Features and Columns · TV

The Camera of ‘Succession’ Wants a Seat at the Table

The camerawork in ‘Succesion’ would be deemed “imperfect” in other contexts. Here’s why it serves the show’s narrative without you even knowing it.
Succession Dinner Scene
By  · Published on November 9th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the camera work in HBO’s Succession.

Succession is one of the most riveting small-screen offerings out there. And considering that almost every scene in the massively popular HBO show is just two people talking — usually while sitting in an expensive but inconspicuous apartment — it’s pretty impressive that Succession feels as kinetic as it does. The conversations that make up the bulk of the series’ visual language feel tense and exciting. And a big part of why that is has to do with how the show treats its camera like it’s a character.

The camera of Succession is responsive: it gets caught off guard, expresses doubt, and even “acts” shocked, aghast, or thrilled by the developments unfurling before its lens. The series isn’t a mockumentary — the characters never acknowledge the presence of the camera — but the show is consciously shot as though a real camera were in the room, often at the expense of ideal compositions.

Succession belongs to the long, and illustrious tradition of observational cinematography. As in movements like cinéma vérité and Dogme 95Succession‘s fly-on-the-wall camerawork imparts a sense of realism. But having a camera operator with an implied personality serves another purpose.

The unseen camera operator of Succession feels like they have a subjective personality. This is the perspective of someone in the room and at the table, scanning faces for clues and attempting to follow and predict the drama in real-time. Succession is all about characters with hidden motives who frequently say a lot without showing their real hand. And the way that Succession uses observational cinematography nudges us to participate in turn: to attempt to play the social game and stay in the know.

Watch “The Succession Character You Never See”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the observational camerawork of Succession is by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight. He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).