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Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin - Cinematographer Anka Malatynska Breaks Down Season 1

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The season 1 finale of HBO Max’s Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin was released last week, with the Liars finally getting some answers. Not only did Imogen (Bailee Madison), Noa (Maia Reficco), Minnie (Malia Pyles), Faran (Zaria) and Tabby (Chandler Kinney) find out what really happened with their mothers, but they also discovered who exactly had been torturing them all season. Now the big question being asked, will there be a season 2?
One of the many things that the reboot was applauded for, was the darker storyline and look. A look that was brought to life by cinematographer Anka Malatynska. This isn’t Anka’s first teen horror series, she was also the DP on Amazon Prime’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. As season 1 comes to a close, we spoke with Anka about her work on show.

How would you describe the look of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin?

A nondescript vintage time period where our characters have cell phones, laptops and modern-day devices that really embraces the 1970s, 80s art house horror genre look. Dark.

Do you have a favorite episode this season?

I love episode 7.

What did prep look like on each episode? Did any of the episodes take longer than others?

I was the only cinematographer for 7 episodes back-to-back. I had a tandem DP who would come in when I would go scout. I was shooting while I was prepping, so I was constantly working 60-to-70-hour weeks and still at night I was reading future scripts and going over future work. And then an average of two Saturdays a month I would sit down with the upcoming directors and prep their episodes. We did previs for all of our stunt work, that our stunt coordinator, Tracey Ruggiero, did and then we would incorporate the stunt team’s suggestions and their choreography in the final product of all our set sequences, what we call our set pieces. So all of those, in terms of prep, were previs. In episode 10, our final showdown, we went so far as to mock up a previs shoot of the scene and all of the stunt work because there was like a nine-page scene in the finale. So overall, prep was intense. It was constantly happening while we were shooting. The show was highly technical. It’s not like we could just show up on the day of and make it up. This series was a feat.

A lot of the sets seem pretty dark, but have light casting an eerie feel in from the windows. Was this always on purpose?

Yes, this was always on purpose. We always tried to incorporate backlighting and smoke. I think that is very much a part of the look of the show. That’s what creates the eerie, somewhat off, somewhat stylized creepy feel.

“Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” is led by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, the creator and showrunner of “Riverdale”. Were you familiar with Riverdale before working on Original Sin?

Yes, I was familiar with Riverdale before working on Original Sin. I was also familiar with Robert’s other show Katy Keene and his work as a writer/creator really fascinated me.

There are flashbacks to a forest bonfire at night time . What is key to lighting a scene like this with it still looking natural?

I think a good recipe for night is first having some sort of big backlight that pushes the scene off of the background of our forest. And sometimes what we would do is silhouette our characters against a forest or tree line by using some front lights. So you have backlight on the characters and backlight on the tree line, but you also have a little front light on the trees in the background. As far as the bonfire scene, it was actually quite simple. What’s amazing is, after years of working with lighting, when you break it down, elegant, beautiful lighting, it ends up being simple. That is for me, and my iteration of elegance. So that was mainly lit by that bonfire. I also had two 9Ks pretty close to the set, across the road, behind a tree line on a 120-foot lift giving me a 3-quarter backlight constantly. I used a little bit of local fill light using Titan Tubes and Asteras here and there, as needed. But really in many ways that was a very low highlighting situation.

What do you think is most shocking about the season 1 finale?

I think the whole story line is turned on it’s head in the finale. We didn’t expect the things that happened in the finale at all. There is a number of them and there is a shocking murder. It’s one of my favorite scenes. It leaves you feeling like anything can happen. It’s totally open ended for Season 2.

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