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Cinematography of Supernatural 
24th-Nov-2014 08:22 pm
Dean & vid camera
A couple years ago I was approached by fangasm to see if I would be interested in compiling some screen caps (no more than 20 from seasons 4-8) that could highlight the cinematography of the show for their book: Fan Phenomena: Supernatural (edited by Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen). I leapt at the opportunity (of course! *g*), not least because it's one of my favourite things to talk about.

In order to do this I created this post so I could share my thoughts with some fellow fans. I didn't feel like I could do this by myself so I asked galwithglasses, el1ie,and missyjack to help me with some suggestions and provide feedback on my choices and text (thank you ladies!).

This helped provide a backdrop to an interview by Lynn Zubernis with cinematographer, Serge Ladouceur. Much of this is speculation from me about what might be represented in each shot. During the interview (in the book), Serge was asked about these shots and he shed some light on the cinematic process.

I loved putting this post together so I thought I'd share it with those who might be interested in the visual meta of Supernatural.

Cinematography of Supernatural

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a Supernatural fan is being able to appreciate the gorgeous cinematography presented in each episode. It is obvious how much thought and care is taken when considering shots and it's always great fun analysing the possible meaning behind certain shot choices.

The last four seasons have given us some absolutely fabulous moments and I'm thrilled to be able to present some of my favourites.


6.08 All Dogs Go to Heaven
Director: Philip Sgricca

I have to start with one of my all time favourite shots. This is a brilliant use of architecture. The bridge feels like such a huge and heavy weight above the boys - symbolising the constant weight they have on their shoulders. It looms above them and makes them look so small and alone. The lines of the bridge, the fence and even the angled stream of light, draw the viewer's eye to the centre of the frame.


4.13 After School Special
Director: Adam Kane

I remember being absolutely blown away when this shot came up during After School Special. The building looms, setting up the element of danger and threat. The outside world is beautifully reflected in the windows, creating a sense of imprisonment. This is enhanced by the bars on the windows and the criss crossing concrete. The menace the viewer feels is later confirmed when it is revealed that the building is a psychiatric hospital. Brilliant.


4.01 Lazarus Rising
Director: Kim Manners

This is an iconic shot and I think it needs to be included in any discussion about the visuals on Supernatural. Even though it's a computer generated image there are a number of elements that tie into many other visuals on the show. There is the shadow of the cross in the centre of the giant circle.

Circles are a reccurring theme on the show so using it here is significant. The entire sequence of Dean clawing his way out of his grave is stunning. What an impressive way to capture the place Dean has just escaped from. I also adore that this overhead shot of the fallen trees looks similar to the close up of Dean's eye as the camera zooms into his Hell in No Rest for the Wicked (3.16).

The image visually references the aftermath of the famous Tunguska event which occurred in Russia in 1908. The added connection is that Kim Manners, who directed this episode, also directed the episode of the X-Files called Tunguska, in which Mulder and Krycek travel to where it happened and find the event is linked to the aliens of their mytharc.


4.21 When the Levee Breaks
Director: Robert Singer

Sam's time in the panic room in When the Levee Breaks (4.12) is made up of a number of brilliantly shot sequences. One of my favourites is where the camera pulls up to reveal that Sam is hallucinating. This fabulous overhead shot gives us three recurring images at once - the circle, the cross and the star. Sam is entrapped inside the circle and his body resembles that of an inverted cross. The star and sigils on the floor are synonymous with Supernatural. Lighting is used to brilliant effect in all of the panic room scenes. The overhead fan and skylight provide opportunities to create some gorgeous effects. Notice how Sam is surrounded by pools of circular light.

The inverted cross Sam forms, is often assumed to represent Satanism. In fact it represents the martyrdom of St Peter, who was crucified upside down. It is worn to signify humility. The fact that is overlaid on the devil's trap represents Sam struggling against evil, and the arrogance (or lack of humility) that has lead him down this dark path.


5.02 Good Good Y'All
Director: Philip Sgriccia

There is no doubt the outside scenes with the boys either by the Impala or with nature as a backdrop, are always stunning. This shot is not only beautiful, it also emphasises just how small our two heroes are. Against this huge vista they look almost fragile. This is the scene where Sam decides to leave Dean so it works perfectly to create a sense of the impending loneliness.


6.09 Clap Yours Hands if You Believe
Director: John Showalter

I love any scene where the boys are by the Impala, sharing a beer and talking. Usually we have a backdrop of majestic hills, green fields or lakes. Here the backdrop is power poles. I think this is a deliberate choice used to create the "not so perfect" outdoor shot we usually see. And everything isn't perfect because Sam is without his soul. He even refuses to share a beer with Dean.


