Entering in the third block, DOP Vanessa Whyte explains how she honoured the glossy look of Ted Lasso – and seized hold of the visual reins for its spin-off episode.
In 2018, Vanessa Whyte was named one of the Bafta Breakthrough Brits. She shot 2017’s Murdered for Being Different, a winner at the Baftas and Royal Television Society Awards, for director Paul Andrew Williams. The pair teamed up again to shoot the six-part ITV series A Confession, also Bafta-nominated, starring acting royalty Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton.
Whyte’s skill set has since caught the attention of overseas streamers; her most recent work can be seen with episodes 7, 8 and 9 in Season 2 of Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso. Jason Sudeikis plays the eponymous lead, an American football coach hired to manage a Premier League team, despite having no experience in the sport. But what he lacks in expertise, he makes up for with radical optimism and determination.
Entering the show in a later block meant Whyte had to do due diligence to earlier episodes shot by different DOPs – as well as pay respect to the style of the first season. “Although it’s set in Richmond, London, it’s still an American show, and there’s a visual language that ties in with that. It’s extremely glossy and everyone looks gorgeous. Think Notting Hill – a slightly heightened version of reality,” Whyte explains. “Our job was to make all the actors look fabulous on camera, and do justice to the amazing work of the costume and makeup department. That really wasn’t hard, actually, because they were all very beautiful to begin with.”
Lighting was paramount to creating this rose-tinted view of London, and required a tremendous kit package. Fortunately, Whyte was able to work with gaffers John Attwood and Richard Harris, who lit both seasons of the show and had superb grounding in the approach. “They’re well-versed in the Ted Lasso world, so it was incredibly helpful to have their support on the visuals. All the sets, from the AFC Richmond training ground to the Crown and Anchor pub, are pre-lit, but we then supplement that with the requirements for each scene. Working with a big-budget streamer like Apple TV+ meant we had everything we could possibly need,” she explains.
GO YOUR OWN WAY
While Ted Lasso is billed as a comedy, it is a show which illustrates that humour sometimes stems from the dark moments in life. These scenes predominantly take place in Whyte’s episodes. “The focus with my work is on men’s mental health, so I tried to treat those more serious scenes with the same intent I would a drama; creating a bit more contrast or darkness to reflect the mood of the characters,” explains Whyte.
“In episode 8, AFC Richmond play Man City at Wembley – it’s the first time the team have made it there. Football fans in the crew were overjoyed, and working closely with the VFX team, I was excited about what I’d get to create. Wembley hadn’t featured in the show before; my job was to make it as epic as possible, using drones, cranes and lots of VFX for crowd replacements.”
She continues: “But, interestingly, in that same Wembley episode, there is an emotional moment shared between two characters in the locker room. Even though it’s an incredibly fancy space, I stripped it back and went handheld. That was about them – not their surroundings – and it was a unique opportunity to go from really big to intimate in the same location.”
Episodes 7 and 8 are visually rooted within the glossy Ted Lasso universe. But episode 9 is a spin-off focusing on Coach Beard, Ted’s assistant coach, as he stalks into the night towards some unknown destination, following a humiliating loss at Wembley. For this, Whyte was given the visual steer.
The episode, entitled ‘Beard After Hours’, exists to show that the characters have lives outside Lasso’s jaunty view of the world. It reveals itself as an acknowledgement to Martin Scorsese’s film After Hours, which sends an unremarkable New Yorker through the city’s dark and wild underside. Here, our seemingly ordinary Coach Beard is in London, and as he walks its streets – rose-tinted glasses removed – we are given a window into his life.
“I took inspiration for the visuals from the script. It was quite a bold vision, with references to A Clockwork Orange and, of course, After Hours,” she explains. “The show is shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini LF, but for this one episode I chose to switch to the Sony Venice because of the night exterior work. It was set entirely at twilight – in central London – and there are restrictions around the amount of equipment you are allowed to bring into that part of town late at night. So, I needed a camera with a little extra sensitivity.”
She continues: “We did consider whether it would look consistent with the rest of the show, but were still using the same Tokina Vista lenses – which are gorgeous, and very flattering on the skin – and the same colourist. The episode stands alone, with new locations and the introduction of new characters. It’s Coach Beard’s world, not Ted Lasso’s.”
CREATING SPACE FOR WOMEN
In addition to her on-set achievements, Whyte continues to accomplish more groundbreaking work even further behind the scenes. In 2016, she and DOP friend Catherine Goldschmidt co-founded the collective Illuminatrix, to give exposure to female cinematographers based in the UK – and it was through this society that Whyte was introduced to CVP. She explains: “We have regular meet-ups, and were always getting together in noisy Soho pubs, which wasn’t ideal. When Aaron George from CVP found out about what we were doing, they offered us their Creative Space to host our meetings.”
A joint project between CVP and ARRI, the Creative Space blends meetings, events and networking with a production solutions showroom packed with the latest ARRI gear, including the Alexa Mini LF, Hi-5 and Signature Primes, as well as complimentary equipment supplied by Codex, OConnor, Ronford Baker and Hawk-Woods. “It offers us a unique destination right at the heart of London and provides the perfect environment to meet up, gather information and discover what’s new. It’s such a fantastic place – and you definitely don’t miss the pub,” laughs Whyte.