It has been stated repeatedly that we are experiencing a new Golden Age of television. One of the most benevolent aspects of streaming media is that it has created a situation that allows for the high speed delivery of information and entertainment. Watching films is no longer regulated to a weekend outing and appointment TV no longer exists. This has created a seemingly insatiable thirst on the part of the public for great storytelling, and for lots of it. The delineation between film and TV has disappeared and you’ll see the most acclaimed of professionals, in front of and behind the camera, taking part in both. Cinematographer Ruixi Gao has spent the majority of her career working in film but took the plunge into television when the opportunity presented itself with “Behind the Spotlight.” She was particularly intrigued by the interview series which focused on the players not in front of the camera who have taken part in creating some of the most well-known and beloved productions of modern times; individuals much like herself. Working with producers Jane Wu, Andi Wang, & Director Bo-You Niou, Gao created a vision for the look of the series that would be enticing to the viewer and pay respect to these professionals who don’t normally receive the public’s attention.
For a cinematographer who has spent virtually all of her professional career in film, the adjustment to TV required some investigation. There are some differences between TV and Film. Television focuses on keeping the audience visually interested while film typically concentrates on using the pictures to express the story. Because “Behind the Spotlight” is an interview program, Gao wanted to use some different location settings to keep the viewer visually engaged. In preproduction meetings with director Bo-You Niou, the DP suggested combining the in-studio interview with outside “on-the-go” footage to be acquired with a Steadicam. She created a traditional three camera shoot for the indoor footage but this guerilla type footage would add some diversity to the look.
Among the interviewees that appeared on “Behind the Spotlight” were Art Director Gabriel Hardman who has drawn storyboards for X-men & Batman (on which he worked with director Christopher Nolan) and Michael Markowitz (writer of the Horrible Bosses). To communicate the link between paper and moving images, Gao filmed Hardman in the Huntington Library. As Gabriel walked amongst the tomes, he spoke of the inspiration he finds in books and in libraries. His journey from a young boy who simply did what he loved to a professional who has worked on some of the biggest movie franchises in history creates a visceral connection between modern day storytelling and its more traditional predecessor…captured with gravitas by Ruixi as he weaves in and out of the highway of books. Fittingly, Markowitz is shown in the modern day hub of literature…the coffee shop; specifically, Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters in Pasadena. The interview with Michael was done in one take; there is no cutoff. The framing of the conversation seems as intimate and relaxed as two ordinary friends sharing stories and catching up. The warmth of the environment is natural and relaxing, as Gao designed.
The opportunity “Behind the Spotlight” afforded Ruixi to work in television while telling of the success of those behind the camera (like her) is one she claims as highly rewarding. She reveals, “There is an art to shooting television and I feel that I’ve gained some real insight by doing it. It seems that TV is where a lot of adventurous stories are being told. That is exciting to everyone in the industry. A program such as ‘Behind the Scenes’ would likely not sell a lot of tickets at a movie theater, documentaries have a history of this, but many many people will see it when it airs. Even beyond the art of it, there is an importance in the information being communicated. I know it was inspiring to me to hear these artists tell about their lives and how they got to such a place of prominence in the industry. There may be a young writer, producer, actor, or cinematographer that will see their story and be inspired to try it themselves. That idea inspires me to do my absolute best. I want artist like Mr. Markowitz and Mr. Hardman to get all of the respect they deserve; one of the ways that I do that is by using the camera to place them in a way that conveys their true importance. To be a part of that process…it’s something I love and take very seriously.”