I found out how to do big screencaps. So I’ve written you guys a celebratory post about why SPN, and everybody in SPN, and everybody’s clock and lamppost and pet wendigo in SPN, is so pretty.
Kim Manners directed several episodes per season for Supernatural, until he died during the production of Season Four- and the show still misses his presence. The first episode he directed was the sad and lovely Dead In The Water, the show’s third episode, and Manners’ work went a long way towards shaping the look of the show.
His close-ups are beautiful– Manners often shot Dean with his eyelashes throwing shadows over his face.
He seemed to operate on the principle that the more emotional the scene, the lovelier the close-up. JP and JA are both very distinctive-looking, but that’s accentuated by the way they’re lit. This close-up from In My Time Of Dying, for example- with the light hitting JP’s eyes just so. I mean, what the hell colour are they?
His episodes objectified the crap out of JA- Dean is this big toughass manly man, but Manners could bring out a pale, soft look that made him seem very vulnerable.
(Alas, poor Yorick! But let us not speak of the horror that is Bugs.)
He looks glamorous, and yet unguarded in a way that he can rarely be after getting out of Hell at the beginning of Season Four. The Dean Winchester of today is nearly always closed-off, and the contrast to these softly lit early season shots is pretty sad when you think about it like that. But even in Season Four’s Lazarus Rising, a Manners episode, that guardedness is there. Dean’s hidden behind a veil of camera flare in this shot.
The thing is, over all the seasons post-three, Dean’s shell continues to be built on. The first time he truly looks unreachable is when he’s dead, in No Rest For The Wicked- and as Dean’s in Hell right then, and he’s never the same after, it’s pretty apt.
In that scene, it’s Sam who is the open one, just as when we first see him in Lazarus Rising. And then he’s so open that on this show it feels actually dangerous. You know, as if Sam’s emotional vulnerability gives off some kind of monster-attracting pheromone.
Manners directed Season Two’s Sam-centric episode Heart, one of my personal favourites. It’s an emotionally grounded episode- we feel such concern for Madison- and some of the shots are overwhelmingly candid. We are right up in these people’s faces, invading their space, even though some of the moments feel so private that I kind of want to make them pull the camera back a bit.
And the way Sam’s tears make actual glistening trails down his cheeks. That’s all Manners. And it’s freakin’ heartbreaking. He had a way of filming Sam’s emotional beats that was very full-on, like the above close-up- it’s so intense that his feelings actually seem to radiate off the screen.
(Mystery Spot, you own my heart.)
It isn’t just the Winchesters that are lingered over, either. Manners filmed everything and everyone with purpose- below we have almost a foreshadowing of Dean’s hand-shaped scar that Cas gave him, with this man’s hand-shaped shadow.
(I love that shot. I just find it really funny how she kinda looks like a goldfish.)
I especially love the close-up, below, of John Winchester- we don’t get an establishing shot of his face until later, and so we’re going in practically blind, not knowing where he is or what his face looks like. We don’t know his intentions, and it’s clear from his cryptic words that he’s playing some sort of deadly game- but we have no idea what, because we can’t see his face.
And I love the way he shot Gordon in Season Three’s dark and unsettling Fresh Blood. Gordon is a character who began as a manipulative almost-ally, and descended into, well… is psychopath the right word here? I don’t think it is, but something close. The scary thing about it is that Gordon is used throughout as a mirror of what the Winchesters could become- he killed his own sibling, he sees his job in black and white- and if this is what he turned into, what stops the Winchesters? (The answer to that, of course, is that Dean stops Sam and Sam stops Dean.)
So yeah, Kim Manners was unique in his style and good at filming basically everything. But mainly, he was unique at filming Sam and Dean. He heightened their toughness, their intense vulnerability- and at times, their impenetrability. In short, he’s part of the reason we ache for them.
Disclaimer: I have never studied cinematography. This whole essay is basically me squeeing at the pretty. Also, cut me some freakin’ slack; I wrote most of this essay while washing my hair in a sink. And it wasn’t even a deep sink.