound
atmosphere. We wanted it to feel lonely, and we wanted to leave them
both, in a way, lonely. Look at Edward Hopper, the great American
painter who created loneliness so carefully. The end sequence is highly
influenced cinematically by Hopper because of his ability to create
that loneliness. The scenes in the toilet in the first episode were
about that, too. With Claire in the stall and her miscarriage and
the breakdown of her marriage. She’s fucked. She’s lost
and totally in a mess. Claire has to come out fighting. The emotions
have to be revealed through the photography. I’m so glad to
hear you love the ending.
I do. I love it so much. I have never seen a show end where the characters tell the audience to stop following her. I think itís one of my all time favorite endings. Itís beautiful.
I had a moment of sadness there, because there wouldn’t be any
more “Fleabag” after that. I had a moment there when Phoebe tells the
camera to not follow her anymore.
One of my other favorite shots is when “Fleabag” and The Priest are kissing and the picture falls. We watch Andrew Scott walk away and heís walking through pools of light. Do you have a favorite shot that you created?
I do love that shot, and that was influenced from growing up in Holland
and learning about how Van Gogh would always paint people from behind.
There was always something about “Fleabag” and loving his neck and loving
his back. We always think we need to see people’s faces. I got
a shiver down my spine during that, and it just felt very weirdly
intimate. I wanted him going through light because we don’t
show everything. We needed to do that there. Another shot I like is
the scene in the toilet, and I love seeing Phoebe go out to smoke.
They break the mood in a way. There’s quite a few shots where
I can still feel it in the camera.
Going from light to almost darkness, the confessional scene is done in almost complete darkness. Itís almost swallowing her, and the editing almost never breaks from her. Did you want that to be her most vulnerable point?
It’s the deepest she goes, but it also relates to almost all
her experiences. Its layered with meaning because she’s in that
small confessional. It had to be dark, but the light had to come from
where The Priest was. He was the shining light of her life at that
moment, and that’s why it comes from there. I pushed to do it
in one shot. I didn’t want to cut this. We hardly even show
him, but we know he’s there. We had to feel him. It’s
one of her [most] revelatory moments of the entire season. And that
supports how I think this season is much more mature and darker. Phoebe
was really involved with how the cinematography worked with breaking
the fourth wall. How do we make it engaging? How do we make our audience
never bounce out? It must totally feel like they are with “Fleabag”,
and we draw them into the emotions.
Interview by Joey Moser -