A version of this story about the cinematography of “Poker Face” first appeared in the comedy series theme from TheWrap Awards Magazine.
Cinematographer Steve Yedlin has collaborated with two-time Oscar nominee Rian Johnson on every feature the latter has made, from 2005’s junior crime novel “Brick” to the mind-bending sci-fi “Looper” to the groundbreaking “Star Wars.” : The Last Jedi”. ” to last year’s “Knives Out” sequel, “Glass Onion,” and admits that “Poker Face,” Peacock’s cunning mystery fox (for the uninitiated, imagine a gender-swapped “Columbo” doing time in a “Pretty malevolent “Love Boat” which instead remains anchored in different cities), is just part of a larger theme in their careers.
“Weirdly, I’ve been a ‘Columbo’ fan since I was a kid,” Yedlin said. “And I think for Rian, it’s actually something more recent. Near the start of the lockdown in 2020, he had been talking to me about [the show] in the abstract. And then all of a sudden I had a complete script for the pilot.”
The result was a 10-part detective series with Natasha Lyonne starring as a cheeky bloodhound who finds herself in the right place at the wrong time on the run from thugs and solving local mysteries, ranging from an embroiled barbecue entrepreneur from a shady deal to nursing home residents taking revenge on an old colleague, Hollywood makeup artists caught up in an assassination plot, and even washed-up actors sabotaging each other during dinner theater, with nearly every part played by familiar faces. of stage and screen, some of whom have even starred opposite Lyonne in other projects.
“I think the idea was to embrace that storytelling and each of these episodes is a reboot,” Yedlin said of his process, working as a cinematographer for both the pilot and the winter storm chiller “Escape from S–t Mountain.” with Lyonne getting tangled up. with the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a Rian Johnson staple) and recent Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu. “We thought, let’s use that to tell the best story possible and not try to impose any kind of photography rules.”
And the nostalgic look of “Poker Face,” praised by viewers for its 1970s aesthetic, is no accident either. It’s helpful that Yedlin is not only a first-class cinematographer, but also a self-taught coder who has created his own local system for determining the look of his projects through color and screen, and even has his own site. Complete web with several tutorials that are catnip for the youngest.
“Around 2004, it started to look like we’d be forced into this digital thing, and whether or not it’s going to be ready is a different thing,” he explained. “But the thing was: How can we do this to the best of our ability, even if it’s not even the preferred method? But now, in terms of technology, we can know how much data we are capturing and collecting. So now it’s just a question of, ‘How do you sculpt the data you’ve got and prepare it to be viewed?’”
The partnership with Johnson has paid off, especially since the duo rarely make the same type of film twice, even when it’s a blockbuster sequel to a blockbuster, or even a literal “Star Wars” universe blockbuster. Wars” that vibrantly resembles an Akira Kurosawa movie.
Yedlin added: “It comes from Rian’s creativity, he’s just a brilliant visual storyteller, even comparing ‘Glass Onion’ and ‘Knives Out,’ even if you use the same kind of problem-solving principles, you’ll automatically get a totally different look, because you’re talking about sun-drenched Greece compared to windy New England.”
And detail is key, which helps when your cinematographer is also very adept at color grading, even in an episode shrouded in darkness and a bit of a visual departure from previously aired installments.
“A great example of fine grained [of this] it’s in episode 9, ‘Escape from S–t Mountain,’ which was actually the first one-shot, and Rian had this great visual concept that it’s dark, and Joe should be completely bathed in the red of streetlights. stop,” Yedlin recalled. “But, on the other hand, he has no visual rules and he is not imposing how I am going to do it. He lets me make things up. And then he gets excited about the details. It’s this incredible confidence and brilliance on the part of him.”