Posted on May 26, 2020
by Julian Mitchell
Netflix musical drama The Eddy, set among Paris’s vibrant jazz scene, fuses the convention-breaking camerawork of the French new wave with a modern sensibility
When you’ve already directed critically acclaimed films like La La Land, First Man and Whiplash, where do you go from there? Well, Damien Chazelle’s next project is not a film, but rather an eight-part Netflix Original drama called The Eddy. Chazelle directed two episodes of the new series, which takes place in the vibrant, multicultural neighbourhoods of contemporary Paris, with the story revolving around the eponymous jazz club. And it’s filmed with all the freestyling improvisation of an accomplished musical ensemble.
“What was most important to creating this show was an understanding of jazz,” explains Julien Poupard, AFC, who was DOP on episodes 3, 4, 7 and 8 of The Eddy, and is also known for his work on the 2019 film, Les Misérables. “I felt I had to feel like a jazz musician in order to be confident that my camera movement was in syncopation with the performances.”
Chazelle himself is no stranger to portraying music on screen. He studied filmmaking at Harvard and made live jazz performances a feature of his first film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (which was shot in black & white on 16mm), before making the breakthrough hit Whiplash, inspired by his own earlier experiences as a jazz drummer at high school in New Jersey. His next film, the musical romance La La Land, is about a jazz pianist and recalls Technicolor musicals like An American in Paris.
However, for the grungy nightclub scene in The Eddy, the director chose a vérité style, using the 16mm format, which, albeit not an officially recommended capture format for Netflix, was approved on the merit of the creative vision.
“Damien wanted to shoot film, because he loves film and I’ve shot on film for the major part of my career,” explains cinematographer Éric Gautier, AFC, who set the tone for the series in the first two episodes, which were directed by Chazelle.
“It just seemed the right medium to capture the spirit of the nouvelle vague, but trained on a modern story set in the Paris of today.”
French New Wave
The Eddy was scripted by Jack Thorne, also known for his work on His Dark Materials. It charts the struggles of Elliot Udo, who is played by André Holland. Elliot is an American co-owner of a Parisian jazz club and manager of the house band. Not only is his business partner, Farid, involved in some questionable practices, but when Elliot’s teenage daughter, Julie, arrives in Paris to live with him, his personal and professional worlds start to unravel.
Chazelle and Gautier, along with Poupard and Marie Spencer (DOP on episodes 5 and 6), as well as directors Alan Poul, Houda Benyamina and Laïla Marrakchi, were all part of creative discussions. One obvious touchstone was the French new wave, which broke the rules of filmmaking in the sixties and gave the camera a new sense of liberty. But the most important inspiration for the team was the jazz itself – not least because the music in the series is filmed live.
Poupard explains: “Damien and Éric encouraged our actors and musicians to improvise and they also encouraged me to capture that energy by improvising the camera movement and the composition – and by taking risks.” If that meant that certain shots were under- or overexposed, or the framing on the (largely handheld) camerawork wasn’t quite perfect, this only added to the raw quality of the aesthetic.
“Any odd piece of framing, flaring or exposure was interesting to us, because we didn’t want to build an image that was too perfect,” Poupard adds. “Only by permitting ourselves the freedom to move the camera with the rhythm of the moment could we arrive at the true emotion of the characters.”
In preparation, Poupard threw himself into Paris’ vibrant jazz scene. “There are a lot of small clubs in the 20th arrondissement that attract a young crowd,” he points out. “I went to a lot of concerts, which was fantastic preparation.”
The series features a number of new jazz songs by Jagged Little Pill producer Glen Ballard, which are performed in rehearsals, auditions, open-mic nights, concerts, jam sessions and spontaneous scenes where characters start playing a piano or trumpet.
The 16mm footage was scanned to 4K at the end of post, while the rest of the series was shot digitally in native 4K.
This presented the filmmakers with an interesting challenge, Poupard says.
“Damien, Eric and I discussed how we could best translate the aesthetic to digital and concluded that we shouldn’t try to match it exactly. The aim was to find a close match of the colour, contrast and lighting, while at the same time leaving room to interpret our episodes differently.”
Narratively, this made sense, since each of the episodes focuses on a different character’s story. Aesthetically, too, it is in keeping with the goal of retaining idiosyncrasies in the raw footage, rather than seeking total control over the image.
“For me, it was important not to do the same thing all the time,” Poupard says. “Not to exactly match Éric’s work and not to establish too rigorous a formula.”
Gautier explains they felt the Red Helium 8K sensor was the best option for carrying over the film look, and the best digital system for transitioning the workflow. “Red offered a texture that was not too far from film and better than other digital cinema cameras for what we wanted to achieve.”
Poupard adds that the Red Helium was chosen primarily because he could crop the Super 35 8K sensor to match that of Super 16, but still record at 4K resolution. “Shooting with a sensor the same size as Super 16, rather than cropping in post, gave us exactly the same angle of view and the same depth-of-field.”
To maintain visual consistency, they retained the same set of Zeiss Classic T2.1 glass used in the first episodes. Gautier’s gaffer, Eric Baraillon, also worked with Poupard and Spencer throughout their shoot. The show went through an ACES colour pipeline, aided by Gautier’s long-time colourist, Isabelle Julien. Colour scientist Florine Bel also provided Julien support for episodes 3 and 4.
“ACES is a huge colour space, so we had to create a special LUT,” explains Poupard. “We shot Redcode Raw and made tests to find the right shade of each blue and red. If we had too much colour in the frame we had to shut down, say, the blue and the green. It was very complex.” The deliverable to Netflix had an aspect ratio of 1.85 and was in both HDR and SDR.
“We shot for HDR delivery but didn’t have HDR monitoring on-set,” says Poupard. “In the final grade, we graded in HDR before Isabelle made the conversion for SDR.”
Having set the template for the series, Gautier is keen that a second series – should one be greenlit – take on the baton and experiment further. “I’d like to see an evolution in stylistic differences in mood and lighting that we began with this series, but taken further,” he insists. “Nothing should stand still.”
Constant evolution – just like the best free jazz.
The Eddy was released worldwide on Netflix on 8 May.