Shawn Kim interview: ‘Ozark’ cinematographer

[WARNING: The above interview and following story contain spoilers about Season 4 of “Ozark.” Watch and read at your own risk.]

For cinematographer Shawn Kim, the pilot episode of “Ozark,” titled “Sugarwood,” stands out for its intensely noir elements and ability to not only present but also ramp up danger within very little time. So, when he had the chance to board the gritty Netflix drama as the DP for eight of the fourth and final season’s 14 episodes, he wanted to recapture that distinctive feeling.

“Over the seasons, we got to see this story between the Langmores and the Byrdes (Jason Bateman and Laura Linney) — it’s almost Shakespearean in a way, where they’re just kind of these opposites that are intruding into each other’s lives. And [while] expanding the narrative and the characters, you start getting lulled into a sense of, ‘Oh, I know what’s going on’,” Kim tells Gold Derby in a new webchat (watch our exclusive video interview above). “So, in this final season, it was [about] taking that and then really getting the audience on their heels a little bit again, putting them in the shadows more and making things darker — not necessarily just visually, but just [in an] overall sense of heaviness and darkness and feeling trapped in a way.”

SEE our interview with ‘Ozark’ showrunner Chris Mundy

In addition to the Ozarks, the sprawling compound of cartel boss Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) in Mexico and the City of Chicago return as important locations in the show’s fourth season. Chicago, in particular, plays an enlarged role as the Byrdes seek to establish a partnership between local pharmaceutical company Shaw Medical Solutions and their charitable foundation. Kim, who highlights the contrast between the “burnt rust” of Mexico and “saturated cyan” of both Chicago and the Ozarks, reveals that he sprinkled subtle details from one look into the other in Season 4. “I noticed the narrative, where Marty (Bateman) is this guy who’s trapped in this situation and is really trying to get out, but he’s also getting increasingly drawn into the cartel, and he’s almost a boss at some point. So, I found that intertwining really interesting,” the cinematographer explains. “What we ended up doing was: in the Ozark world, especially as the season was going on, you have the overall cyan look, but we also put in a little bit of the Mexico burnt rust into some of the highlights, the midtones and the flesh tones. And conversely, in the Mexico scenes, [which had] a saturated, burnt-rust look, we put some cyan into the shadows and into the highlights. So, there’s a little bit of cross convergence of the two worlds there — it’s a little visual metaphor for that.”

Though it is certainly not as expansive as, say, the Navarro estate or the city of Chicago, one of Kim’s favorite sets to shoot on was the Byrdes’ lakeside family home, which he describes as “the gift that [kept] on giving.” He divulges that he and his team wanted to “help the audience feel that they’re with the characters that are starting to get really stuck in their positions and [almost have] concrete on their feet.” In order to achieve this, they utilized a low-angle prism that helped them compose shots in which they could scrape at floor level or against the wall. As a result, a scene would be presented in most of a frame, but viewers would feel as though they’re stuck. “[It was] like being a fly on the wall stuck onto flypaper… You’re trying to escape, you’re trying to see a bit more, but you’re constrained by the heaviness of the scene,” he elaborates. “So, it was to add a little bit of weight and gravitas.”

SEE our interview with ‘Ozark’ director Amanda Marsalis

In our chat, Kim also discusses a hair-raising scene from Episode 12, “Trouble the Water,” in which Wendy (Linney) smashes her head into a car window as hard as she can and just lets the blood run down her forehead. This comes after her children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), are given permission by a family court judge to decide with whom to reside and they opt for Wendy’s estranged father, Nathan Davis (Richard Thomas). For the cinematographer, there was no need to actually show Wendy banging her head against the window, which is why this part occurs off screen. “You show a lot by restricting a lot,” underlines the DP, who argues that the scariest part of the entire scene is in fact the restraint on Wendy’s face. “You know why she’s doing that, and it’s jarring. So, it was about being minimal in what we show… You have a tight lens and very little information beyond just her face and her head.”

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UPLOADED Jun 11, 2022 2:00 pm