Adam Gillham interview: ‘I May Destroy You’ cinematographer

“Visually, I always wanted it to be very simple and very direct,” explains cinematographer Adam Gillham of his approach to shooting “I May Destroy You.” The project, from writer and director Michaela Coel, is intensely personal and intimate. When HBO got involved in the limited series, the scale grew, but Gillham made sure “it retained that small, intimate sense.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“I May Destroy You” follows Arabella (Coel), a social media influencer turned novelist. When she is sexually assaulted at a club, she attempts to find a new path forward in life with the help of her close friends. But they all learn that dynamics of power and consent play a role in nearly every aspect of their lives.

As the series explores this topic, much of the emotion is left for the actors to display on their faces, rather than express with monologues. As a result, plenty of extreme closeups are employed. Gillham admits he doesn’t “really remember that being a conscious choice to shoot that way.” The cinematographer describes the process on set as “intuitive” and “very loose.” Sam Miller, who co-directed many episodes with Coel, is likely responsible for Gillham’s many closeups. Miller often requested one last pass of a scene that utilized a different style, in hopes of unlocking something new. He reveals that this final experimental shot usually wound up being a close up. It was the shot he “felt the most free about executing… it’s designed to get inside the character.”

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Coel also supported the freeform shooting style. For one sequence during Episode 9, “Social Media is a Great Way to Connect,” Arabella appears to glow as she floats down the street towards the camera, social media posts exploding around her. Gillham remembers that Coel “mentioned it should feel like she’s on fire.” The crew quickly built a device that would allow the actress to glide along the ground and he employed lighting that “effectively was as though she was surrounded by flames.”

Ideas such as this were frequently proposed by Coel close to the time of the shoot. Gillham loved the creative atmosphere this created because the work remained experimental. He was always on his feet, always thinking in the moment. “We always felt like we could experiment and there was very little in the way of restraint,” notes the cinematographer. “We could risk making mistakes. We could risk failure.”

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UPLOADED May 23, 2021 8:49 pm