Mar. 27, 2019

DP Logan Schneider on “Drunk History”

“Drunk History” achieves many looks to transport viewers to a different time and place for each story.

Mar. 27, 2019

Created by Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner, the Emmy Award-winning “Drunk History” features inebriated historians recounting historical events to Waters, while they are re-enacted by well-known actors. When Blake McClure, the cinematographer with the show since its 2013 inception, left for another opportunity, Logan Schneider, who had shot music videos with Konner, was brought on board to shoot Season 5—and brought his ALEXA Mini and ARRI Master Primes with him.

The biggest challenge initially, says Schneider, was matching the high bar that McClure had set. “He did a really good job,” he says. “We light it like a movie and want each story to feel like you’re into a different time and place. Blake kept away from flat comedy lighting and added a lot of character. I wanted to maintain that quality of work but push it forward in my own way. I did certain things to continue his lighting style and, as I got more comfortable in the show, I evolved from where he left it.”

One of the first things he did change was to move the show to an ALEXA Mini. “I was happy [the producers] were willing to make the switch,” says Schneider. “I feel so much more comfortable with ARRI.” Maintaining the quality of the look established by McClure—which Schneider describes as “a mix of atmosphere, backlight, contrast and very clean”—while also trying to distinguish the look of each episode’s three stories and shooting nine to 10 pages a day was, he says, “the battle.” “We had 42 stories in 42 days, and we had to try something different but appropriate for each story,” he says. “The Mini
was the right choice because of the 4:3 sensor let us do higher frame rates and any format we threw at it. The internal filters also saved me a huge amount of time.”

The combination of the ALEXA Mini and Master Primes helped achieve the mandate of a different look for each story. “I like the Master Primes because I can expose them lower on the curve,” says Schneider. “The lenses create that really clean feeling. One nice thing about this show is that what’s in front of the lens is so good, I don’t have to hide it with flares or funky lenses. The great sets plus the characteristics and beauty of the lenses is quite a joy.” 

Schneider used the Master Primes for all three stories that comprise “Drunk Mystery,” episode seven of Season 5. That episode’s stories featured the disappearance of Agatha Christie; the anonymous writer that terrified Circleville, Ohio; and the hijacker dubbed “D.B.” who was never caught. “All three segments were shot with Master Primes,” says Schneider. “It let me light them a little softer and expose them a little darker and still get all the information, while giving it a moodier vibe. It was nice to have that option.”

The ARRI Master Anamorphics also played a starring role to create a 1960s look for an episode on Gloria Steinem. “Broad City’s” Abbi Jacobson plays the young journalist who goes undercover as a Playboy bunny in the Manhattan Playboy Club in 1963. “I used them on a music video eight months ago, and realized they want to be under exposed a half-stop,” he says. “They’re sharp and there’s so much resolution that the contrast and color separation works better a little bit under—it doesn’t need the extra luminance. Once I understood that, they were amazing lenses.” 

Narrated by ESPN host/comedian Katie Nolan, the episode also stars Jane Krakowski as a “bunny mother.” “The Master Anamorphics created a cleaner image [than the other lenses we were using],” he says. “It just felt right. We were using natural window light for part of it, and the flare kit added a bit of the lens effects for a really nice blend. I’m hoping I can use them more this year in conjunction with the Master Primes.”

“For so many years we had all these film stocks and processes,” Schneider says. “Now, lenses are the paintbrush, and the lenses we used were a nice counterpoint to each other. It was really fun to have that ability, in conjunction with the Mini sensor and functionality.” Between seasons, Schneider took his Master Primes to shoot a documentary in Costa Rica and then onto Season 6 of Drunk History. 

“With the Master Primes onboard as our full-time spherical set for Season 6, we were able to do our best work every day,” he says. “Having the sharpness, neutral palette and faster T-stop of the Master Primes helped me find simple and natural lighting solutions that supported the narrative and intention of each episode.”

For so many years we had all these film stocks and processes. Now, lenses are the paintbrush. 

DP Logan Schneider

In an episode depicting Mary Shelley (played by Evan Rachel Wood), Dr. Frankenstein (Seth Rogan) and Frankenstein’s monster (Will Ferrell), Schneider captured the Shelley portion in digital anamorphic, while the Frankenstein story shot on Kodak 5222 35mm black and white film with an ARRICAM LT. “Master Primes were the obvious choice for the spherical segment,” he says. “It was incredible to look through the viewfinder and the Master Primes at Ferrell in full monster makeup.” 

Video: The “Drunk History” episode about Gloria Steinem, captured on ALEXA Mini with Master Anamorphics.

Photos: Garret Curtis