Avenue 5 / Eben Bolter, BSC

, Episode #106

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Exploring a new genre with Armando Iannucci’s satirical ensemble sci-fi comedy set in space.

About the Discussion

Created by satirist Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It (2005), Veep (2012), The Death of Stalin (2017)) and photographed by Eben Bolter, BSC, Avenue 5 is HBO’s science fiction comedy series about a luxury space-liner that’s knocked off course, casting its passengers and crew adrift among the stars. As bad news streams in from a stressed-out Mission Control on Earth, the facade of rule and order aboard Avenue 5 begins to break down — along with everything else on the ship.

Iannucci’s particular brand of comedy calls for a large ensemble cast — including Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods, Rebecca Front, Suzy Nakamura and Lenora Crichlow — working in a highly improvisational fashion, something Bolter (Amazon’s The Feed and Netflix’s iBoy) was almost entirely unfamiliar with.

“It’s a multi-camera comedy, which is something I never wanted to do, but it’s also a big-budget HBO sci-fi series set in space, which I couldn’t say ‘No’ to,” explains Bolter. “I tried to be as cinematic and single-camera feeling as I could with our high page count, loads of actors, no rehearsals on the day and shooting with four cameras simultaneously at all times.” 

Bolter used four Alexa Minis with Leica Summicron-C primes on the ship and Angenieux 28-70mm zooms on Earth. Working on four stages at Warner Bros. Leavesden, Bolter and gaffers Jonathan Spencer (pilot episode) and A.J. Walters (series) collaborated with production designer Simon Bowles to integrate more than three miles of RGB LED strips into the ship’s massive passenger “front of house,” while a practical-oriented “Alien-type” approach was taken for the ship’s engineering level. A hot, natural look was used for scenes on an overheated Earth. “When it came to the [visual] arc of the show, I was mostly concerned with color and making sure that we were using a full, rich palette,” the cinematographer remarks. 

A color board of uncorrected stills from the first season of Avenue 5. (Click here to enlarge. Courtesy Eben Bolter, BSC)

The color grade was performed by senior colorist Dan Cowles at Technicolor London, using a single show LUT to emulate Kodak film with added contrast and warmth. “On every project it’s great to feel a bit out of your comfort zone and to feel a bit nervous, because that means you’re trying something new and you’re learning something,” Bolter concludes. “For me, this was the ultimate example of that.

About the Cinematographer
Series cinematographer Eben Bolter, BSC on the set of Avenue 5. (Photograph courtesy HBO.)

Eben Bolter, BSC is a U.K./U.S. dual-national cinematographer, and was named a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2016. He’s known for his work on the critically acclaimed Netflix Original iBoy (2017), best-selling book adaptation Mum’s List (2016) and the award-winning Chicken (2015). Eben recently completed BBC One's The Woman in White (2017), Strangers (2018) for ITV and Amazon Prime and The Feed (2019) for Amazon Prime.

Lost in space: (Right to left, from center) Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) with "passenger liaison" Karen (Rebecca Front) and her husband Frank (Andy Buckley). (Photograph by Alex Bailey)

American Cinematographer interviews cinematographers, directors and other filmmakers to take you behind the scenes on major studio movies, independent films and popular television series.

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