4.19 Jump the Shark
Director: Phil Sgriccia

Here we have a more "typical" backdrop of a calming sky and water. This creates the perfect image of the boys living on the road. Sam brushing his teeth. Dean sleeping in the car. There's a feeling of serenity - a time for the boys to rest before delving into their next life threatening job.


5.22 Swan Song
Director: Steve Boyum

The graveyard scene in Swan Song is not only significant but also very powerful. It ends a chapter in the series and it starts beautifully with this fabulous shot of a rusted, worn out sign in the foreground and a road disappearing into the distance in the background. The gate is open, almost inviting. There is also a tremendous sense of foreboding. I particularly love the use of the sign. The designers seem to go to great lengths to include appropriate, sometimes humorous signs.


8.09 A Little Slice of Kevin
Director: Charlie Carner

Like this one!! This is a particularly good example off using signs for humour. Poor Kevin gets his finger cut of in this episode. He should have read the sign!


8.02 What's Up, Tiger Mommy?
Director: John Showalter

There is no doubt the filming of Purgatory was stunning. The desaturation of the footage, the use of lighting and the composition of the shots make it some of the most beautiful cinematography seen in the show.


7.17 Born Again Identity
Director: Robert Singer

This is another one of my all time favourite shots. The use of the graffitied "scream" (from Edvard Munch's The Scream) in the background covered with criss crossed lines (resembling a prison), is absolutely inspired. This symbolises Sam's inner struggle and not only foretells his future (locked in a psych hospital) it also reminds us of where he has been (locked in Lucifer's cage). The rainbow colouring on the wall, the street lamp, the mist and moonlight come together to create a stunning visual.


7.02 Hello Cruel World
Director: Guy Bee

I am fascinated by the use of water and lighting in this scene. Water was a recurring theme in this episode (the Leviathan spread via water) and by having it encroach on Sam creates a sense of danger and threat. The pools of light enhance this feeling. It was a great choice to pull back and give us a high angle shot to reveal that Sam is alone in this warehouse. He looks so lost from this angle. The overhead lamps have become symbolic of angels as these were seen when Castiel made his appearance. It seems appropriate here as Lucifer, the dark angel, is menacing Sam.


4.01 Lazarus Rising
Director: Kim Manners

Castiel's appearance at the end of episode 4.01 was perhaps one of the best entrances made by any character in Supernatural. The slow pan up as the doors open followed by the exploding lamps showering Castiel in sparks as he approaches Dean and Bobby, created such a majestic and powerful entrance. It's a classic.


4.04 The End
Director: Steve Boyum

The End (4.04) is one of my all time favourite episodes. This scene is particularly striking.
I love the way Sam and Dean are positioned in line with the statue. The statue of the woman with the water jug could represent purity. Water jugs often represent purity esp in Greek/Roman mythology. Venus/Aphrodite is often depicted as such, and there is a famous Vermeer painting of a girl with a water jug.

Sam's white suit stands out as crisp and bright among the dead leaves and desaturated footage. White normally represents purity and goodness but here it's making a mockery of that. This further emphasises the difficulty Dean is having in wrestling with the decision about saying yes to Michael, the statue (purity) is dirty and marked, whereas evil Lucifer is bright and shiny. Things are not what they seem.

The neglected garden could be symbolic of the Garden of Eden. As Adam was tempted by Eve, Dean is being tempted by Lucifer to say yes to Michael. It could also represent the Garden of Gethsemane - where Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Will Dean be betrayed by Sam? A scene with such strong visual meta.


5.22 Swan Song
Director: Steve Boyum

This is a beautifully composed shot. The low angle emphasizes Lucifer's power and the dead bodies at his feet enhance the sense of evil. It also works to demonstrate Luficer’s loneliness – that death is his only true companion. It all combines to create a haunting and powerful moment.


5.13 The Song Remains the Same
Director: Steve Boyum

Having angel Anna land on a car with painted wings is such a fabulous idea. Anna is not dead at this point in the episode. Later, when she does die, we don't get the iconic "wing shot" that we often get when an angel dies so this may count as Anna's "wing shot". Awesome!


4.17 It's a Terrible Life
Director: James L. Conway

It's a Terrible Life (4.17) gave the producers a chance to completely change the look of Supernatural - the colours, the interiors, the costumes etc. This shot captures just how out of place Sam is in this world. He is squished into a cubicle, with barely enough room to fit his long legs - or even to write. The overhead shot is a great way to emphasize the sense of entrapment. The bars on the window to his right add to this effect. The bobble headed Dracula on his desk is a cheeky reminder of their actual lives.


