Editor’s Note: Cinematographer, Steadicam and Camera Operator Massimo Bordonaro is back with a review of Canon’s C300 Mark II from the set of Jason Harvey, Carlos Nunez and AJ Cronk’s “Gran’s With The Harvey’s”, where he worked as the show’s camera operator under Director Frankie Orr and DP Eli Tahan. The son of comedian, actor and host Steve Harvey, Jason Harvey sought to pass along his childhood stories from his father to not only his own children, but others as well through their show. Below, Bordonaro details his use of the Canon C300 Mark II on the colorful, puppet filled set, from lens choice, to lighting and everything in between.
Project: Gran’s With The Harvey’s
Camera: Canon C300 Mark II
Format: 1920×1080, 29.97p, RGB 444 10 bit, Rec 709
Lens: Canon L Series Zooms (16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm)
DP: Eli Tahan
Director: Frankie Orr
Show Creators: Jason Harvey, Carlos Nunez and AJ Cronk
Massimo’s Role On The Project: Camera Operator
Before I delve into the particulars of this project, I have to say that this entire article was made possible by the gracious generosity and permission of Jason Harvey, Carlos Nunez and AJ Cronk. As a camera operator, I was given unprecedented access to the set, and was able to ask some questions I know the readers of INDIE Shooter would have liked as well.
Jason Harvey is the son of famous comic, actor and TV host Steve Harvey. He recalls growing up as a child, and how his dad would create funny characters to teach life lessons about doing chores, the importance of hard work, getting an education, family bonds and morality. Of course, being the comedic family they are, the characters evolved into stories, and often filled with a humorous element so that the kids could relate. Becoming a father himself, Jason felt compelled to pass these stories along to his kids, and to share them with the rest of the world for all to enjoy.
Throw in AJ Cronk with the help of Frankie Orr and Marc Fellner-Erez, and you have a hit on your hands. I never got a chance to read through any of the scripts prior to filming, but hearing and watching the actors performing them made me laugh throughout the entire shoot. It’s good, clean humor, something I remember from my childhood. And great characters make for great laughs. After a couple of 8 minute episodes, I kind of got a sense of the quirks and characteristics of each cast member on the show.
Word came from above that the show was to be shot with a more cinematic type look, parting from the typical broadcast feel of almost every other kid show out there. These are the Harvey Family Values, in essence, brought to life visually. Go big, and do it with a laugh. So DP Eli Tehan decided to use the Canon C300 Mark II as a platform for those buttery soft backgrounds.
We opted for more cinematic lenses as well, and to not use the typical broadcast type 4.5x Fujinon or Canon lenses. As I’ve said countless times before, you don’t have to use a shallower f-stop, and make your 1st AC go crazy. Just use a zoom lens, go further back from talent, and you’ll get the same buttery background effect while having your Talent in focus from nose to ear. Kombucha is a fermented tea in case you’re wondering.
No, I’m not talking about getting your hair did. The show is named after Jason’s grandmother, who he affectionately called “Gran.” By the way, lead actress Brianna Baker who plays Gran, you go girl! Her hair and makeup were fabulously flawless. 2 snaps and a braided twist. Anyways, the action of each episode was at times like a Broadway musical. There were elaborate dance routines, and tons of movement around the set. Production decided to go with the 29.97 frame rate in order to get a more clean look as opposed to more motion blur at 24 fps. Also since most of our talent was 85% kids and 15% adults, we went with 3400 on the Kelvin white balance to give everyone a youthful “glow.”
Upon doing some calculated math, Eli decided to arrange the specifications for set construction in a way that would allow a 35mm wide lens to capture all the action from front to back, and from side to side in one shot for the master wide. The math came out to the set being roughly 15 feet wide in the back, and 25 ft wide in the front. You’ll notice that the side walls are not perpendicular, but more angled out to create an overall trapezoid shape. High school geometry teachers everywhere please stand up and take a bow. I probably won’t have time during my Academy Award winning speech to thank you, so live it up while you can. Just saying.
The motivation for the look of the set was something along the lines of “Sanford and Son,” bright colors and mismatched furniture, with a sprinkling of oddities here and there… and a fish bowl. Every kid’s set needs to have a pet fish, right? It’s familiarity, mixed with laughter out of recognition. Upon watching the episodes, you’ll also noticed that the vibe plays out like a variety show from the 1970’s and 80’s. Each child has a specific talent, skill, or “ability,” meaning a way to cause trouble, which is highlighted appropriately.
The YouTube Stages are a treasure trove of rental gear. Thanks to The Cage for providing “Gran” with everything needed to light such a huge set. Since there could be no gripology or light fixtures on the ground, aerial suspension was employed to place and hang all lighting and grip equipment from the overhead grid of speedrail. This is because most of the action takes place uninterrupted, for around 8 minutes at a time. Light it once, and shoot around the actors.
It was understood that there had to be fall off on the back and side walls, while keeping the center area well lit. Each character needed good coverage, and of course avoid a series of shadows. One shadow is okay I always say. But you don’t want twelve of them on the floor making the actor look like they’re standing on a sunflower.
