Recently, I had the pleasure of DPing an exciting new pilot with director Ramon Hamilton and the team at Think Ten Media Group. This is without a doubt, the most socially-charged production I've been a part of and it involved many personal and creative challenges.
"The wHOLE" follows prisoner Marcus Edwards, a man who has spent countless years in solitary confinement. Moved by his story, a young human rights lawyer offers to represent him in his effort to be released from SHU (Special Housing Unit) and serve out the remainder of his sentence among the general prison population. Through vivid flashbacks, the harsh realities of solitary confinement and the surprising reasons individuals are placed in it will be brought to the forefront. Every aspect of "The wHOLE" is based on real incidents.
OUR VISUAL APPROACH
Ramon and I had many discussions about how to capture this story and provide the viewer the most authentic experience of solitary confinement. We agreed early on that the camera should see the world as Marcus sees it, and should be confined to the cell with Marcus throughout our pilot episode. Perspective plays a huge roll in "The wHOLE," and as the season progresses, viewers will notice that even when the camera leaves Marcus' cell, it is confined to other spaces within the prison.
One of the many challenges with shooting "The wHOLE" was to capture the utter boredom and monotony of solitary, while also keeping the viewer engrossed. We shot in a small practical cell about 10'x10.' Obviously none of the walls were wild (moveable) so we decided to shoot on wider lenses as Marcus is first introduced to his space. We then consolidate the space with longer lenses as Marcus' world starts to take ahold of him.
While interviewing solitary inmates, Ramon discovered that what drives many prisoners to madness is the fact that the cell's fluorescent lights never turn off. This became a crucial motif in "The wHOLE" and even while Marcus' world takes a turn for the dark and gritty, it is still played under the flat mundane light of an overhead fluorescent.
Overall, shooting "The wHOLE" was a humbling experience. Hearing the horrific stories of ex-prisoners Five Mualimm-ak (co-producer) and William Brown (lead actor) and just being confined to a small cell for the better part of four days takes a toll on you mentally. However, it was equally encouraging to see the people and organizations that are fighting to change this. Groups like Solitary Watch, Amnesty International, ACLU and of course Think Ten Media Group. I only hope "The wHOLE" will continue to spread awareness as we work towards ending the practice of long-term solitary confinement.