DP Gary Baum Reflects On His Return To "Will & Grace," Latest Emmy Nod
Gary Baum, ASC
9th career nomination comes for the show which originally gave him his 1st major career break
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The latest Emmy nomination for Gary Baum, ASC, merits a special place in his heart in that it comes for the revival of Will & Grace, the series which returned to NBC after an 11-year absence. The original show is where Baum served as a camera operator and graduated to DP when Tony Askins, ASC, retired. Askins recommended that Baum succeed him as DP. And then executive producer/director James Burrows, and series creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick afforded Baum that pivotal opportunity.

Fast forward to today and Baum has just earned his ninth career Emmy nomination--this one for Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series on the strength of the “A Gay Olde Christmas” episode directed by Burrows. Five of Baum’s Emmy nods have come for work helmed by Burrows--the other four being for episodes of Gary Unmarried, 2 Broke Girls, Mike & Molly, and Superior Donuts. (Baum won the Emmy in 2015 for the Mike & Molly episode “Checkpoint Joyce,” which was directed by Victor Gonzalez.)

“I never thought we’d all be back together--James, David, Max, the original cast--on a new version of Will & Grace,” related Baum. “It’s quite remarkable to be on a new version of a show that meant so much to me.”

Yet while many dynamics and principal players are the same from the original to the new Will & Grace, there are some significant differences. The original show was shot on film. Baum recalled deploying Panaflexes along with Eastman 5294 film stock. Now he’s gone digital with Sony F55 cameras supplied by Panavision. However, Baum has carried over the same lenses--11:1 Primo Panavisions that go back some 30 years. “The lenses have been updated obviously but they are still pretty much the same at their roots. We’re trying to keep that original film look with these lenses, and we’re experimenting with filtration to retain that look.”

Sitcoms themselves have changed since the days of the original Will & Grace, with many now trying to be more visually ambitious than their predecessors--opting to avoid mundane scenes. “Fortunately, the writing on Will & Grace is so good,” affirmed Baum, “that we can show people on a couch talking. Still though, we try to do more. We’ve updated the living room, the sets. There’s a demand to keep shows fresh--multiple sets with more involved storylines. Scripts are a little more visually oriented--there are multiple screen sets, some digital effects. It’s a more fast moving complex environment nowadays. Part of the reason for doing this is to appeal to a new audience. We have viewers who remember the original show. And we have a new generation of viewers. My daughter, who’s now 23, remembers the show when she was little. Now she’s watching it as an adult for the first time.”

Baum’s Emmy-nominated “A Gay Olde Christmas” episode reflects the show’s newfound visual appetite and sophistication. “The episode is a flashback fantasy piece on one hand--and a period piece on the other,” assessed Baum. “It’s Christmas Eve and the characters stumble into New York’s immigration museum. We go back in time to the tenements of New York around 1911. It’s a visually ambitious episode and was very rewarding to work on. We had multiple sets with different looks, using different colors and pastels. It’s one of my favorite episodes and one of the funniest--superbly written, brilliantly acted.”

Baum’s collaborative relationship with Burrows began nearly 24 years ago on Friends--Burrows was a director and Baum a camera assistant at the time. Baum moved up the industry ladder to operator, reconnecting with Burrows on the original Will & Grace. Burrows later directed the pilot for Mike & Molly, bringing Baum into the fold on that series, and the two have worked together on assorted shows ever since.

Honors earned by Baum go well beyond the Emmy recognition. A year ago, right after securing his eighth career Emmy nomination, Baum earned acceptance into the ranks of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). 

“To be invited into the ASC is a dream come true,” said Baum. “I’ve been mentored over the years by the likes of such ASC members as Tony Askins and John C. Flinn III. To now be part of that Society is a great honor.”

Baum also considers it a privilege to serve as co-governor of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ (ATAS) Cinematography Peer Group. Every aspect of production has a governor on the ATAS board--a representative of each group ranging from camera to make-up, costume design, hair, sound, etc. 

“Our Peer Group holds monthly meetings to see what’s going on at the Academy and we advise the board of directors about what’s going on within our community. We have a close-knit camaraderie in the Peer Group and you get to have your finger on the pulse of everything that’s going on. It’s a way for all of us to stay connected.”

This is the tenth installment in a 15-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 Emmys ceremonies on September 8 and 9, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 17.

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