Lights, Camera, Politics! Shooting the Debates

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Much discussion surrounds tonight’s debate as a must-see-TV event. Up to 100 Million viewers are expected to tune in, an audience that would rival that of the Super Bowl.

When event television becomes national politics, I start to wonder about those unsung heroes making it all happen. That’s right, I’m talking about the event production crew.

FILE - In this Oct. 21, 1960 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kennedy, center left, and Republican candidate, Vice President Richard Nixon, stand in a television studio during their presidential debate in New York. Polls found those who listened on radio awarded Nixon the debate victory. Those watching on TV gave Kennedy the nod. (AP Photo)

Oct. 21, 1960 – how quaint!

Since the famed Nixon-Kennedy showdown, the effect of a candidate’s on-camera performance has played a significant and contentious role in national politics.

Every news outlet is talking about this topic today, but I was wondering… how do they light these things? It must be quite a challenge to shoot so many simultaneous angles, live, in a huge (HUGE!) space, and make everyone look human – much less glamorous or presidential.

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TV trade site NewscastStudio put together a neat article about many of the technical and aesthetic considerations that come into play for such an important event.

“The distance between the talent and their light in a studio can be as little as ten feet, but in a large theatre or arena it could be a hundred feet,” says Lesli Tilly, who often works with Size on LDG’s large projects.

“Large, soft light sources from close up are extremely flattering for faces, but that’s impossible when the light source is 40, 50, or well over 100 feet from the talent’s face,” continues Size. “Soft source are uncontrollable, so we use point sources tailored specifically for their target — often with merely a beam spread of 3 feet by 3 feet!”

“One of the biggest challenges — and also for me one of the joys — is that like doing live theater, you have one chance. You rehearse, you prepare for everything, and still, there’s no guarantee that it’s all going to go according to plan,” said [gaffer] Tilly.

If that whet your appetite, the full article is certainly worth a read.

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Tonight’s new and improved debate stage design.

Also fun to peep while you’re at it:

a run-down on the updates to this new debate stage, an explanation of why they hold debates in empty arenas, and a clip of Colbert making fun of CNN’s VR Experience of one of the primary debates earlier this year.

That experiment turned out to be more of a teaser for a much more visually exciting application in SPORTS, but that’s another post for another day.

Watching the debate tonight? You have plenty of options this time around. Facebook Live will stream the event, a handful of Youtube channels will show it as well, even Twitter has you covered. I guess it’ll probably be on TV or something too if you’re into that kind of thing.

Now that we’re all up to speed on the important elements of the event (what finesse in that lighting, the smooth integration of the camera box into the rear wall of the set!) we’d love to hear your thoughts and questions relating to the production itself.

One big difference between this to-do and the Super Bowl? No commercials. At least, not yet…

The Emmys: Tatiana Maslany wins Best Actress

If you caught the Emmys last night, you saw our man Rami Malek win Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for Mr. Robot. Check out our post about the cinematography choices based on his handsome mug.

Rami Malek speaks as he accepts his Emmy for lead actor in a drama series.Tatiana Maslany, otherwise known as Tietany Moslin.

The award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series went to Orphan Black’s Tatiana Masalany. The LA Times thinks we didn’t have them in our Emmy pool… Looks like we’re on the pulse, people.

Orphan Black boasts (now-Emmy-award winning) performances by many versions of Tatiana Maslany, stunning cinematography and fantastic writing. You can stream all four seasons on Amazon, where the first three seasons are free for Prime members. All episodes are also available for purchase on iTunes. Definitely binge-worthy.

Masalany’s performance is certainly impressive. Over the course of the series, she plays 11 clone characters with distinct personalities and mannerisms, and up to 6 on-screen simultaneously. Tatiana Masalany definitely rises to the challenge and has finally been rewarded with a well-deserved Best Actress Emmy. Check out this great interview with Tatiana about embodying so many characters in a complicated series. Congrats! And sweet dance moves!

As cinematography aficionados, we know there is definitely some cool tech happening there to make these multiple-Tatianas possible. Here are a couple videos about how they did it. Shout out to DP Aaron Morton, and VFX Supervisor Geoff Scott from Intelligent Creatures.

 

Shot on RED EPIC DRAGON: Mr. Robot

With the Emmys coming up this week, it’s high time to binge-watch those series you’ve been meaning to watch all year. If you haven’t caught Mr. Robot yet, it should definitely make your short list.

Shot on RED EPIC DRAGON with Cooke S5/i and Leica Summicron-C primes, the show tackles the challenging story subject of hacking, computers, and all manner of things that are pretty tough to shoot in an interesting way.

To toss in one more obstacle: much of the show relies on voiceover and internal monologues to tell the story. DPs Tod Campbell and Tim Ives rose to this challenge, setting and maintaining a dynamic look and feel that brings the high-stakes of the invisible to the screen.

 

 

It may have been this challenge that inspired creator Sam Esmail to put so much weight, import and attention to detail on the series’ look. I love this conversation between Campbell and Esmail from this great Vulture piece:

“In my phone interview with him for the job, he was like, ‘I want to do a lot of negative space. I really want to change this up,’” Campbell says. “I’d never met him before, and I was like, ‘I’m so sick and tired of directors coming in on episodes I’m shooting like, “Oh, I want it to look like House of Cards! I want it to look like blah blah blah!” Sam, we need to become the reference point everybody uses from now on. I want everybody to say, “I want it to look like Mr. Robot.”‘ He was like, ‘Oh shit, dude — you got the job.’”

Campbell even tailored his lens choice specifically for actor & star Rami Malek’s distinctive eyes and dreamy captivating face:

“We use Cooke S5s, which are more round than other lenses,” he says. “They really accentuate curves, and they help sculpt the face a little more. I chose those lenses because Rami’s eyes are so big, and so are a lot of the other characters’. Rami, Carly (Chaikin, Elliot’s fellow hacker Darlene), Portia (Doubleday, his co-worker and friend Angela) — all of the people we love have these big, giant, bulbous eyes. The one person who doesn’t is Tyrell (Wellick, the sinister young executive played by Martin Wallström); he’s got these deep-seated eyes. I asked Sam, ‘Did you do that on purpose?’ and he never really answered me.”*

 

 

The RED EPIC DRAGON does some heavy lifting throughout the series as well. Campbell often mixes strong color choices, available light, impractical practicals and just plain darkness to accompany the strikingly deliberate framing choices.

 

 

So put those tootsies up and settle in for a good binge sesh for this series boasting 6 Emmy noms this year.

Mr. Robot is streaming on USA’s site for subscribers, Season 1 streams free for Amazon Prime members and Season 2 is available for purchase streaming on Amazon as well.

Like that look? 3GR has the RED EPIC DRAGON available for rent, as well the new RED WEAPON DRAGON, Leica Summicron-C primes, a variety of Cooke lenses and lots more. Check out our current Rate Sheet or Build a Package on our site.

We’d love to hear from you! Leave your questions, comments or requests in the comments below.

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