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‘Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin’ Cinematographer Anka Malatynska Told Us About Her Projects and Passions

the girls looking at "A" in Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin

When we talk about TV series, more often than not, we discuss the writers and/or the directors. We praise them for their vision, and as horror fans it’s common to clap our hands for such creatives. Although it’s incredibly crucial that we highlight other individuals that help bring to life the things we love, this includes the actors and creative team overall. But in the case of the very popular spinoff Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, we owe a lot to the cinematographers.

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The way PLL: Original Sin is shot pays incredible homage to classic horror movies, with incredible split diopter shots, split screens, and so on. There’s something so striking when there are deliberate choices being made for the look of a show. Slashers aren’t always respected as a sub-genre, even though some of the most iconic horror movies are slashers. That means a slasher series could be easily dismissed before it’s appreciated. The cinematographers, in particular Anka Malatynska (who I interviewed over email, corresponding through Jordan von Netzer of Projection PR) for Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin helped create this great series. And I’m honored to have interviewed her.

The Mary Sue: So, I must say that your resume is very impressive. The fact that you’ve been involved with more than one horror project is something that I’m especially interested in. Do you consider yourself to be a big horror fan? And if so, what draws you to that genre?

Anka Malatynska on set of PLL: Original Sin
(Courtesy of Anka Malatynska)

Anka Malatynska: From a visual perspective, I consider myself to be a big horror fan. I like thrillers. I like suspense. I like keeping an audience on edge and I would say that my love of horror extends to my love of sci-fi and thriller genres and then spills over to action. But for me, horror gives me a lot of permission to go into very dark places and very dark visual spaces. I think darkness photographically is fascinating to play with. I think making the absence of light look beautiful and yet, not calling attention to itself is a real art form. And I lived for several years in this question of like, ‘what does it mean to be in a dark, dark house in the city? What does that look like? Is that like sodium vapor light on the walls? What does it mean to be in a dark place in the middle of a forest? Where would the light come from on our character’s faces? And how do you light darkness without over-lighting? And yet have all the access to the emotion that that imagery has to convey.’ I find it fascinating and exciting. That’s where my love of horror comes from. I love beautiful, dark, crazy cinematography.

The Mary Sue: So Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin has had great reception so far. You certainly deserve a lot of credit as someone who’s behind the camera, and it’s genuinely one of my favorite horror series of the year, if I’m being honest. So, what drew you towards working on this spinoff?

the girls in PLL: Original Sin
(HBO Max)

Malatynska: It is such an honor to hear that the series has resonated with you so deeply. I am also so, so proud of the work that we achieved and that I achieved. I really feel like I perfected my love of darkness in this series. I had permission to go really dark based on the pilot. I’m really grateful that I got involved with the team. What really attracted me to this was very much the team. I am a big fan of Roberto’s writing and beyond that, his energy as a leader from our first meeting was infectious.

I felt like as a woman, I really deeply resonated with the storylines. And one of the things that I really love in horror or sci-fi is that you can speak to the truth of the moment, without having to talk about what’s actually going on in terms of real events. That you can bring up dark difficult things while making it seem like entertainment, but opening people up to a much deeper discussion. And specifically, in this I’m referring to the storyline of Tabby and Imogen both being assaulted which, you know, for many reasons, is a very triggering topic in our country for women today.

So that attracted me to the series and that attracted me also to Monsterland. And it’s also what attracted me to I Know What You Did Last Summer, the ability to talk about difficult things that people actually do come face to face with in our modern world, but through allegory. Through the allegory of a horror story, that’s happening in some far off town of Millwood so that you don’t have to directly have a conversation about it, but it can inspire more dialogue while entertaining and being super fun. What’s better than that?

The Mary Sue: What is your favorite episode of this first season of the show? The whole season has been good and as of right now, I’m awaiting the final three episodes.

Malatynska: As I watch them back, I fall in love with all of these episodes again, and I change my mind all the time on which one is my favorite. But, I feel like in both six and seven we as a team and as a production, we were in our deepest, best game. I felt like I really knew the show so intimately by then. And I had these two really amazing directors who were able to kind of cope with a lot of our circumstances that were weather based and COVID based. And I just feel like we created such beautiful magic, but, you know, I say that, and I don’t want to take away from the magic that I created with all the other directors that I worked with because really every single director that I worked with on this series, I feel like we made some amazing work together.

So I love them all. I like six and seven because there’s such a contrast between one of our brightest episodes and one of our darkest episodes. And then episode 10, the finale, I shared with Teodoro Maniaci who had been my tandem DP throughout the whole series. So he would come in and shoot for me whenever I was scouting for the next episode. And then, we had a director come in for episode nine who rightfully so, really wanted a cinematographer to prep with and Teodoro shot that episode. And I think he did some really beautiful work there too. And that was also super fun on this series, was that overall, there were three DPs and I think we really honored each other’s work. And we really made a seamless series where I feel like you can’t really tell from episode to episode. You don’t see the transition of me doing episode three to Teodoro doing episode nine.

The Mary Sue: So I’ve yet to watch Monsterland, but since your work on that show has been very much praised, tell me about your experience working on it. As well as what the show is about for those who don’t know.

Anka: Well, first of all, if you haven’t watched Monsterland, you have to watch Monsterland because I feel like, in terms of the camera movement and the kind of more indie style storytelling, basically Monsterland did that to a much, much deeper degree than Pretty Little Liars. Pretty Little Liars we were still following five characters through a series, but on Monsterland, it was an anthology series. Every story was based in a different state, and every story is almost like Grimm’s fairy tales. It’s an allegorical story and the monsters are often the monsters in our heads.

