A version of this story about “Master of None” first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
If you have seen any of the third season of Netflix’s Emmy-winning “Master of None,” it’s readily apparent that it looks quite different from other seasons, almost to the point of wondering if you clicked on the right series from your onscreen menu. Not only is series lead Aziz Ansari’s Dev largely absent (he appears in one extended dinner party scene, however, and directed every episode), but the focus is on Dev’s best friend Denise (series co-writer Lena Waithe) and her unpredictable marriage to Alicia (Naomi Ackie). But the boldest nuance is the show’s lush new appearance: shifting from digital to old-fashioned film stock, with the newly-cool-again 4:3 ratio more often seen in modern arthouse films (“The Lighthouse,” “American Honey”).
“Aziz had known for the start that he wanted to shoot this on film”, says cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, best known for his bold, ratio-bending work with visionary, Oscar-nominated Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “Dogtooth”). “And I wasn’t sure I could do it, the creators actually visited me in Greece to convince me to do it. But it managed to work out.”
The show is typically notable for its nervy, NYC-based energy (with a notable dip into Italian neorealism in Season 2), but this scenes-from-a-marriage departure subtitled “Moments in Love” is more like, well, “Scenes from a Marriage,” the Ingmar Bergman-directed drama about the increasingly fraught inner life of a longtime couple. But while Bergman was on everyone’s mind, the impetus lies in a less obvious source.
“Aziz was very influenced by look of director Chantal Akerman”, referring to the legendary Belgian director best known for films such as “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” a three-hour plus drama about a sex worker and housewife balancing clients, motherhood and the rigors of meatloaf, told in static long takes that continually build in anticipation for the adventurous viewer. “We always wanted the focus to be on the people and Lena and Naomi were incredible with the process”, says the Athens native, adding that the actresses often used improvisation within the scenes, which adds even more to the captured spontaneity.
“We completely built [the central] house in a studio, and we wanted it to have a very naturalistic look,” says Bakatakis, noting the wistful glow we see from candles and lamps throughout the season. “Usually, a studio to film in will have very high ceilings, but we worked with production designer Amy Williams — who I have actually worked with before [on the 2012 movie “Keep the Lights On” — to create that low-ceiling look that made it seem like you were inside a real house. Even though it is a TV series, it felt very much like making small films.”
The roaming, peaceful English countryside locations doubled as upstate New York in “Master of None,” which allowed the cast and crew to socially distance with more ease during the pandemic (not to mention the already distanced lensing), save for one car scene in the final episode of the season where the camera quite briskly moves within a car scene. “That was the hardest thing because you were not allowed to share a car with other people, or be close to them in any way, so everyone needed to be in a separate car”, says Bakatakis. “It was a first-time thing for everyone, with the 10-hour masking and such, and it made our lives a little difficult. But we were all having so much fun. I’m so happy ultimately that I did this project.”
“Master of None” is available to stream on Netflix