True to Form: Director of photography Ross Riege talks lenses, lighting and the ever-changing look of murder-mystery-comedy The Afterparty.
Jennifer Vineyard, EMMYS.COM
August 21, 2023
Ross Riege felt guilty. As director of photography on The Afterparty, he wasn't the culprit behind the second season's whodunit (a groom dies after a lavish wedding, leaving a trail of suspects among family and guests). But if Tiffany Haddish's Detective Danner were to ask Riege to explain his whereabouts the night of the murder, he'd have to confess that he felt guilty only because he had so many weapons to evoke each mise-en- scène.
"I mean, it's laughable," Riege says. "The tools we have now compared to what they had in the 1940s, or even the 1990s, from the sensitivity of the cameras to the sophistication of the lights and the control of color? Man, if we were shooting this on 50/50 speed, black-and-white stock, with not much more time, how would I have gotten this done? I feel fortunate to be working now, and then thinking back like, 'How did they do this in the original genre?'"
To push the different looks as far as he could, Riege juggled a range of aspect ratios, lens sets, filtration and lighting for the same sets, to emphasize elements of the story that exist in one character's version but not in another's. The goal wasn't to rip off a style, but to develop the language of that style.
Sometimes that even meant gravitating toward tropes associated with a particular director — such as, say, Wes Anderson or Alfred Hitchcock. "It's a DP's dream," Riege says. "Every episode you're changing up styles and exploring different things, as a tribute. It was like, 'Okay, let's go!'"
EPISODE 1, "ANIQ 2: THE SEQUEL," AIRDATE: JULY 12, 2023
"This is the baseline. There is a lot of tonal stuff that puts it into rom-com territory. It's very high-key, broad, bright, accessible. I was referencing Hallmark movies with twinkle lights in the background, just to add the focus that you're used to seeing in a lot of those.""
EPISODE 2, "GRACE," AIRDATE: JULY 12, 2023
"The Jane Austen episode. Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice was the biggest reference, the constant use of longer zooms as slow creeps, to connect characters' longing. And Emma, the way Emma's lit. With all that candlelight, you can lean into the warmer golds and earth tones.
EPISODE 3, "TRAVIS," AIRDATE: JULY 19, 2023
"Before we started shooting, we did a lot of side-by-side with images from Casablanca and Double Indemnity, exploring the nuances of how they lit it. Black-and-white was the biggest opportunity to do something different and fun, but also the biggest risk to screw up."
EPISODE 4, "HANNAH," AIRDATE: JULY 26, 2023
"The Wes Anderson style is very specific. After title-card sequences, we jump out to very composed anamorphic stuff. A handful of times, I was like, 'What would happen if we just asked Wes to come in and direct this episode? How hard would he laugh at us?"
EPISODE 5, "SEBASTIAN," AIRDATE: AUGUST 2, 2023
"The heist episode might be the one with the most intricacies. The Magna Carta of that episode was Ocean's Eleven — the camera constantly moving, keeping it slick. Longer lenses, tight close-ups, split-screen sequences. The design of that is incredible."
EPISODE 6, "DANNER'S FIRE," AIRDATE: AUGUST 9, 2023
"The '90s erotic thriller. Instead of projecting reflected pool patterns in a more modern way, we were hitting lights up with Mylar, the way you would do it in 1993. The scene at the fridge is a play on 9 ½ Weeks. Tiffany Haddish had so much fun."
EPISODE 7, "ULYSSES," AIRDATE: AUGUST 16, 2023
"We pushed for an epic romance like Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love, in terms of color. And the more flares, the better. We were in the desert during a heat wave. I remember Chris [Miller, the creator, executive producer, writer and director] saying, 'You want people's hair being blown by the wind all the time."
EPISODE 8, "FENG," AIRDATE: AUGUST 23, 2023
"Found footage, which at first made us think, 'Oh, simple.' Our camera operator [Grant Adams], who usually has this massive camera on his shoulder, was just holding up an iPhone. In a weird way, it took quite a bit of coordination to catch people as they're throwing a look."
EPISODE 9, "ISABEL," AIRDATE: AUGUST 30, 2023
"Hitchcock Technicolor. We got to do a split-diopter shot, so that was fun. Most people would shoot two takes with two different focus planes and merge them in post. We were like, 'Let's do it the way they would have done it — with the technology that they had."
EPISODE 10, "ZOË & VIVIAN," AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 6, 2023
Note: This episode contains two POVs and genres. "Zoë retells a story in the campy horror genre, to explain her alibi. There are some references to the opening scene of Scream, with the atmosphere, moonlight and tension in the shadows. The audience should be yelling at the screen, 'Don't go in there!' "Vivian's recollection of her love triangle is shot like a cheesy '80s soap opera. It's over-dramatized, with heavy diffusion. We were doing snap zooms, and by the fourth take, everybody at the monitors was dying laughing."