Um, it’s much more psychological than American Horror Story and kind of took a step back from the gore, but really leaned into a more cinematic visual language. And what I mean by that is kind of less cuts and coverage and more atmosphere, more building tension. All of the directors that worked on Monsterland were hired for the specificity of their visions as indie filmmakers and they were really empowered to carry that vision forward. And we had an advanced directive from Hulu that said, ‘Hey, guess what? You guys were not going to be doing traditional coverage.’

So, I feel like, you know, if you loved Pretty Little Liars in terms of the cinematography, Monsterland feels much more cinematic in terms of the camera work and the big shots, and the scope, and the developed visual language. It takes it to a much greater degree, just because it stems from an anthology series. It was like eight indie movies back to back that are modern day fairy tales, inspired visually by Gregory Crewdson. And if you don’t know Gregory Crewdson, look him up. He’s a New York photographer who stages these real life, still life’s that have a very creepy, eerie, weird underpinning to them. And, that was our inspiration for Monsterland. And, you know, honestly, his work has become a constant inspiration of anything I work on and I definitely had Gregory Crewdson photos all over my office when working on Pretty Little Liars.

The Mary Sue: Speaking of other horror projects that you worked on, I just have to ask about Amazon Prime’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. What was your favorite part about working on that show?

I Know What You Did Last Summer series
(Courtesy of Anka Malatynska)

Anka: Well, I think one of my favorite parts about working on the show was the opportunity to film in Hawaii. It was the opportunity to see Hawaii from a darker, more brooding angle, which I think is very much like it is here in Hawaii. There are cloudy days, there are overcast days, there are angry oceans. Um, you know, it’s not necessarily always like a bright high key sun. There are many, many different experiences you can have in Hawaii, visually. And it was an opportunity to do something a little darker and brooding in a traditionally, very bright place.

And also, I worked with our pilot director on Monsterland, and I had an amazing experience working with Craig McNeil. And he was the one who did the pilot and brought me into the team. I met Sarah Goodman, our showrunner. So it was Hawaii, it was the team, and then underneath it all, it was that it was a story about young people who really have no elders who are proper leaders, and they’re left to figure out this fucked up world on their own. Which again, like I said earlier about Pretty Little Liars, I think that’s a pretty, true truth to the world today.

You know, it feels like the elder generation is just trying to make whatever money they can while they left the world behind. And the younger generation is kind of lost and trying to pick up the pieces of a world in shambles, and really at the core, that’s what the series of I Know What You Did Last Summer was about- young people picking up the shambles of the lies and fucked up secrets that were held between their mother figures or their father figures. The people who were supposed to be responsible, but who turn out not to be, again, it’s a running theme in my work because that’s very much Pretty Little Liars too.

The Mary Sue: So you seem very dedicated to championing diverse stories and your artistic vision is incredible. Did you have a passion for film growing up or can you cite any inspirations?

Anka: I knew that I wanted to be a cinematographer, I think since the age of 16. I picked up my first camera and started taking pictures and developing photos when I was 13 in my mom’s laboratory, she was a scientist. She was not a photographer, but in their lab, they had a dark room and I would sneak into the dark room at the University of Arizona and that’s where my passion for film started. I was an actress before I was 13 in regional theater. And then I also loved art, math, and science and cinematography really brings that all together. The first thing I can remember is looking at National Geographic magazines and being like, ‘Oh my God, if a camera is a pathway to seeing the world, then this is what I want.’ And then I learned that a camera is also a pathway to really deep storytelling and to seeing the inner world and to expressing the inner world. So yeah, very early on, this is what I wanted to do.

The Mary Sue: Well, it’s time for a less serious question. What are you watching right now in terms of television series? Do you have any recommendations?

Anka: I just started watching, Keep Breathing. It’s a Netflix series where the woman goes down in the plane and has to survive in the wilderness that was directed by Maggie Kiley. And I got to work with Maggie Kiley. She directed episode three of Pretty Little Liars and she was just coming off the back of that. I just started watching it today and it looks amazing and I am so excited. I think it looks like an incredible story.

The Mary Sue: So what advice could you give to aspiring cinematographers?

Anka: Don’t stop shooting. Shoot films all the time, make work, and don’t be afraid of directing. Don’t stop building a reel and rebuilding that reel and getting more material and more material because in the end, what do they say ‘It’s 10,000 hours to mastery?’ So you need all of that practice.

And then outside of shooting, work in all of the departments that the cinematographer has to work with, ideally, both the departments that the cinematographer works with directly and indirectly. I worked in pretty much every single department on set prior to really getting my wings. And especially those departments that are close to the DP—grip, electric and camera. You want to know what you are asking of people when you ask them, from your own experience of having been in that department.

Like, what does that mean when you’re asking, you know, for six, 18Ks? What does that mean for the electric department in terms of manpower? It’s both a managerial and an artistic position and then outside of that, just anything you can get your hands on shooting, shoot as much as possible.

The Mary Sue: Is there anything that you can talk about in terms of upcoming projects?

Anka: Well, in about nine days, I’m getting on a flight to Italy, to the Venice Film Festival to see a movie called The Listener that I shot for Steve Buscemi last August, right before Pretty Little Liars. It’s a tiny little film about everything and nothing at the same time. It’s about life and the difficulties of life post-pandemic through the eyes of an emergency hotline worker in one night. Tessa Thompson stars in it and she’s our only on camera star besides her dog, who co-starred with her. It’s a series of phone calls that she takes throughout the night that reveal her story or her character’s story. We’re premiering at Venice this year and we’re all going. So that’s something I think you guys should look forward to and check out.

(featured image: HBO Max)

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Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.

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