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Tone, Technique and Tension: Making the Hulu Thriller Series ‘Chance’

DP Terry Stacey uses film noir texture “to push the mood into a psychological tone and language.”

Few cinematographers attempting to portray a “provocative psychological thriller” would turn down the opportunity to use the streets and landmarks of San Francisco as a real-world soundstage.

Terry Stacey, director of photography for the premiere season of Chance, an original series that premieres October 19 on Hulu, says the first episodes feature film noir texture “to push the mood into a psychological tone and language.” He directed an evocative lighting technique, with “a heightened, naturalistic playing with contrast and color.”

The series, which was picked up for two seasons on Hulu, focuses on Eldon Chance (Hugh Laurie), a San Francisco forensic neuropsychiatrist who is sucked into a violent and dangerous world of mistaken identity, police corruption and mental illness. Following a bad decision regarding a female patient (Gretchen Mol), Chance finds himself the unwitting target of her abusive spouse (Paul Adelstein), a ruthless police detective.

Hugh Laurie and Gretchen Mol. Photo by David Moir.

“We’re shooting on the [ARRI] Alexa Mini, which is great for handheld and Steadicam and when in cars,” he describes. “We’re filming in anamorphic, which is unusual for television, formatted for 1:66. We’re using max resolution for desqueezed anamorphic, which I think is 2.8K, and delivering UHD. In my mind, the Alexa is the closest that digital cameras come to film latitude and color rendition and skin tone.”

Stacey decided on Panavision G series lenses for the Chance shoot. “The [lenses] resolve with a beautiful liquid feel … very visceral, with a great and shallow falloff. It’s hard on the focus pullers, but we’re extremely lucky to have amazing ones,” he says, “especially Patrick McCardle.”

“This city has so much texture,” Stacy adds. “The architecture is so great, with all the impossibly steep streets. But it’s really the light that’s so unusual—especially the fog that blows in from the Pacific Ocean. But the challenging thing is that it always burns off at mid-morning, often right in the middle of a scene.”

Hugh Laurie and Ethan Suplee. Photo by David Moir.

While shooting on location in San Francisco provides advantages from an artistic perspective, Stacey notes that the Bay Area counters with logistical considerations that can challenge any film crew, including a relative paucity of production incentives. “Logistically it’s a nightmare to shoot here, but it’s very rewarding,” he concludes.

While the demands of shooting a television series can be relentless—often requiring several DPs to alternate between weekly episodic shoots—Stacey has served as director of photography for virtually the entire first season. “I enjoy having that control and consistency, but it’s hard since I don’t really get to tech scout [except] maybe on the occasional weekend. Still, I guess that’s good because it keeps me on my toes and flexible,” he adds. “After this, I feel like I could shoot any situation anywhere. It’s like that old saying, ‘You have to stay loose if you want to rock ’n’ roll.’”