Thrillist: The use of different aspect ratios stands out initially. But as the series goes on, you realize the shifts are about how we see memory. Can you talk about that a bit?
Esmail: Well, actually you kind of answered it in your question. Basically, when we started thinking about how to visualize the 2022 storyline, it always starts with our main character Heidi and her point of view and the fact that she doesn't remember everything. It kind of made sense to limit her scope and limit her world because she's not seeing the full picture. That's sort of why we did that box ratio. Also there's this weird claustrophobia and boxed-in feel that we put Heidi in by shooting that aspect ratio because she's being pursued by Carrasco and Colin later on. So, for all those reasons, and of course obviously in episode eight -- and we didn't know this at the time when we made this decision -- but as we progressed and made that decision, in that moment when Heidi does remember everything, for us as storytellers it paid off really well because that was such a great way to now tell the audience that Heidi's memories were now coming back.
And then you repeat that in the past timeline when it closes in.
Esmail: Where we show where she lost all her memories.
There are images that pop up throughout the series: geometric images, forks in the road, the vending machines. What was your thinking behind that?
Esmail: There are a couple things. One, the tone of the entire show has this sort of lingering effect. I think that helps a lot when you have these geometric images that also double as hypnotic images. You can't quite look away from it, and that's a lot of the reason why we do long takes, too. It almost feels like you're not blinking, that you're constantly leaning in.
Part of the reason we do rolling credits at the end over visuals is, it's not a bombastic moment -- it's a slow, hypnotic, almost meditative state we want to put the audience in. And then the other sort of side to all of that is, I had this idea thematically for the show that this is about the boxes we live in, the boxes we know we are in, and then we realize that box is actually in a bigger box. And that box is in a bigger box. We can keep pulling out and reframing what we thought we knew the more information that we got. That actually drove the aspect ratio conversation a lot because that's also kind of a box.
Even the way the show opens, where you start on a palm tree and then a goldfish comes out and then you pull out and you're in an office with an aquarium and then the office isn't really what it seems. Even in episode six, we push in on Heidi and Colin and they are in the Chinese restaurant, but the camera is outside looking through a window, which is another box. We constantly do that to put the audience in this position of, is this the world [around] them and around us as a viewer, is it what it seems or is there something that's right around the corner that's going to change what we thought we understood?