Lights, Camera, Politics! Shooting the Debates

tdy_alexander_debate_160926-nbcnews-ux-1080-600 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. nbc-debate 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.


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...

Michael Bay Update: “Bayhem”

Just a reminder that Michael Bay is running around with a lime green custom RED camera that matches his ear protection. Let's hope he hit that record button.


  That's right - the International Space Station (ISS) has released some very cool space-videos shot on the Red Epic Dragon. That's a camera we have here at 3GR you guys!! I'm pretty sure this means we can officially say that Astronauts choose Red? I wonder if they use a lot of velcro on their build up on the station. (that's a NASA product development + camera assistant joke right there. I apologize...) To watch the below videos in all their 4K glory, you'll have to open them in a new window - and have a 4K+ display of course. Run to your nearest Apple Store if you don't have one at home. Can't get much better for an ultra high def example on their showroom floor.  

Most elaborate Red build ever?

    NASA has also made a number of downloadable "ultra high def" videos available under a Public Domain license on, so you can even use them in your own space movies. Thanks NASA!  
  As you might imagine, it takes a hot second to beam this stuff down from space. But it will soon be possible to determine when it will be in a certain location, for those interested in staging the most epic flash-mob event... on earth at least.

In Production: Storaro to shoot Woody Allen’s Next Film

cinematography legends and woody allen

Woody Allen with Gordon Willis, Sven Nykvist, Harry Savides, Darius Khondji, Vilmos Zsigmond &  Vittorio Storaro

Vittorio Storaro is the latest addition to an impressive list of prestigious DPs Woody Allen has teamed up with throughout his career. Shooting begins this month in Los Angeles and New York on the 1930's period piece, set to premiere in 2016. Gordon Willis, Sven Nykvist, Harry Savides, Vilmos Zsigmond and Darius Khondji have each had a hand in the look of Woody Allen's films throughout his career. Willis, often called the "Prince of darkness," helped the prince of dark neurotic comedy establish his look - he shot eight of Allen's most iconic films, including Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979) and Stardust Memories (1980). Allen's most recent project with Khondji, Irrational Man, is still playing at a theater near you, and the rumors of his next release are already a'buzzin.  The film boasts an all-star cast befitting its ensemble director. Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Bruce Willis, Kristen Stewart, Anna Camp, Paul Schneider, and many more are expected to don their depression-era best for this project.  


Known for his striking use of color, Vittorio Storaro has lensed many visually stunning films for some pretty stellar directors. Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) influenced a generation of aspiring DPs and earned Storaro his first Academy Award for Cinematography. Warren Beatty's epic, Reds (1981) won him a second Oscar, and their next movie together, Dick Tracy (1990) snagged a nomination that year. Numerous collaborations with Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Tango in Paris (1972), The Conformist (1970), The Sheltering Sky (1990), The Last Emperor (1987) - Oscar number 3!) showcase Storaro's signature style of visual storytelling.
185rainbowwsprkts / cate smierciak 2015

Colors of the Storaro Rainbow

A champion for the universality of light and color, Storaro is known for assigning a look or a hue a particular emotive motif, utilizing the visual throughout a film's story arc. Storaro's work often exemplifies the storytelling role cinematography itself can play in cinema. Don't we all know someone who caught the cinematography bug after watching something he shot? The guy even has a set of Rosco Gels named after him.  

So what will a Storaro/Allen collabo look like?

Is it likely that the upcoming film will receive such careful aesthetic consideration? This will be the first time the two collaborate as Director/DP, but they have worked together once before. Woody Allen starred in Alfonso Arau's Picking Up The Pieces (2000), which Storaro shot. In the dark comedy, (which technically looks fine/unremarkable) Woody Allen plays a butcher who kills and dismembers his cheating wife, confessing his crimes to the local priest (David Schwimmer). Hijinks ensue.

Woody Allen and David Schwimmer in PICKING UP THE PIECES (2000)

Shocker - the movie was panned! Variety called it "a tawdry misfire of the lowest order..." ouch... Needless to say, it was something of a departure from Storaro's usual arty fare. Maybe the two bonded on set and came up with some fabulous idea that's been 15 years in the making. Maybe Storaro has been concocting a whole new set of gels for comedy. Who knows. We can't wait to see some images from the new project, and welcome any tips from those in the know. Watch this space for updates - and in the meantime, check out Woody Allen's earlier films shot by some of the most talented cinematographers out there (along with the dearly departed - RIP guys. We'll always turn off one more light for you just when we think it's dark enough.) And treat your eyeballs to some Storaro classico... Apocalypse Now Redux is currently available streaming on Amazon Prime & The Conformist is on Netflix, along with Gordon Willis' Annie Hall, Sven Nyqvist's Another Woman. ...or just make yourself some popcorn, get your nerd on and re-watch Visions of Light. No judgement. longassrainbowlarge    

Shot on EPIC DRAGON: Gone Girl, Transformers 4 + Avatar Sequels

2014 is lining up to be the year of the Dragon.  The first coming our way will be Transformers 4 directed by Michael Bay followed by David Fincher's Gone Girl adaptation; both to be released in 2014. James Cameron's x3 Avatar sequels are rumored to be shot on Dragon, with the production process beginning in late 2014. All three sequels will be shot in New Zealand as part of a substantial tax incentive deal. For sneak peek at the image quality we can expect from these gentlemen, check out the first footage released a few months ago: Shot on Red Epic Dragon by Mark Toia.