Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cockeyed Chronicles

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cockeyed Chronicles

Article excerpt

The show opens with a title card: "All of the stories depicted in the following program are based on real events." Then a second card makes it clear that what will follow isn't going to be your typical documentary: "It should be noted, however, that every storyteller you are about to see is completely drunk."

Welcome to Drunk History, a half-hour television series that premiered on Comedy Central in 2013 and recently began its second season. Based on the Funny or Die Web series created by Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner in 2007, each episode consists of three historically accurate, fully fact-checked stories - such as the Scopes Monkey Trial, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the art theft at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the fall of the Alamo, Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon - as told by thoroughly inebriated volunteers, most of whom are personal friends of producer/director Konner and producer/on-air talent Waters. (A medical doctor is always on hand to keep tabs on the inebriated storytellers.)

"The toughest part of the show is that we have to shoot one entire story, from top to bottom, in a single day/' says director of photography Blake McClure, who took home the ASC Award for Half-Hour Series this past February for his work on the episode "Detroit." McClure, who has shot every episode except the pilot (which was photographed by Shawn Kim), explains, "Each story is about 10 pages of script, which translates into seven or eight minutes [of screen time], A full episode takes three days to shoot."

Each story is recounted by a different narrator, who sits in the comfort of his or her own home. Shots of the narrator are intercut with re-enactments of the historical incident, which are acted out by celebrity guest stars dressed in period costume and who lip sync the dialogue being spoken by the narrator.

The three stories that comprise an episode are usually linked by city (for example, they might all take place in Boston), although all the re-enactments are shot in and around Los Angeles. "Our locations manager, Dan Cooley, is crucial to the development and look of the show," says McClure. "He finds these great locations and we piggyback a few days in a row so we don't have to pack and move the trucks every day."

The day AC visited the set, the cast and crew were holed up inside a former youth correctional facility outside Los Angeles, reenacting an event from 1938 that involved a most unlikely trio: Adolf Hitler (portrayed by "Weird AI" Yankovic), American boxer Joe Louis (Terry Crews) and German boxer Max Schmeling (Tim Heidecker). The latter two were vying for the World Heavyweight Championship at New York's Yankee Stadium. Although the United States and Nazi Germany were not yet at war, the match between the American "Brown Bomber" and the German fighter had strong racial and political undertones.

The sequence was conceived as the series' first black-andwhite segment. "When I think of Hitler, I think of black-and-white newsreels," McClure notes. "Jeremy was wary; we didn't want [viewers to think we were mimicking] Raging Bull. But the beauty of [shooting digitally] is that you can set up a black-and-white image on the monitor and still record in color." (Although the filmmakers gave themselves that option, the segment is indeed presented in black-and-white in the finished episode.)

The crew staged the boxing match inside a warehouse-like building at the facility, where they set up 20' of dolly track to move the camera on a GFM jib with an SL Pod remote head. McClure notes that key grip Rudy Covarrubias provided the jib and head, and gaffer Christian Grosselfinger provides most of the lights for the show. Nine space lights were hung directly above the raised ring, while a row of Par cans backlit the two fighters. "We also bounced a couple of open-faced 2K Mighty-Moles into muslin to [fill in] the men's eyes," reports McClure.

Drunk History is predominantly a singlecamera show, and McClure usually operates the camera, his personal Red Epic MX. …

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