‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’ cinematographer Hilda Mercado on the ‘visual language’ used to convey a man’s dementia [Exclusive Video Interview]

During discussions about the visual style of “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey,” cinematographer Hilda Mercado says that what mattered most was “the story itself” about a man with dementia (played by Samuel L. Jackson) who regains his memories and tries to solve his nephew’s murder. Telling that story meant visualizing “all these time transitions in terms of memories, thoughts, flashbacks” and deciding “visual language and our tools that we were going to use depending on the stages of his mental state.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Mercado above.

She explains, “We wanted to treat all of those stages of his mind mechanically. And that means through lighting and lenses,” rather than digital effects, apart from the effects used to de-age Jackson for scenes set decades in the past when Ptolemy was a younger man. She and fellow director of photography Shawn Peters had “one lens in particular that we were going to use for this particular stage of his mind, and then another type of lens or technique to be used for another stage. I really liked that. That was one of the things that got me really excited.”

Beyond the technical elements of shooting “Ptolemy Grey,” though, working on the limited series makes “you start really thinking about how important our brain is, our memories. And you feel compassion and sympathy for the person that is going through that.” She adds, “That was very important for me to understand, to take it in in order for us to portray it to help the story visually.”

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