Alton Brown is well-known for his comic-style cooking show.
Working with cooking show celebrity Alton Brown, veteran cinematographer Lamar Owen used Panasonic VariCam LT and AU-EVA1 cinema-style cameras for the Food Network’s “Good Eats: The Return,” which is hosted and directed by Brown, who also hosted the cooking show from 1999-2011 on the Food Network and Cooking Channel.
Spotlighting Brown’s comic yet thoughtful style, the show has been called a combination of Julia Child, Mr. Wizard and Monty Python, as Brown would explore the science and technique behind cooking, the history of foods, and would evaluate different kinds of cooking tools. After an eight-year hiatus, Good Eats has been re-launched as “Good Eats: The Return” on Food Network with a brand-new look.
Earlier in his career, Brown shot a few music videos (including R.E.M.’s 1987 hit, The One I Love, directed by Robert Longo) and then moved on to shoot television commercials as both director and DP.
“I think cinematography is a language and as a director I had to be at least proficient, if not fluent,” he said. “Since I started as a field cameraman in news, I always had my hands on the camera. And moving that device became an obsession, which is why I learned to lug around a Steadicam before I was even out of college. The only way I was able to take my hands off the camera was to stand in front of it, which seems to be where I’ve ended up.”
Veteran cinematographer Lamar Owen used Panasonic VariCam LT and AU-EVA1 cameras for the Food Network’s new “Good Eats: The Return.”
For the new Good Eats: The Return, Brown and DP Owen wanted to bring a new look to the series. According to Owen, even though it was the same basic layout of the original kitchen set, Brown wanted the set to feel as if the city closed around him and he was more in the city instead of a suburban home.
“He [Brown] is very much a cinema guy,” Owen said. “Like a Wes Anderson movie, he likes to have everything perfectly symmetrical and often center framed. In terms of color, a lot of the tones in the room are grays and blues and greens and things like that. So, the look of the show has more of a cool, neutral feel versus the warmer yellowish/red feel of the old show.”
“The look of the show was really a result of wanting something that felt it had evolved out of the original, to acknowledge that years have gone by and how that might visually be represented,” Brown said. “The set designer, Elizabeth Ingram, and I looked at frames from the BBC show Sherlock and Blade Runner [the 1982 original] to get an idea of how to create layers of age and use. We also watched more than our fair share of Wong Kar-wai films. After that, Lamar worked with gaffer, Stan Fyfe, to come up with a look that was richer, more contrasty and sourcey than the original.”
Good Eats: The Return is shot with Panasonic EF-mount VariCam LT and EVA1 cinema cameras. The EVA1 serves as a second camera to the LT, even though they didn’t plan on intercutting between the two cameras side-by-side.
High definition (1920x1080) resolution is the standard delivery requirement from Food Network but the new show is captured and delivered in UHD (3840x2160) at 29.97-fps. Initially, Owen created independent LUTs between the VariCam LT and EVA1 but then he realized the LT LUT worked perfectly with the EVA1.
Since they are usually working in a studio environment, Owen typically shoots at Native 800 ISO for both cameras. He occasionally will utilize the 5000 ISO on the VariCam LT when shooting in a confined space. “It’s usually for the extra stop,” Owen said, “but there were a couple of times where we were shooting green screen and we were concerned about depth of field and I needed to shoot at an f/8 versus an f/4 since I only had so much light. We shot a Casablanca-inspired episode and a lot of those old movies used mad deep focus. I might have even shot an f/11 because I need for him [Brown] to be in the foreground and with another actor in the background—10 to 12 feet away—–to both be in focus.”
Owen shoots with a set of Zeiss CP.2 prime lenses, as well as a Canon Cine-Servo (17-120mm) zoom. He also doesn’t go wider than a 21mm unless they’re shooting in a confined space like inside a refrigerator.
“Alton sometimes likes to work really close to the camera and since he’s familiar on both sides of the camera, he can position himself three feet away and hold something for the audience to see eight inches from the lens and hit it,” Owen said. “If I tell him I’m on a 35mm, he’ll position himself right where he knows he should be in the frame.”
Lighting-wise, Owen uses a combination of LED and Tungsten instruments. Because he’s shooting in a smaller studio space, he wanted to go with cooler lighting options since they shot a lot during the summer in Georgia. The studio has a bank of windows with a tight alleyway for Owen to hang lights that make it look like sunlight is coming in from the outside.
“The best way was to hang Lekos on the edge so I could get this focused hard edge through the windows,” Owen said. “We also ended up hanging Skypanels running at Tungsten as our key sources.”
The show is post-produced at Brown’s production company in Marietta, Georgia.
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