John Brawley Interview - Offspring 5

Production on the fifth season of Offspring has recently wrapped in Melbourne, marking another chapter in Lemac’s continuing support for Southern Star over the run of this series. Lemac have provided camera rental for Offspring beginning with it’s first season in 2010. As camera technology has rapidly evolved over the past five years, Lemac National Rentals Manager Brett Dwyer has worked closely with Director of Photography John Brawley to provide the best possible solutions for crafting the look of the show.

Now, five years in, we caught up with John to pick his brain about his work on Offspring:

Can you tell us a little about your history and relationship with Lemac.

I go back with Lemac a long way. I had a job working in rentals in prep for a few years and I eventually got to work under the late John Bowring ACS who became my mentor. He'd forgotten more than he taught me and I got to really do my apprenticeship under him. After a couple of years assisting John, I went off as a freelancer but I've come to use and rely on Lemac for camera equipment and support many times over the years.

Can you tell us about the evolution from Red One to MX, to Epic then eventually Alexa that occurred through the years that you’ve been shooting Offspring? Did you strive to maintain a particular look throughout these changing formats?

When we shot the first season of Offspring, which actually wasn't THAT long ago, it was PRE-ALEXA. The only way to shoot TV with a larger sensor size was this new DSLR camera called a 5Dmk2 and there was RED. At the time, RED was still only new, it had only been around for about 12 months. We wanted Offspring to have a big screen feel and I'd actually shot another comedy series, Lowdown on RED. The producers were very nervous about using what they saw as un-proven technology on a long form drama series, but with great support from Blue Post we were able to assure them it would be fine. And it was! The series was very successful, and it's visual style was cemented. Even doing slow motion was a bit tricky back when we started so having a camera that could do 120FPS and a large sensor look was already a big leap over what other cameras could do.

Offspring has a very lively visual style and we tend to employ a lot of It has a very colourful look through it's production design, and it's very bright and aspirational. A lot of the locations are very important to the fans and like Nina's wardrobe, have become an important part of it's visual language. With Nina's many fantasies, we also get to often push the visuals around and break the ‘reality’ of our story world. Sometimes Nina is imagining that she's in a rap video, sometimes she's in a scene from the Maltese Falcon. We needed a camera that was flexible enough to ape a lot of these visual styles as well.

In the fourth season, around the time of Patrick's death, we started using the EPIC with a macro lens at VERY close range to Asher to get these hyper real moments. It's now become an extra layer and even though we changed to Alexa for the last season, we still carried an EPIC just to be able to get these shots. We really only changed to Alexa in the final season to take advantage of the huge dynamic range of the camera. Location based shooting means I'm often at the mercy of the ambient light and windows and don't have a lot of time to fix lighting issues. The extra DR of the Alexa means I can let things go a little more and know that it will hold a bit more detail out some of those hot windows.

Have you always used the same type of lenses on the series? Did anything stand out as a real workhorse throughout?

We've always shot with the Angenieux lenses. I've loved the 45-120 a lot in the last two seasons and the 24-290 is permanently welded to my B camera. In the last two seasons we've had Zeiss CP primes as well and the CP macro has gotten a lot of work.

You’re very well known for your work with the development of the Blackmagic cameras – can you tell us how you’ve incorporated these cameras into your daily use on Offspring?

Offspring shoots on location. Often in Fitzroy, that means small and tiny cafes or flats and we also do a lot of car work as well. We started off with 5Dmk2s for this, then Panasonic AF102s. When Blackmagic came along with their ProRes recording high DR cameras we were able to replaces these "rig" cameras. But they've now also kind of earned their place as a third camera in a lot of setups.

We have an unusual production methodology with Offspring. Because it's innately comic in nature we rarely rehearse a scene and tend to "shoot the rehearsal". So we still have a pretty thorough block and talk about our shots, but we then tend to try and set it up so we can always cross shoot on two handers and we also tend to start off with the close ups FIRST. So it's slightly heretical, but we leave the mids and wider shots till last and shoot out the close ups. Cross shooting means we can let the cast overlap each other which is great for comedy and performance and continuity as well. I would often in a two hander cross shoot run the Blackmagic as a more or less locked off two-shot profile to give us a third bite at that first take cherry. It often saves us a setup and again, when you do a lot of takes with comedy it can wear the cast out and it struggles to stay fresh. More often than not in the last two seasons there is at least one Blackmagic shot in every single scene.

Were there any issues to overcome when using these cameras in a production environment?

While you can use the Blackmagic cameras "naked" I tend to prefer to run them with at least an EVF. I like the Alphatron a lot for this. But they are very flexible. You can pimp them up to be a sort of production camera with a mattebox and follow focus or strip them right back to bare bones and I like the freedom that brings too. Often for very intimate scenes we'd shoot the whole scene on a little pocket BMCC because it means we can take all the hardware away and be very reactive to the drama of what's happening.

Lastly, how you would you rate the service that Lemac has provided during the production of Offspring?

I've had a great relationship with Lemac over the history of Offspring. They really are my imaging partners in getting the most out of the cameras and always following up whenever I had minor issues or questions. They have great technical support and knowledge too, especially with cameras like the RED and EPIC and you really want a rental company that isn't going to throw their hands in the air.

Offspring will return to Channel 10 later this year.