Mathias Herndl, Gary Baum Reflect On "Genius: Picasso," "Will & Grace"
Mathias Herndl, AAC
Cinematographers score Emmy wins for their work on respective National Geographic, NBC series
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Genius has been an awards revelation for cinematographer Mathias Herndl, AAC. Back in February for Genius: Einstein (National Geographic), Herndl earned his first career ASC Award. And for season two of Genius, focusing on painter Pablo Picasso, Herndl this month garnered his first Emmy win on the strength of the “Chapter One” episode--topping the Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie category.

Meanwhile cinematographer Gary Baum, ASC, just won his second career Emmy Award for the “A Gay Olde Christmas” episode of Will & Grace (NBC)--in the Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series category. Baum won his first Emmy back in 2015 for the Mike & Molly episode “Checkpoint Joyce.”

Both Herndl and Baum shared insights into their latest Emmy-winning work during SHOOT’s recently wrapped The Road To Emmy series of feature stories. Herndl observed that season two of Genius was inherently daunting for a DP. “You’re shooting a series about the greatest artist of the 20th century, Picasso, for National Geographic, which is famous for its images.” Helping to meet that challenge was the original approach of director/executive producer Ron Howard to Einstein’s story--an approach that was adapted for Picasso by showrunner/EP/director Kenneth Biller.

Herndl explained, “We had an aggressive and kinetic camera for Einstein in his youthful years (portrayed by Johnny Flynn), slowing things down with a heavier camera when he was older (played by Geoffrey Rush in an Emmy-nominated performance). We also had a hand-held kinetic energy for Picasso in his youth (played by Alex Rich). But in his later years (with Antonio Banderas as Picasso), the camera was completely static. Keeping the camera absolutely still set up a picture frame effect with characters moving in and out of a static frame. It was almost like the frame was within the framework of a Picasso painting. His life became a painting in our visual interpretation.”

For Genius: Picasso, Herndl deployed a mix of 35mm film (color as well as select black-and-white usage) and digital lensing, the latter with the ARRI Alexa.

“It’s been a privilege to be part of this project, which has been a learning experience these two seasons,” said Herndl who cited as an example his realization of “how little I knew about Einstein as a person, his personality” prior to embarking on Genius. “And to then see this result in an ASC Award, to be recognized by your peers at that level, is a great honor, extremely gratifying.”

Genius: Einstein and Genius: Picasso were produced by Imagine Entertainment in tandem with Fox 21 Television Studios and Nat Geo. Howard and his Imagine compatriot Brian Grazer are both EPs on the series. Season 3’s Genius will be Mary Shelley, the iconic author best known for her Gothic novel, “Frankenstein.”

Gary Baum, ASC
Baum’s latest Emmy for the revival of Will & Grace, the series which returned to NBC after an 11-year absence, merits a special place in the DP’s heart. 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.

The just Emmy-honored “A Gay Olde Christmas” episode was directed by Burrows. Five of Baum’s nine Emmy nominations 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 aforementioned Mike & Molly episode 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.”


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