‘Manifest’ Season 2: More ‘Stylized’ Callings & an ‘Altered Reality’ Look to Flight 828

Manifest - Season 2
Peter Kramer/NBC

Viewers quickly got hooked on Manifest, the NBC drama following the lives of the passengers on Flight 828 — who returned five years after the plane took off — and those who were left behind.

And when the new episodes pick up, some things will remain the same, like the Callings and returns to Flight 828, even with the death date hanging over the passengers’ heads.

Because it is such a visual show, TV Insider turned to cinematographer Sarah Cawley for some insight into what will be different and what will remain the same in the sci-fi mystery’s sophomore run.

Coming into the show for its second season, what struck you visually about the first?

Sarah Cawley: The one thing that struck me about Season 1 is how much New York is a character in the show. Also I noticed there’s a contrast between some of the bigger set pieces and the smaller moments of intimate drama that also make up a lot of the show. In Season 1, you get plenty of time with the characters, and they told the story in a very straightforward way.

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Were there any visuals in particular you were excited about carrying over to the second season, perhaps in a new way?

Yes, the Callings are one of those visual challenges that I was looking forward to carrying out. They have an edgy element of science fiction and a dream-like quality to them. I wanted to stylize the Callings a little bit more in Season 2, and the producers were open to that idea.

In prep we tried a couple different techniques, and we ultimately decided on one called the lensbaby and some of that footage is featured in the promo. The person who’s having the Calling, we shot that person with a lensbaby and the edges of the frame are out of focus, and it has a much more organic, subjective feeling than any of the standard off-the-shelf lenses would give. That gave it a dream-like feeling that we were looking for, a more stylized push we were trying for in Season 2.

What can you tease story-wise about the Callings in Season 2 that allowed you to do that?

We were using [that] to signal a Calling was taking place and the Callings in Season 2 got bigger and more immersive than in Season 1. … Did you see the [promo] where they’re on 828 and it goes into a nosedive? … We were like, what does it feel like? What would an airplane look like when it’s in a nosedive? They’re in a lightning storm. … The camera operator [would] turn the camera 90 degrees very rapidly, and in conjunction with actor action, [it would] give that feeling in your stomach like you’re dropping in space.

We’ve returned to the plane in Season 1, and now we’re doing so in a new way. What did you want to carry over from what we’ve already seen of the flight in Season 1?

Just the fact that the now familiar Flight 828 set is the same. A viewer of the show is going to be familiar with the interior of the airplane.

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But since everybody does already know how that airplane looks in a straightforward way, and because the Callings do have that science-fiction aspect, instead of it just looking like a real airplane you or I would step onto, which is a lot of how it looked in Season 1, we really get as stylized as we could with the camera movement, some of which [you see in] the sequence where the airplane has seemingly crashed [in a promo].

Very dream-like and altered reality was the feeling we wanted, [with] that very surreal blue light, and effects has ash falling slowly through the air. The set that was built, it looks like it’s been crashed and all the structures have been curved.

Are there any other scenes or episodes you can tease that you were especially excited to see made? It’s such a visual show.

I know, that’s one of the great things about it, and we got to get out into New York City and shoot some action sequences and some landmarks that are amazing. I love action. … We had a very exciting action sequence, suspense situation, in a night club. We hit a couple other Manhattan landmarks, and we were out and about on the streets of New York.

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Was there anything you’ve gotten to do for the first time while working on Manifest that you hadn’t yet in your career?

Yes. There were a couple times during this show where I said, “I thought I’d seen everything, but this is a first.” These were very large-scale action sequences, and even though I’ve shot a lot of pilots and done a fair amount of action, I did more big, three-camera action sequences on this show than I’ve done before. We had multiple days where we had three cameras spread out all over a very large set, sometimes at night, and that was something that was a new challenge, especially getting that done on a TV schedule.

Manifest, Season 2 Premiere, Monday, January 6, 10/9c, NBC