On Chris Rock’s Tamborine [directed by Burnham] and a lot of the Comedy Lineup stuff [directed by Storer], you guys do something that a lot of stand-up specials tend to avoid, and that’s using long lenses, which makes it feel really intimate even though comedy is supposed to be broad. 

Yeah, they’re more cinematic, which is really cool. It lends the special a really nice look, but there’s something isolating and scary about being a stand-up. Being in front of a room of people and entertaining them. Bo and I directed his Make Happy special and one of the ideas that he had from the beginning that I thought was so cool was making the audience almost look a little scary, almost from the point of view of the comedian. Like when you look out at a sea of people and you’re like “Holy shit. There are a lot of people just staring at me right now.” And again, that sort of goes hand in hand with deconstructing the idea of a stand-up special. Most of the time specials attempt these reaction shots of people laughing, but Bo, Jerrod and I always talk about how we can mess with that a little bit. How can turn that on its ear just slightly without being obnoxious?

If you don’t mind my bringing up Nanette again, the only time they pull all the way out, which stand-up specials usually do when an audience is clapping or laughing uproariously, hers ends up pulling out at the most serious moments, as if to show silence and a wave of tension washing over everyone. You guys have a similar moment towards the end of Make Happy, where’s this pan across the audience, but it’s not a funny moment.

One of the other things we also always try to do is, I think it’s always cool when you show the crowd listening. Hanna’s is an incredible example. She’s such a powerful storyteller. She hasthat audience. They are hooked, and they’re riveted by her material. And it’s this amazing thing where you can show the audience participating in the show by actively listening and not just sitting there laughing like the usual shots we see a million times in these things.

What you guys seem to do with light and sound is bring out the internal mindset of the comedian. The intro to what seems to be a medley of depression and confusion.

I think that’s exactly right. That’s also a lot of what was happening in Bo’s material then. Certainly, with Make Happy that’s what he was getting at. We really leaned heavily on Marc Janowitz, our lighting director to bring that out as much as he could. A lot of times that involves much more cinematic lighting. His job gets very difficult with the short windows that we have to produce these things. Him and Drew [Wehde] have to work very closely together to make sure the lighting reads on camera. A lot of this lighting will read in an auditorium but lighting for a show versus lighting for TV is crazy different. So we have a whole day beforehand where we’re trying to make sure the lighting director and the D.P. and our crew get on the same page.

The atmosphere in Tamborine feels warm and welcoming, but at the same time there’s this grandeur to it because of the way the lights are designed, it feels almost like a chandelier.

That was 100% what Bo was going for. As gifted a comedian as Bo is, he’s even a stronger filmmaker, because he has such a specific vision of these things. That’s exactly what he was going for with Tamborine, this warm, intimate vibe of the theatre, but also because it’s Chris Rock, there needs to be something grandiose about it. So him and Marc put together that amazing stage and the lights above. That has such a gold hue to it, and Chris just looks so cool in that t-shirt on stage. It was a way that we hadn’t seen Chris before. It seemed a little more stripped down, but more humungous at the same time. I thought it was such a cool fit.

Jerrod Carmichael: 8 also has such an interesting setting, because you have Jerrod who’s in jeans and dressed really casually, but he feels very out of place in this ornate room full of people in suits. 

Absolutely, that’s by design, that’s Jerrod. That’s 100% Jerrod. I think Jerrod wanted to feel a little bit like a fish out of water. Bo had such a specific way of how he wanted to present it. He starts it mid-thought, which I thought was brilliant. And the way it was captured, him and Drew [Wehde], they piggy-backed two cameras together on three dolly tracks. Each set of cameras always had the same movement. They were always in sync with each other, and it gave it this nice intimate feel, but I also think Jerrod’s act can be challenging. So there’s something challenging about the way that it was shot. You can’t look away from it.

Jerrod can’t seem to look away either, because there are cameras always moving around him. It doesn’t seem to stop.

It’s always hovering around him and it’s also catching the audience trying to see where Jerrod is going with some of these jokes. It’s not a traditional set, and I think he really likes to play with the audience’s expectation of comedy.

***

In Part 2, we discuss shooting Jerrod Carmichael: 8 in a Messianic Temple, Storer’s cinematic influences, the incredible experiment Drew Michael, and Bo Burnham’s Kanye West parody.

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