With all that movement and choreography, we had to be able to light the set in a way that everyone was covered at all times. With what was available at YouTube, the lights we used were mainly 750 watt leko ellipsoidals, 750 watt open face Arri’s with large 4 foot Chimeras, and three 6k skirted space lights. It’s zone defense to put it lightly. Pun intended. No single light is covering any one particular person at a time. Instead, it is the combined effort of a group of lights within an area that is covering shifting actors through their choreography. No “I” in team, but there’s an “i” in light. Insert golf clap here.
For those of you who really want to get technical, we wanted the pools of light, with an even spread, but at the same time keep the spread off the walls as much as possible. We started with the Sunray 6k space lights to get exposure at a 2.8/4 split. Then with the Source Four lekos, using 19 degree lenses, the blades on the ellipsoidals made it easy to shape the light, and pin point specific areas of the set without compromising or interfering with the wash from the 750 open face units. And that way of lighting gave us the 4/5.6 split we needed for talent.
There are many different lighting techniques. Each one could be for a specific application, situation, and/or within a certain parameter. On bigger budget sets like “Hannibal” (2013-2015) for instance, one technique DP James Hawkinson (35 episodes) would use involved pushing a 5k or 10K light through a 12 foot by 12 foot frame of diffusion set high from the ceiling of the stage. This was done to expose the set/room for the lowest possible f-stop first. The second step in the process was that Grip & Electric would come in from the sides and under the 12×12 with a 1k, 2k and/or lekos to pin point talent on specific areas of the set.
Also, think of the output of light from each fixture as a parabola. You want your Talent to catch the edge of the parabola. It is in this place that your talent will find the softest light possible, the gorgeous fall off everybody talks about, etc. So it’s not just about dimming up the light source, then diffusing it. It’s more about just placing the light in a position, and at a distance, to best interact with the actor. And guess what? Given the circumstances at YouTube, and the lights which were available, we did the same exact thing for “Gran.” If you learned something here, give yourself a doughnut and a c-47 as a reward.
Of the many people I truly admired working with on the set of “Gran,” First Assistant Director Carly Sturgeon really stood out. She kept us on schedule in a supportive way, and we all felt “protected” with her presence. Also, this was one of the best sets I’ve been on. Crafty and meals are important to boost morale, and each day we ate like royalty. The highlight of my culinary experience on this one was the churro waffles, courtesy of Chisme Tortilleria. That’s right, waffles dipped in churro seasoning. Delicious! Take note. It’s the little things that make a crew happy.
Frankie Orr, our Director who identifies as nonbinary, has a way with Talent. Action packed and full of energy, Frankie was like a meteorite that exploded over Argentina. I can’t say enough good things about them, and their coaching technique. I was truly blessed to be given this chance to execute their visions of camera movement and actor’s coverage. Once Frankie got a good flow and groove going, the chemistry and relationship amongst all the actors cannot be broken. So in another words, Production has to let the scene play out from beginning to end. Since I was A Camera Operator on this, Frankie was right next to me. Often, they would come over and look at my operator’s monitor, giving me camera direction as we went along.
Typically there were four passes of each episode. Zoom lenses were utilized because of their quick ability to reframe on the fly. In the first pass, all cameras were set to wide angles, using the 16-35mm, or the 24mm side of the 24-70mm lenses. The actors were instructed to make full use of the set. Big jestures and big movements were encouraged. Think theatre performance here. For instance, there was one episode involving cereal being stomped on, and thrown everywhere. So keeping distance between camera and the actors was important.
In the second pass, a more medium lens was chosen, grabbing 2 shots and 3 shots of the talent and their interaction with each other. We would use the 70mm end of the 70-200mm lens for this. The goal here is to compress the background so we’re not shooting off the set, but still capture the action. Next, the third pass was all about getting great singles, and specific pickups or inserts. We tried to stay on the 200mm side of the lenses, often getting a medium-close from 15 to 20 feet away from Talent. In some scenes, there were up to eight actors on set, so we needed the fourth pass of close-ups to make sure we covered each actors expression and performance.
Our last episode on the second day involved actor Steve Harvey. You could feel his presence the minute he walked onto set in character. For confidential reasons, I can’t repeat a lot of what he said. You’ll have to stay tuned to YouTube to watch the actual episode. But let’s just say the jokes were flying, and a lot of it came about with comedic improvisation. Before we even rolled camera, I guarantee you all of the crew was already laughing.
What really touched me the most about Steve’s performance was a very specific moment involving a metamorphosis of sorts. Steve plays a butterfly in the episode, coming out of his cocoon, with an epiphany. Steve’s words moved me, because his character said something prolific that everyone can relate to. It’s along the lines of everyone in life will be challenged. You have to face your fears, and confront whatever life brings you. It is through this process that you will be transformed into a better person.
Framing up Steve’s close up, I looked over and saw a glimmer in Jason’s eyes. It was at this moment I knew Steve was subconsciously telling his son that he was proud of him, and proud of all the hard work that Jason had put into the project. If you look beyond the butterfly costume, and read deep into Steve’s eyes, there’s nothing but pure love there. Every boy grows up to be an adult. But in that moment, Steve recognized his boy had grown up to be a man.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
For more information on the Canon C300 Mark III, be sure to visit www.usa.Canon.com/internet/portal/us/home/products/details/cameras/cinema-eos/eos-c300-mark-ii