DP David Reichert Celebrates First Emmy Nom With “Deadliest Catch”

DP David Reichert at work in the ocean element on “Deadliest Catch”. Photo Credit: Discovery Channel

“Deadliest Catch” is about to start shooting its 12th season. Since it first aired in 2005, it has received Emmy love, winning thirteen Emmys and 35 nominations. Five of those wins have been awarded to the series outstanding cinematography team, with four of those wins appearing consecutively since 2011. Variety 411 recently caught up director of photography David Reichert who has received his first Emmy nomination for the show. Bobbing on a boat in the middle of the ocean,  Reichert stepped away from prepping the 12th season of “Deadliest Catch,”to respond to answer a questions.

Variety 411: Congratulations first on the Emmy nomination! What does this nomination mean to you – where you surprised, gratified, satisfied?

David Reichert: Thank you. Although I’ve been on the show for six seasons it is my first run as series DP and my first time being personally named for an Emmy. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of “Deadliest Catch,” and for me the Emmy is the highest honor, so to be recognized among so much talent is the most gratifying, humbling feeling – hard to put into words.

411: “Deadliest Catch” has a strong track record for both nominations and wins for cinematography. What is it that keeps the series at the forefront of cinematography? What are you and your crew doing to keep the images fresh and engaging season after season?

DR: The entire team at Original Productions (production company) knows the challenges and is pushing to make every season noticeably better. From the Executive Producers down, everyone who makes decisions about the look of the show has done time on a crab boat. There is also some very healthy competition between the boats. Everyone wants to come back with something new and great.

411: What do you look for when you are hiring crew for the series? It seems the environment calls for much more than talent and knowledge in the field.

DR: Finding great cinematographers that have the temperament for spending three months on a crab boat is a huge challenge. This is obvious when you look back at the number of crew members who quit or don’t return. But now, as we head into our 12th season of production, we have found a team that comes back year after year that not only can handle the conditions, but are also amazing cinematographers. This has made a huge difference in the look of the show.

411: I imagine it is very challenging to in the open ocean. Are there developments in camera technology that have really helped you and your crew in the last several years?

DR: It is tough to find more challenging conditions to make a series then the middle of the Bering Sea, but it is also what makes it great so we wanted to bring more and different images of it into the show. To do this we developed some new camera systems. At the surface, we used a floating system. This supports a camera in an underwater housing so that the sea surface is in the middle of the image. We used this to film the crab boats at the dock, traveling, and dropping pots. Underwater, we are shooting the boats traveling overhead as well as dropping and pulling pots. In order to get closer to the boats we mounted the camera housing on a 20-foot pole so it we can shoot just a few feet from the hull and propellers. And at the bottom we have built a Pot-Cam. This is a camera system that we attach to a pot to drop 450 feet to the bottom. This has given us some amazing images of what is going on in the crab’s world.

411: Speaking of developments in camera technology, are there particular brands or pieces of equipment that are essential to you for a series like “Deadliest Catch?”

DR: Canon was an incredible partner in developing the look of Season 11. We chose the C300 and spent a lot of time at the Canon studios in Hollywood working with them to develop the look. Then Canon sent a team to Dutch Harbor Alaska (where the DC fleet launches from) to work with our cameramen for a week before they went out to sea. For our underwater work the Gates housings have been great tools for us.

411: Do you have the opportunity to critically review footage and find new ways of capturing material that benefits coverage and story lines?

DR: As the massive, nearly 35,000 hours of footage starts to come back from the boats I am able to review samples of it. This is the time that I am able to see what is working best and what isn’t. With all the talented cinematographers on the boats, inevitably there will be some new and great ideas every year. I make a selects reel to share with the cinematography team which allows us to bring these ideas across the entire fleet. I also point these out to the editing team who are always scouring the footage for new perspectives to freshen the show.

411: I know much of what happens depends on the activities and actions of the moment, but do you have some basic “plan of attack” that you go over with your crew that readies everyone for particular moments or situations, especially a you plan for the upcoming season?

DR: It all starts in LA months before the start for the season deciding what look we want and the best way to capture it. Then just before the season starts we spend 10 days in Dutch Harbor with the cameramen that will be heading out to make sure they understand the look and are ready to go with new equipment. During this time they are shooting scenes, which we have one of our editors in Dutch Harbor cut so we can analyze it together.

Also, during this time we are rigging the six boats featured on the show as well as our chase boat (another crab boat specially rigged to shoot the other boats). For this we are picking the shots and installing four fixed cameras (in custom waterproof housings) for each boat, setting up audio, and lighting the boats. This season we changed out every light bulb in every room of boat and provided the crabbers with back up bulbs

411: What have you learned as a DP from working on Deadliest Catch that you’ve been able to take with you to other jobs?

DR: Certainly, the most important thing I have learned as the series DP on “Deadliest Catch” is that working with a great team and sharing ideas is the best way to elevate the show. Trying to shoot pretty pictures in this environment – tired, seasick, wet, freezing, etc. – can be heartbreaking at times. It’s a very slow and painstaking process, so when you can learn from each other’s successes and mistakes it makes a big difference. We fight for every inch we gain.

411: Is there a favorite moment or sequence you have from last season, that you feel really proud about? Are there aspects of the show you take away with you that extend beyond your professional development?

DR: Last season we were shooting a split-level system for the first time. This a bracket with floats that is able to support a RED Dragon camera (in an underwater housing) so the surface of the sea is in the middle of the image. You operate it by swimming behind it in a dry suit (in 30-degree water). This was to show the massiveness of the boats (with such a low angle) and also to bring more of the Bering Sea into the cinematography. It was not easy to do and being in the water around such big boats at times was really spooky, but you can see a lot of this work in the opening of the season premiere (which we submitted for consideration). I was proud of that.