DP Spotlight

Cinematographer Joe Gabriel explains how the VariCam LT and EVA1’s small form factor and the flexibility of Dual ISOs make a huge difference when dealing with limited budgets and time.

Joe Gabriel DP Spotlight

We sat down with cinematographer Joe Gabriel to discuss his experience shooting with the VariCam LT and EVA1 cinema cameras. Gabriel discusses shooting the Netflix series, Brainchild, as well as his branded content work for NBC and other clients where he typically uses the VariCam LT as his A-camera and the EVA1 as his B-camera. According to the DP, the two cameras match seamlessly.
QUESTION: Tell us a little about Netflix’s Brainchild. How did the VariCam LT help you achieve the look of the series?
JOE GABRIEL: Brainchild is a science series aimed at kids and teenagers. It’s from the creators of Brain Games on National Geographic, which I also shot for three seasons, and from music producer Pharrell Williams. It’s a variety show format and is 13 half-hour episodes. As a DP, it was a dream project to walk into because I got to play across different genres. Every episode has a different theme – space, dreams, germs – and every episode started with a cold open where you’d be in a different genre and the host would break in and introduce the theme. We had an episode on super powers where we shot a super hero movie open. For Germs, we had a ‘80s dish soap commercial, and we also did a film noir. I got to really play with different styles both with camera and lighting. It was like shooting 13 different movies on one job. It was a fun project to be a part of. The VariCam LT was key for us in creating the look of Brainchild because we were shooting a scripted show on an unscripted budget, so we were dealing with limited resources and time, but the versatility of the VariCam and having the flexibility of Dual ISOs really made a huge difference.

QUESTION: How do you typically use the VariCam’s Dual Native ISO function and how does it influence your lighting style?
GABRIEL: I use the Dual ISOs in a few different ways. One was basically using it as two film stocks. I would shoot most of the series at 800 (ISO) for a normal, clean look and when I wanted a little more texture for our film noir open, or our ‘80s dish soap commercial, I would go to 3200 – dialed down from 5000 – and just ND down to get more texture in the image. I found that combo along with dialing in custom white balance gave me a different and unique look compared to shooting the normal segments with the host.

Another way we used it enabled us to be more flexible with frame rates. We did a lot of slo-mo and it wasn’t often planned so having that 800 Base and to be able to switch to the 5000 Base gave me the ability to shoot 60-fps whenever the director would ask for it. I remember the first day we were shooting on a game show set and we were shooting everything at 800 and we had a character in a dunk tank and the director turns to me and said, “Let’s shoot this at 60-fps.” I was lit for 800 and I didn’t have any other lights to put in, but I switched from 800 to 2000 – down from 5000. It was such a great moment because the director and the producer were all on the monitors and I didn’t tell them what I was doing, I just flipped the switch and it was seamless. It looked the same and they didn’t see any noticeable difference, but I had the ability to shoot 60 frames without any kind of re-lighting or changing of lenses to make that happen. It gave me a lot of flexibility there.

One other thing that was really helpful when we shot Brainchild was that we were shooting in the winter months, so we had very limited daylight hours. We were dealing with shooting night for day, or day for night, and we didn’t have a huge lighting package. Having the dual ISOs enabled me to extend the daylight shooting hours when I needed to or when we were losing light so it gave us an extra half hour, or an hour, of shooting every day before we really got critical of losing light. It also helped when I was shooting a nighttime situation and trying to create more daylight and I was able to boost the ISOs and lift everything up without having to bring in bigger units, which I didn’t have.
Joe Gabriel DP Spotlight

QUESTION: How would you define VariCam color?
GABRIEL: I’ve always been a fan of Panasonic color. I shot my first feature on the original VariCam. I always liked the color rendition and on this show, it was really key because we had a really diverse ensemble cast. For most of the scenes, we’d feature three or four actors with a variety of skin tones and what really impressed me was how good the skin tones looked without having to do any specialty lighting or making sure to do anything with color temps. Everyone just looked great and on a show like this that is driven by our host and the talent. Having that ability to capture everyone and have them look great off the bat was really key.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little about how you use the EVA1 on your projects? How do the two cameras work together?
GABRIEL: On Brainchild, we used the EVA1 mainly for pickups and as a B-camera to the LT. I think we did one magic segment that was just on the EVA and then we did a couple of segments with LT and EVA1 together cross shooting wide and tight and then another one with an LT on the MoVI and the EVA for some insert shots. They matched seamlessly. There were no issues at all and in that situation shooting in 800, it was a very easy match. I used the two cameras in my branded content work with the VariCam LT as my handheld camera and the EVA1 living on my MoVI setup. The way I usually shoot that is have my VariCam LT with my 19-90mm Cabrio zoom and then I have a 16-28mm Tokina Vista zoom on the MoVI so for a lot of behind the scenes shoot that I do for NBC or CBS if I’m in a studio I can go back and forth between the two cameras. I really love the build of the LT, and I like the balance on the shoulder. The first time I tested it out, it felt good for handheld. On the MoVI, the EVA1 works great because it’s so small and lightweight that you can pretty much balance it however you want with whatever accessories you need on it. Going back and forth between the two is great because they match so well, and I do a lot of two camera interviews with them also in a similar kind of scenario where the LT will be the A-camera and the EVA1 will be the B-camera getting the side angle or insert shot.

One of the ongoing campaigns that I shoot is a promo campaign with NBC Nightly News where I go out with Lester Holt and his crew and I’m basically embedded with him and his team capturing what happens off camera. I don’t have an AC or a producer working with me. I have to be self-contained. The EVA1 is great because I can just carry around three batteries that last all day. I can power accessories because I have the Core batteries with the P-Tap on them. It’s super flexible. I sometimes build it up for studio work but having that ability to strip it down is great. In terms of the image quality because of the 5.7K sensor there’s a little more sharpness to it – at least as how I perceive the image. I also like the fact that you have that digital zoom you can punch into. I use that a lot for the Lester promos because I’ll shoot with the 17-55mm Canon a lot and if I want a little extra reach, I’ll turn that on with no quality loss. To me that’s where the strength is to be able to punch in with the extra resolution.

You can talk about the tech specs but there’s a quality to the image that just I respond to. It feels – you can use the words filmic or whatever – but that emotional reaction you get from an image is important and I feel we were able to get that on a show that you wouldn’t expect to create that kind of imagery. There’s no other camera that I could have brought on that would have enabled me to do that with the parameters that we had.