7.20 The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragon Tattoo
Director: Johnny MacCarthy

So much love for this amazing sequence in The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragon Tattoo. Charlie is searching for information and what she is discovering is superimposed over her face. It not only looks fabulous, it also gives the viewer the significant parts of the information she has found. This scene is a shoutout to the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, where a similar imposition of computer text over face is used with the hacker Lisbeth.


5.01 Sympathy for the Devil
Director: Robert Singer

I feel this shot is important to point out because the colours red and blue seem to be so significant in the show. These colours often appear and fans have written fabulous observations about the significance of their recurrance. There are a variety of interpretations on what these colours represent - often it depends on the context. One interpretation is that they represented freedom. Red, white and blue being the colours of the American flag. They could represent Sam, Dean and Castiel's fight against their destinies.

This shot is particularly great, we not only get to see these colours, but we also get a look at the now familiar street lamps. "Castle Storage" is significant because it's appears in Bad Day at Black Rock (John's lockup) and again in The Man Who Knew Too much (6.22) when we see inside Sam's mind. The sign reflecting on the Impala adds to the beauty of the shot.

I snuck in a couple of extra shots in the hope that Serge might answer the questions I had about them. I was interested to know if the red cross behind Sam was deliberate (or a happy accident) and if the "cage" style room divider was significant to show how trapped Sam was (and his potential destiny in the cage). No answers were provided, but I love to think they both these were deliberate. Even if they weren't they work well to provide visual meta on the show.


5.18 Point of No Return
Director: Phil Sgriccia


5.03 Free to Be You and Me
Director: J. Miller Tobin

Fan Phenomena: Supernatural can be purchased HERE or at most conventions.

All caps from Home of the Nutty
24th-Nov-2014 01:31 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful reminder of all the beautiful, and quite often stunning, cinematography of our show. Sometimes its so easy to get caught up the characters and storylines that it's easy to overlook these aspects.

Perfect choices too. Thanks for sharing, this was a treat :)
24th-Nov-2014 02:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I love what they do visually on the show. I think there are times when the characters are so upsetting it's nice to focus on something else *g*.

Thanks for stopping by. :)
24th-Nov-2014 02:13 pm (UTC)
What a fantastic post!
24th-Nov-2014 02:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! :)
24th-Nov-2014 02:36 pm (UTC)
I think I'd replace your #13 with this one from Changing Channels as a fine example of space and water and reflections - this shot was one I almost cheered out loud when seeing it for the first time, it was so good.
24th-Nov-2014 05:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow, YES! What a gorgeous shot...
24th-Nov-2014 10:52 pm (UTC)
That is a lovely shot for sure. I wish I could have chosen so many more.

I particularly liked the the one above mostly due to the extra meta value of the water as a threat (and because I had read some stuff Guy Bee had said about it). But all images that utilise water (and reflected water) are fantastic.
24th-Nov-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
Yes, that one I was just going purely on the visual impact, I'd love to know how much of it was planned and what they had in mind. The wonderful thing about this show is that their attention to detail means that 90% of the time they will have been thinking about added meanings...
24th-Nov-2014 11:43 pm (UTC)
It was interesting getting Serge's thoughts on each of the shots. In most cases it seems they go with just what "feels" right - what works best for the moment in the story. I get the feeling he doesn't read quite as much as we do into it, though I would imagine a lot of what we see in the show is deliberate - even if they choose things subconsciously - or just to look pretty (though I know Guy Bee said the water was deliberate in that episode - which is very cool).

Also I love it when they mix fire and water in visuals. So much meta rapped up in that.
24th-Nov-2014 04:28 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful set of images, the magnitude of the show and it's cinematogrophy always floors me :)
24th-Nov-2014 10:53 pm (UTC)
It's amazing what they can achieve in such a tight shooting schedule (and limited budget). :))
25th-Nov-2014 07:56 am (UTC)
I think that shows the true dedication of the team though, they always make the highest of efforts to create the best show they can on every level :)
24th-Nov-2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
Love these! ♥ Your eye for detail is STUNNING, lady!

No love for Kim Manners's stunning pullback to the umbrellas in "Scarecrow"? ;) (Admittedly, the shot looks better in motion than in a still image, but it's gorgeous in its simplicity.)
24th-Nov-2014 10:49 pm (UTC)
Hey hun! Thank you!

And that umbrella shot is an awesome shot! I was asked just to get ones from S4-8 though (which, thank goodness because including S1-3 would have killed me! Picking just these 20 was soooooooo hard. SO many didn't make the cut (and not all these made the book).xx
24th-Nov-2014 07:07 pm (UTC)
It's been a while since I've read cinematographic meta for SPN--thank you so much for reminding me how awesome show is on this level! I really enjoy your insights into the scenes.

