×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Checco Varese Becomes Go-to Cinematographer for Launching TV Shows

Shooting TV pilots isn’t for everyone. They require extensive prep work and the ability to think on one’s feet. But those are the kinds of things at which Checco Varese has become expert.

After starting as a camera assistant for National Geographic Films in Peru and getting a couple of dozen NatGeo documentaries under his belt, he became a news cameraman for NBC, CNN and BBC. For 14 years he filmed in war-torn areas under sensitive circumstances — an occupation that required him to be a fixer as well as a gatherer of images. He would drop into a location and get things ready for the rest of the crew to come in and help him tell the story.

While building the visual DNA for a new series isn’t exactly the same as working in a war zone, the ability to be ready for anything has made Varese the go-to guy for TV pilots. He shot his first with Davis Guggenheim on “The Unit.” After that came the pilot for HBO’s “True Blood,” which ended up running for seven seasons. Other credits include A&E’s “The Returned,” ABC Family’s “The Fosters,” “Melrose Place” for The CW and “The Defenders” for CBS. He’s now shot 20 pilots and counting.

Varese likens working on pilots to making a fantastic meal. “I’ll cook a wonderful lamb,” he says, “a Peruvian-Japanese fusion dish, and if you ask me to do it again the next day, my answer will be no. That’s sort of how I see them.” The high-pressure environment of working on pilot after pilot requires a certain personality, which Varese has in spades. “You have to have an intense passion for it in order to push everybody to their limits,” he says.

Varese — who has shot his share of feature films as well, including “The 33” and “Replicas,” and is prepping the upcoming “It: Chapter 2” — isn’t sure if being known as “the pilot guy” is good or bad, but he gets a satisfaction out of the form that he finds lacking in a multi-episode scenario, where, for him, boredom can set in.

“I set the look,” he says. “I’m responsible for the [DPs] coming in after me in terms of thinking about their parameters as well. They’re most likely going to have 30% less money and time, so I don’t [go overboard] with technocranes or aerial shots and things like that, because there’s nothing worse than a pilot that looks extraordinary and then Episode 2 looks like it is done on $25.”

And when it’s time to move on, Varese never feels like he’s letting go of his newborn, but rather like he’s sending a teenager into the world. “It’s like when a child goes to university,” he says. “If you think of it as a baby, then it’s impossible to let go. But an adult son, that’s OK; he has to grow up and work by himself.”

Though there are cinematographers he greatly admires for creating an inventive visual environment week after week (he cites “Scandal’s” Oliver Bokelberg), Varese insists he doesn’t feel he knows how to shoot episodic series. Yet that’s not really true. He recently wrapped three episodes of the first season of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski, for Amazon, which debuts Aug. 31. Sealing the deal was his friendship with “Jack Ryan” executive producer Carlton Cuse, for whom Varese had shot six pilots, including “The Strain,” “The Returned” and “Colony.”

And there was a final enticement to bring him on board: Cuse hired Varese’s wife, Patricia Riggen, to direct the series.

More Artisans

  • Camerimage includes 'Joker' in Main Competition.

    Camerimage Main Competition includes ‘Ford v Ferrari,’ ‘Joker’ and ‘The Irishman’

    Several awards season contenders — including “Ford v Ferrari” (pictured), “Joker” and “the Irishman” — will screen in the main competition at Camerimage, the cinematography-oriented film festival that will take place in Torun, Poland, on Nov. 9-16. In alphabetical order, the selected films are: “Amundsen” (Norway); director: by Espen Sandberg: cinematographer: Pål Ulvik Rokseth “Bolden” [...]

  • First still from the set of

    How the 'Jojo Rabbit' Production Team Created a Child's View of Nazi Germany

    When picturing Nazi Germany during World War II, most people think of black-and-white or sepia-toned images of drab cities. For the cinematographer and production designer of “Jojo Rabbit,” a film set squarely in that time and place, it became clear that the color palette of the era was far more varied than they could have [...]

  • National Theatre Live Midsummer's Night Dream

    National Theatre Live Marks Decade of Stage-to-Screen With Immersive ‘Midsummer’

    National Theatre Live has filmed nearly eight dozen theatrical productions over the last decade, bringing theater to the cinema using top technologies and talents in the videography space. This month, on the eve of its 10th anniversary, its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is challenging the technical producers and crew with an immersive stage [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in development on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call ‘micro-contrast.’ [The look] was never going to be [...]

  • Advanced Imaging Society Honors 10 Women

    AIS Honors 10 Women in Tech

    Celebrating 10 years of achievement in entertainment technology, the Advanced Imaging Society today named 10 female industry innovators who will receive the organization’s 2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards at the its 10th annual Entertainment Technology Awards ceremony on October 28 in Beverly Hills. The individuals were selected by an awards committee for being significant “entertainment industry [...]

  • Will Smith Gemini Man Special Effects

    How the 'Gemini Man' VFX Team Digitally Created a Younger Version of Will Smith

    More human than human — yes, that’s a “Blade Runner” reference — yet it sounds like an unattainable standard when it comes to creating believable, photorealistic, digital human characters. But the visual effects team on Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” set its sights on something even more difficult: creating a digital version of young Will Smith [...]

  • Jest to Impress Cartoon Network Virtual

    New In-House VR Program Helps Cartoon Network Artists Add a Virtual Dimension

    Teams of animators and artists from across Cartoon Network’s numerous properties are getting the chance to expand into virtual reality storytelling via the company’s pilot program, Journeys VR. The work of the first three teams — including experiences based on action, nature and comedy — was unveiled to global audiences Oct. 1 on Steam and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content