Cinematography & editing: Food shows serve spicy shots

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Creative Arts Nominees

Three of the nominees for picture editing and cinematography Emmys happen to cover, in their own ways, links on the human meal chain: Gathering food on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch”; preparing haute cuisine on Bravo’s “Top Chef”; and exploring culture through eating on Travel Channel’s “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”

The three skeins have contrasting styles and subjects — so much so that while “Deadliest Catch” and “Top Chef” are nommed as “reality” programs, “No Reservations” is nommed as a “nonfiction” program. But in their own way, each of the three shows shoots and cuts to capture a sense of authenticity.

“That doesn’t always mean beautiful,” adds “No Reservations” exec producer Chris Collins.

“No Reservations” has “always used food as an entry point to tell stories about people,” says Collins.

“No Reservations” producers always have “a stylistic idea in mind” before filming, Collins says. However, what the editors’ fresh eyes see can be different than the original concept while remaining true to the location’s narrative.

Over the seasons the crew has adapted chameleon-like skills while on location, which produce true-to-life shots where “there’s shamefully little styling of anything,” Collins says.

Nearly the opposite is true of “Top Chef.” Exec producer Dan Cutforth says d.p. Ari Boles’ lighting is paramount, ensuring the food “looks beautiful, not over-lit and natural,” while staying true to the culinary story.

“Top Chef” editors must juggle many dramatic elements. With two challenges per episode, Cutforth says, multiple storylines and a competition occurring simultaneously, editing footage into a “sumptuous vision” is crucial.

The gothic dinner in the nommed episode, “Fit for an Evil Queen,” was “classically cinematic, dramatically lit and had beautiful colors to it,” Cutforth says.

But Boles’ team has to grapple with with ever-changing sets, from an all-night outdoor barbeque to gondolas high above Canadian mountains.

“Deadliest Catch” may seem simpler by comparison, as it’s six crews on six fishing boats. But those crews live alongside fisherman under the same conditions that make their work, well, deadly.

Exec producer Jeff Conroy says the crew is “extremely nimble and adaptable to filming whatever action there is on deck or on the water.” This translates to their shot selection, too: using wide shots as the crabs — which are, after all, the reason the fishermen are risking life and limb — are fished from the sea in large traps (called pots) and tight shots showing crab legs wiggling as they are sorted on deck.

Cutting “Deadliest Catch” is daunting in its own way. Editors whittle 16,000 total hours of footage down to 16 one-hour episodes.

“They’re pros at finding authentic moments and preserving them,” Conroy says. Like the terrifying moments in the nominated episode, “I Don’t Want to Die,” when a fisherman, struck by shock and seizures, is airlifted out by the Coast Guard.

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Creative Arts Nominees
Sound | Hairstyling | Cinematography & Picture Editing