Thought you might also enjoy something I came across about enclosed gardens and Marian symbology: http://books.google.com/books?id=ENfGGXLsRwsC&pg=PA47&lpg=PA47&dq=enclosed+garden+medieval+symbology&source=bl&ots=ow5BKuTvam&sig=36n_5YwnAMbujBStfhZqx659n2w&hl=en&sa=X&ei=q3tzVN3SDZWxogTfwIGAAg&ved=0CF4Q6AEwDQ#v=onepage&q=enclosed%20garden%20medieval%20symbology&f=false

Hope that link works. The info there really meshes with your points about purity in the garden scene in The End.
25th-Nov-2014 12:44 pm (UTC)

Thank you! It's great fun being able to look at the show visually (and not just the visual delights the give us!)

Thank you for the link. I agree that works so well with that scene. Serge didn't have much to say about that scene in the interview - except to say "he thinks that fans are getting most of the intentions there". I think having that scene in a garden was highly significant.

Thanks for stopping by. :)
24th-Nov-2014 09:00 pm (UTC)
What a fantastic post! Cinematography is something that I both notice, and enjoy about Supernatural. It's the details :)

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, I loved reading your thoughts and seeing what images you put at the top of a long list.
25th-Nov-2014 12:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much hun. :) Choosing just 20 was so hard! I had about double that when I started.

Thanks for commenting. :)
24th-Nov-2014 09:29 pm (UTC)
This is so fascinating to me--thanks so much. I'm always rewatching with attention to lighting, or camera angles and/or techniques. We're rewatching X Files at the moment, and I'm geeking the hell out at how Manners plays with light and shadow, with knowledge of how he continued to use that in SPN.

The Mount Doom shot always impressed me for these reasons: it's gorgeous--that perfect Indian Summer coloration to the light. And as you say, the backdrop is impressive and gives the impression of dwarfing the humans in the shot. What bothered me from the first glimpse and has never let go is that the humans aren't centered in the shot. Something's off. It pokes at the human need for order and balance, no matter how many times I see it. And when Sam walks out of shot, Dean is centered in shot, isolated, and dwarfed by the backdrop, still spotlighted in that beautiful, unremitting light that leaves no detail unexposed.

I'm probably reading a lot in--I find I do that. But with SPN, there's a lot of scope for symbolism. Thanks for pointing that out with these examples.
28th-Nov-2014 03:26 pm (UTC)

What bothered me from the first glimpse and has never let go is that the humans aren't centered in the shot.

It's an interesting point. I think film makers know exactly how to create tension through subtle compositions like that. It's such a stunning shot and yet for out heroes everything is off balance.

I'm probably reading a lot in--I find I do that. But with SPN, there's a lot of scope for symbolism.

I'm pretty sure I read far too much into stuff also. :) But I also think there's room for various interpretations. I think that even though the director or cinematographer can't put into words what they've done, there can be unconscious intention. I think many artists experience that.

Hee, or maybe I'm reading too much into that also. :)
25th-Nov-2014 01:45 am (UTC)
The bridge shot in 6.08 makes me think of a church -- the columns dwindling the boys as they're meant to make us all feel small in god's presence -- also the landscape in 5.02 when Sam is leaving Dean is one of my favorites! They're being reminded that nature is so much larger than they are -- which is comforting in way, if you think about it, so makes the scene even more complex. Who are they fooling that the world rests on their shoulders when the world is so complex and beyond their understanding?
28th-Nov-2014 03:29 pm (UTC)
It's an interesting observation and I think many of the shots that show them dwarfed in some way is deliberate. They are small figures in the scheme of things, but they always manager of conquer. :)
25th-Nov-2014 02:49 am (UTC)
So lovely, darling! I have used like half of these (or more?!) in vids, so it was great to revisit them with your thoughtful commentary.
25th-Nov-2014 04:55 am (UTC)
Stunning! Great visuals. Love when they do this.
The meta is wonderfully worded making this an awesome post!!
25th-Nov-2014 01:10 pm (UTC)
Stunning visuals :)
26th-Nov-2014 04:06 am (UTC)
I am always amazed by the visual clues that you explain--I am not oriented in that area at all, and when you point them out I get excited about what I didn't even know I missed!
5th-Dec-2014 12:14 am (UTC)
The image visually references the aftermath of the famous Tunguska event which occurred in Russia in 1908. The added connection is that Kim Manners, who directed this episode, also directed the episode of the X-Files called Tunguska, in which Mulder and Krycek travel to where it happened and find the event is linked to the aliens of their mytharc.

How cool! This post was an interesting read :)
5th-Dec-2014 08:56 am (UTC)

Glad you enjoyed it! I can't take credit for that bit of info though, I think it was missyjack who added that. when she mentioned it to me I loved it so much I had to include it. :)
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