- LOS ANGELES
Cinematographer Gary Baum, ASC last week earned his 10th career Emmy nomination--for the “Family, Trip” episode of Will & Grace (NBC). This is the second consecutive year Baum has earned an Emmy nod for the Will & Grace revival, which makes it all the more special in that the original show--which ended its first run a dozen years ago--marked his graduation from camera operator to full fledged DP when the now late Tony Askins, ASC retired. Askins had recommended that Baum succeed him as the series DP. And then executive producer/director James Burrows and series creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick afforded Baum that pivotal opportunity.
“Family, Trip” carries another element of continuity for Baum because it’s the sixth time he’s garnered an Emmy nomination for work directed by Burrows. The other five were for the “A Gay Olde Christmas” episode of Will & Grace last year, as well as earlier installments of the series Gary Unmarried, 2 Broke Girls, Mike & Molly, and Superior Donuts. Baum has won the Emmy twice--for Will & Grace last year and the Mike & Molly episode “Checkpoint Joyce” in 2015.
Baum noted that the “Family, Trip” episode broke new ground for Will & Grace. The premise had Will (Eric McCormack), Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally) drinking some chocolate milk left behind by students, unaware that the sweet libation was laced with hallucinogens. The ensuing hilarity includes Karen singing “The Man That Got Away,” a song made famous by Judy Garland’s iconic rendition in A Star Is Born (1954). Karen, though, believes she’s crooning in a cabaret when in fact she’s in a laundromat.
Baum got the chance to lens a musical tribute to the song, replete with a night exterior of the theater/cabaret where Karen thinks she’s performing. Baum recalled, “We shot this solo performance for almost four minutes, which was edited down for the show. She (Mullally) knocked it out of the park. It was a sequence that was unique for the show. We went to depths of lighting that were where we normally don’t go. It was very different, very moody, very ‘noir-ish” for lack of a better word.”
Digital camera, original lenses
While the original series was shot on film, the Will & Grace reboot has gone the digital route. Baum deployed the Sony F55 but coupled that camera with virtually the same lenses he opted for back when he shot Will & Grace on film--11:1 Primo Panavisions that date back decades. “The lenses have been updated but they are still pretty much the same at their roots. We’re trying to keep that original film look with these lenses,” explained Baum.
Akin to the lens choice being the same spanning the original and reboot versions of Will & Grace, Baum sees other parallels connecting the two eras of the sitcom. “That’s been my biggest lesson learned working on the show this time around,” he assessed. “I think the show has been as funny as ever. The actors are as engaged and funny as ever. The writing is still fantastic. My takeaway from the experience is that you can go back home again. You can do a successful reboot. It can and does work. Will & Grace is a fantastic example.”
Baum lensed another such example this past season--Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons, which scored three Emmy nominations this month--Outstanding Variety Special (Live), Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special (Burrows and Andy Fisher), and Outstanding Production Design for a Variety Special (production designer Bernard Vyzga, art director Rich Rohrer and set decorator Ron Olsen).
As for what’s next, Baum at press time had embarked on the next season of Will & Grace and was scheduled to again take on lensing for Man with a Plan (CBS).
Baum’s continued mix of varied work has been personally and professionally gratifying. “Shows like Will & Grace allow me to be creative, artistic, to use different tools,” said Baum whose “Family, Trip” Emmy nomination was one of three garnered by the series this awards season. “Family, Trip” also earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Multi-Camera Editing for a Comedy Series (editor Peter Beyt, ACE). And the “Jack’s Big Gay Wedding” episode was nominated for Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program, Half Hour (production designer Glenda Rovello, art director Conny Marinos, set decorator Peter Gurski, SDSA).
Along with his double-digit career tally of Emmy nominations--and pair of wins--Baum’s artistic chops have been recognized on another major front. A couple of years ago, he earned acceptance into the ranks of the American Society of Cinematographers. He regards his ASC designation as “an unbelievable honor.”
This is the 12th installment in a 16-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, production design and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners on September 14 and 15, and the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on September 22.