Aaron McLisky talks about his epic journey behind-the-camera on ‘Glitch’

With new characters, shocking twists and unexpected turns, season three of the Logie and AACTA award-winning, ABC and Netflix paranormal drama series Glitch will keep viewers on the edge of their seats for one final epic chapter.

Cinematographer Aaron McLisky chats to us about his journey behind the camera.

By James Cunningham.

Behind-the-scenes on 'Glitch' - PHOTO Ben King
Behind-the-scenes on ‘Glitch’ – PHOTO Ben King

It was early in 2018 when cinematographer Aaron McLisky was working with Executive Producer Julie Eckersley, from Matchbox Pictures, on season three of The Family Law. Matchbox was seeking a director of photography for the third season of Glitch and Eckersley suggested to director Emma Freeman that she take a look at McLisky’s work.

I was asked to do a Skype interview with Freeman,” says McLisky. “We discussed her approach to the show and shared ideas for the season three. It was more like an informal chat than an interview. I remember we immediately had good chemistry and agreed on many things about the show.

McLisky was a fan of Glitch well before getting the job, so felt privileged to maintain a look that was loved by its fans and creative team. Freeman and McLisky discussed the show’s look and how important it was to maintain a continuity, but discussed how it evolved from season to season.

We noted the work Simon Chapman ACS had done with season one, setting the tone and palate for the world of Yoorana (the fictional town the series is set in),” McLisky explains. “We also discussed the tension and claustrophobia that Earl Dresner ACS achieved with tighter lensing and coverage style in the second season.

Returning for season three is the extraordinary Glitch ensemble cast including Patrick Brammall, Emma Booth, Rodger Corser and Sean Keenan among others. This season also welcomes new cast members including Jessica Faulkner, Harry Tseng and Jackson Gallagher.

Within the third season the characters leave Yoorana and head to the city, presenting a new world to design a look for. With the collaboration of writer and showrunner Louise Fox, Freeman and McLisky shared references and built a style guide for the new season. “I would describe the evolved approach as embracing dirty colour and heavier contrast, deepening the shadows while maintaining heat in the highlights,” says Mclisky. “I was excited to play with colour in the season and push the darkness to an unsettling place.

I was excited to play with colour in the season and push the darkness to an unsettling place.

During pre-production I had my heart set on using the ARRI Alexa, however due to Netflix’s 4K requirements my hand was forced,” says McLisky, who tested the new Sony Venice versus the Red Dragon. “I did a side-by-side comparison, working with colourist Marcus Smith at Blue Post to define the pros and cons of both camera systems. 

Knowing that I was going to mix various skin tones with urban practicals, I was pleased to see how the Sony Venice dealt with colour separation, says McLisky. “In comparison to the Red, it seemed to hold those tricky hues that sometimes breakup with digital sensors.” As the show is largely set at night, having the ability to switch the sensor to a native 2500 ISO feature, McLisky could reduce his lamp size and build larger coverage plans. 

Cinematographer Aaron McLisky gets wet, on location with 'Glitch' - PHOTO Ben King
Cinematographer Aaron McLisky gets wet filming on location ‘Glitch’ – PHOTO Ben King

In terms of lensing, I wanted versatility of speed and minimal contrast,” he says. “I settled with the ARRI Master Primes as I felt they held sharpness and have a lovely rolloff.

The shoot was in Melbourne, and McLisky wasn’t familiar with local crews. He spent a lot of time during pre-production interviewing and trying to build a team that had the right balance of experience and personality. “I was incredibly proud of my camera department who soldiered on through some of the most technically and logistically challenging times,” he says. With this project the combination of an ambitious schedule and heavy night shooting really brought us together.

The crew shot mainly locations or repurposed locations to achieve ‘glitch’ moments. When characters experience a ‘glitch’ they shift in time or place to learn clues about who they are and how they died. 

In order to achieve this we would shoot scenes that would transform in time or place,” says McLisky. “This made scheduling tricky as we would repurpose characters and props that slide between worlds. This was only made more challenging with our consistently high page count that included stunts and action sequences.” With a shooting schedule like a jigsaw puzzle, first assistant director Todd Embling made sense of it all.

Behind-the-scenes during a nightime cemetary shoot for 'Glitch' - PHOTO Ben King
Behind-the-scenes during a nightime cemetary shoot for ‘Glitch’ – PHOTO Ben King

I can’t speak highly enough of my B-Camera and Steadicam operator Heath Kerr, who through thick and thin maintained a sense of humour and focus that kept us going, says McLisky. My first assistant camera, Chris Braga, was a solid asset throughout the shoot. The whole camera department deserve endless thanks for having to adapt to the relentless pace of this shoot.

The cinematographer also makes special mention of his gripping and lighting teams. My key grip Dan Mitton was a dream to work with, constantly offering alternative solutions such as ‘The Juzell’ where his best boy wore a Steadicam vest with a stabilised head to get running shots through dense bush. My Gaffer Steve Price who always kept the craft alive whilst running his team like a drill sergeant, only to stop in moments of pressure to break the tension with a song.

Although most of the crew’s time was utilised on location, some of the Glitch sequences required built sets. Production designer Paddy Reardon often spent his weekends hand-building sets and props. The most complicated was a Chinese mining camp from the eighteen hundreds that spanned nearly thirty meters.

I think the Chinese mining camp was one of my favourite sets to shoot as the art department had done such an incredible job creating a sprawling period scene that felt like it deserved its own series,says McLisky. There was also a complicated fire sequence at the cemetery that was a personal favourite. 

McLisky knew it was impossible to create a fire big enough that would satisfy the drama; he needed to create a source of light that emulated it. So, taking inspiration from the fire rig in Skyfall (2012, cinematography by Roger Deakins CBE BSC ASC), they built lighting into the trees that surrounded the cemetery, creating a large enough source to imitate the characteristics of fire.

The crew of 'Glitch' on location - PHOTO Ben King
The crew of ‘Glitch’ on location – PHOTO Ben King

We had about ten 2k Blondies and ten Par Cans with 1/4 CTO, plus four 5k Pars on a chase that spanned about fifty meters into the bush,” he explains. “We used controlled gas fires closer to the actors to give real fire light for close ups. Then we had a 4K and two M18 on three scissor lifts providing hard and soft moonlight. I have not seen the final sequence with all the elements but from early visual effects passes it looks pretty impressive with the budget we had.

McLisky was involved in the grading process from the beginning, having done a lot of groundwork in pre-production with Marcus Smith from Blue Post. “Smith and I used the look up table (LUT) we built for dailies as a jump off point,” says McLisky. “We ended up using a Frankenstein combination of film print emulation and ARRI colour curves to find a look that we felt suited the show. The Sony Venice was a great camera from a production perspective but it needed a bit of love in the grade.

With the experience of the team and Emma Freeman at the helm, we managed to make things happen that still blow me away, says McLisky. “I am proud to say we achieved something special with the third season. If there was anything I would have done differently it would be to request for more time in pre-production, drink less coffee and sleep more. Other than that I am so humbled to be a part of such a significant Australian drama.

McLisky is now in pre-production for season two of Mr Inbetween, directed by Nash Edgerton, shooting in Sydney.

Aaron McLisky is a cinematographer whose recent credits include horror feature The School, season three of critically acclaimed SBS series The Family Law and short film Nursery Rhymes that won best cinematography at Flickerfest 2019.

James Cunningham is the Editor of Australian Cinematographer Magazine.

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