Director of Photography Cliff Charles Selects Panasonic VariCam for Amy Schumer’s HBO Comedy Special
Director of Photography Cliff Charles selected six Panasonic VariCam 35 4K camera/recorders for the live shoot of Amy Schumer’s first HBO comedy special at New York’s historic Apollo Theater. Schumer headlines the Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, and wrote and stars in Judd Apatow’s summer blockbuster Trainwreck. Chris Rock directed the special, which begins airing on HBO Saturday, Oct. 17.
Charles has served as DP on projects ranging from Rock’s Sundance-winning documentary, Good Hair, the Spirit Award nominated film Jellysmoke, and the Jamaican Gangster film, Shottas. He earned two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Cinematography on Spike Lee’s multi-award winning documentaries, When the Levees Broke and If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise. His commercial credits include spots and promos for HBO, NBA, The Daily News, Converse, State Farm, BET, and VH-1 along with music videos for artists like Mos Def and Wyclef Jean.
Charles’ association with Panasonic pro cameras precedes his work on the 2009 Good Hair, which he shot with the AJ-HDX900 and AG-HPX500 models. He had extensive experience shooting with prior tape and file-based VariCams. When Rock approached the DP about the Schumer special, it was not yet attached to a distributor, and their plan was to acquire in 4K to assure maximum usage for the ultimate airer.
The production rented the VariCam 35s from AbelCine to cover Schumer’s two live shows at the Apollo on May 29.
“When I demoed the VariCam 35 at AbelCine, I immediately gravitated to the 12-bit 4:4:4 color space,” Charles says. “The dual native 800/5000 ISOs were intriguing, and I really liked the option of capturing our 4K master and 1080 proxy files simultaneously in camera.”
“The camera’s selectable LUT capabilities afford a lot of flexibility in sending out different looks,” he added. “Our DIT only provided minimum correction to achieve a pleasing LUT”
Charles explains that the director wanted the production to look completely different from Schumer’s previous performances, to have the edge of a live concert while also taking of advantage of the Apollo’s landmark ornate architecture.
The DP situated the six VariCam 35s throughout the 1500-seat theater, one on a jib, one on a dolly, a third camera holding a close-up, and three used hand-held. “Our Camera Operators were pleased with the build and ergonomics of the camera, especially those working hand-held,” Charles says. “Even fully outfitted with matte boxes, lenses, batteries, the cameras remained under 50 lbs and well-balanced.”
“We had all the pressure of a large-scale live performance and absolutely no issues,” he continued. “We built a solid look into the cameras, and the results totally live up to the VariCam reputation for cinematic imagery.”
Charles says that the VariCam 35 is on his short list of cameras to use in the future. “The camera’s ability to be modular combined with its ergonomics make it very friendly to both narrative and documentary productions, which I do a lot of,” he noted. “I look forward to getting my hands on it again.”