Emmy Season Insights: Lensing "One Strange Rock," Directing "Divorce"
"One Strange Rock" cinematographer Johnny Rogers
DPs Rogers, de Glanville share their experiences on National Geographic show; Bravo discusses helming a pivotal season two episode of HBO series
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One Strange Rock (National Geographic) has been one remarkable ride for cinematographers Johnny Rogers and Simon de Glanville. The former was involved in volcano lensing in the Congo, a free diving sequence in Mexico, and a Lechuguilla Cave shoot which entailed eight days of living underground.

Meanwhile de Glanville’s exploits included chronicling a Soyez rocket launch, Sami reindeer herding, a Varanasi water fight and life in a monarch butterfly sanctuary. 

“You’re pushed almost to the limit in terms of challenging locations,” observed Rogers. “I’ve been on volcanoes before but this was quite exceptional. It took two kilometers of rope just to get the equipment we needed up there. A fissure opened up and there was so much lava flowing; it was getting worse and worse over just a few days. Huge lava bombs were fired over our location.”

DP de Glanville noted that One Strange Rock adopted an engaging approach to a documentary series. “We’re filming as events occur but at the same time we have to be cinematic. It was all about real life been shot in a cinematic way. We all aspire to do that. We pushed the limits of trying to shoot everything using cinema techniques. We proved it’s possible to make documentary films in that more considered cinematic way.”

Relative to camera selection, de Glanville assessed that “RED was the one for the cinematic point of view. Some shoots, though, were done on different cameras for technical reasons.”

Rogers noted that those technical reasons included gaining access to and being able to maneuver in “remarkable places you can’t easily get into.” This necessitated for example that an ARRI ALEXA Mini be deployed. Still, Rogers said his work on One Strange Rock was “predominantly shot on the RED Dragon.”

But perhaps the greatest positive visual influence on One Strange Rock was having Oscar-nominated (Black Swan) filmmaker Darren Aronofsky as an EP on the show. “Having Darren involved and bringing his visual sense and style to the series has been phenomenal,” affirmed Rogers. “Darren led us away from traditional TV shooting--using conventional wide shots, medium shots and closeups. Instead he took us from one world to the next--from a macro world to a microscopic viewpoint. Our mission was to do this kind of documentary different from how it had been done before--taking a stylistic approach to every world we shot.”

Though Rogers has never been nominated for a primetime Emmy, he is no stranger to the world of Emmy. He was part of the ensemble of cinematographers on Human Planet who earned a News & Documentary Emmy Award nomination in 2012 for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Cinematography--Documentary and Long Form.

Finalizing Divorce
Janicza Bravo has come up the industry ladder, and perched on a couple of those proverbial rungs has been actress/producer Sarah Jessica Parker. Bravo’s first job out of college was serving as Parker’s second assistant. Fast forward many moons to season two of Divorce--the HBO show starring Parker who also serves as a series producer--and we find Bravo landing one of the early episodic gigs in her directing career, putting her in the current Emmy conversation.

At the time she got the chance to helm the installment of Divorce, Bravo had only directed an episode of Atlanta, receiving considerable notice in the process. “I had this sexy wish list of series I wanted to direct but it felt like a reach--not because of aptitude but if you only directed one episode or no episodes, you generally don’t get to work with actors like Sarah and Thomas (Haden Church) on a show like Divorce. At age 22 I was Sarah’s second assistant. Back then I could never see myself directing her when I was 36.

“My initial audition for Divorce was with Paul Simms, the showrunner at the time,” continued Bravo. “I had a brief interview on Skype. Paul is also the showrunner on Atlanta but I had not met him when I worked on that series. Still, we were in the same universe. Our interview was short but I thought it went well. The next day I got a call from my manager asking me if it was okay for Sarah Jessica Parker to call me. I said yes and we got on the phone at some point that same day. We ended up talking for an hour. It was great. I felt like I was going home, being invited to a place I knew. She made me feel invited and welcomed. That was the second part of my audition and then I got the opportunity.”

That opportunity was on a pivotal episode of Divorce titled “Ohio” in which Robert (Church) and Frances (Parker) reunite in Ohio when Robert’s dad falls ill. When they’re not reminiscing about happier times, Robert and Frances are dealing with Cathy (Amy Sedaris), Robert’s overbearing sister. 

Bravo said that her DP on Divorce, Joe Collins, was “a real pillar” with whom she established a working rhythm. Collins too had moved up the industry ladder, earlier in his career having been second unit DP on the Parker-starring Sex and the City. “My style is visually aggressive, muscular,” related Bravo. “Joe was a great cinematographer to work with.”

Bravo's TV series credits now span Atlanta, Divorce, Lemon, Love, Here and Now, and Dear White People.

“Every show is different. Some shows are more writer-driven, some more design-driven,” said Bravo. “The biggest challenge was figuring out initially where I belonged, what my strength would be in each world.”

This is the seventh 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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