Emmy nominated cinematographer Eric Koretz had the immense challenge and privilege of brining Netflix’s Emmy nominated and multiple award winning series to a close with the finale, “A Hard Way To Go.” Koretz, who is Emmy nominated himself for the finale, joins many of his colleagues as Ozark’s final season earned a total of 13 nominations.
Koretz is one of three cinematographers (alongside Shawn Kim & Attila Szalay) to work on the final 14 episodes of Ozark. Season four premiered its first seven episodes on January 21st, 2022 and the final seven on April 29th, 2022.
There are some electric scenes in the finale, directed by Emmy winning director and series star Jason Bateman, that gave Koretz an opportunity to showcase his talent and send off the main characters in glorious fashion. Particularly, the closing confrontation between Emmy winner Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore and Veronica Falcón’s cartel boss Camila.
“We lit the scene so Camila comes out of the shadows, like death,” says Koretz. “Once Camila steps into the light, Jason (Bateman) let the actors do the work, simplicity was key here in the framing and very little camera movement.”
Koretz spoke to Awards Focus about collaborating with Jason Bateman on the finale, framing the controversial final moments with Jonah Byrde, and filming the Langmore family reunion.
Awards Focus: Handling the final moments of Emmy winner Julia Garner’s beloved Ruth Langmore character is no small task. How did you go about building that tense face off?
Eric Koretz: That was a beautifully intense scene for everyone on set. That was the last scene we shot of the entire series, so that added to the emotion of shooting it. The buildup to it from the previous scene was incredibly intense. The audience knows what’s coming at least at a subconscious level, and holding out hope for Ruth surviving.
Stephani Lewis dressed Julia in a beautiful white gown. Normally I wouldn’t want characters in white but we discussed it beforehand and it works perfectly for her character; I think it reflects hope for the possibility of Ruth’s redemption, or in this case sending her off to the angels.
We lit the scene so Camila comes out of the shadows, like death and before she fires the gun, we now know what’s going to happen. Once Camila steps into the light, Jason let the actors do the work, simplicity was key here in the framing and very little camera movement.
We kept the light soft and ambient around them to etch them out of the shadows. The release is at the end with a tracking overhead shot off the technocrane, letting go of Ruth one last time.
AF: Chris Monday said that Ruth’s death was one of the last things shot. It wrapped close to six in the morning and you had a lot of people present that aren’t normally on set. What sort of emotions were you seeing on set and how did it effect your work?
Koretz: It was an incredibly emotional way to end. I’m not sure if we ended like that on purpose or the scheduling gods gave it to us that way. Not only did Ruth die, but this was the end of the road for Ozark. So, much of the crew had been on this show for three or four seasons so it was like a family. But of course we’re feeling all of that while we’re shooting. I definitely teared up a couple times.
AF: When you’re filming that last scene, where it seems like the Byrde family is out of luck, it’s a full circle moment for Jonah. When he steps out with the gun, did you film past the moment the audience sees to give the editors more options or was the plan always to freeze on the trigger pull? And talk about framing that so beautifully.
Koretz: Thank you! I’m actually surprised there is some question as to who Jonah shoots. It seems clear to me based off Wendy’s response to Mel, “You don’t get to be the Kochs or the Kennedys or whatever fucking royalty you people think you are. World doesn’t work like that.” To which Wendy Responds “Since when?”
Before the shooting we filmed a few different nuances to the dialogue and the editing definitely shaped the moments before….but the ending was always Jonah pulling the trigger.
AF: I know that shooting Ozark requires strict control of lighting, and you’ll need to natural light to zero and then relight scenes. Is that a common practice for shows with a real outdoor presence, and what ways did you find you could minimize the challenges of shooting the outdoor Georgia setting?
Koretz: Unfortunately, it is not common practice on other shows. Ozark made a commitment to the cinematography budget wise in previous seasons thanks to DP’s Ben Kutchins and Armando Salas. This meant always having enough Condor/Cranes with 20×20 or 30×30 foot black frames to control the overhead light or spill light.
When you can control the ambient light you can control how you want the scene to look for the most part. And the contrast level is so important to the look of Ozark, you have to be able to shape the light fully. I love working this way. Of course it doesn’t help with all the Georgia thunder/lightning and rain delays we had haha.
AF: Working with Jason Bateman, who has already won a directing Emmy for Ozark, must be particularly poignant at the close of the series. Is there any moment from that last episode’s filming that stands out in your collaboration with Bateman?
Koretz: I loved working with Jason, he’s a very technical director in the vein of Fincher and Mann, meaning he knows what he wants. A lot of the work happens in prep before we even get to set, so most of our big discussions were in planning everything at the locations or in the office.
I’d say the most memorable was the Langmore reunion, for one because I hadn’t worked with those actors beforethat day. Working with Jason to get the steadicam shot wrapping through them and figuring out the cuts to get to a techno crane shot on the roof with Ruth and Wyatt was a technical, but also emotional achievement. I love when shots can combine both of those elements and I think that’s what Jason does as a director incredibly well.