The Event – Shooting Around The Globe While Never Leaving California
When Jeffrey Reiner, Executive Producer and reoccurring director of the ABC series "The Event" approached Feliks Parnell to sign on as the show’s cinematographer, Parnell was immediately intrigued. With a 15 year working relationship between them on low budget movies and a variety of television shows. Parnell was optimistic about the opportunity Reiner was presenting him.
"I really respect him as a film maker," said Parnell. "I knew that coming from him, it was going to be something interesting, and it turned out to be the case with the pilot’s script."
"The Event" is a sci- fi political thriller that unravels its mystery by following a variety of characters: from politicians to average citizens to aliens who look exactly like earthlings, and their interactions taking place in locations across the globe. Although the pilot episode was shot in Hawaii, "The Event" has made California its home base. While the crew is based at the Sunset Gower Studio, generally seven days out of each episode’s eight day shooting schedule requires Parnell to shoot on location.
"Some stories takes place in Miami, Texas, Alaska, California," said Parnell. "We’ve been pretty much all over the United States, but we haven’t left the state yet. We emulate the look of distant locals. We are like a traveling circus: we go from location to location. It feels more like we’re shooting a feature film than a TV show. Our location managers stay very busy!"
Parnell goes out to scout locations with his best boy to get a sense of camera placement. However, a big challenge found in shooting on location instead of in a studio revolves around unpredictable lighting. For each location shoot, Parnell brings a kit with the material that prepares him for any type of lighting scenario.
"You have to work quickly, without too much opportunity to sleep on something overnight," said Parnell. "You have to shoot from the hip. I like that style. It forces you to be creative."
An additional challenge to prepping the scene is determining where to set up the cameras. Prior to joining "The Event," Reiner worked on "Friday Night Lights" where he became comfortable with shooting with three cameras. In working in the multiple camera format, Parnell found it best not to set the scene for the cameras. Rather, the scene is set first, and then he finds the best ways to shoot it. The A and B cameras are assigned to capturing dialogue in the scene, while the C camera captures more voyeuristic coverage of the actors: this camera has free reign to roam and capture interesting angles. When edited together, these shots increase the tension in the scenes and act as devices helping to illuminate the truth behind each character’s story-line.
"It’s not necessarily a hand-held camera," explained Parnell, "but it is always looking for an off angle to show somebody’s profile or somebody’s back. The C camera is more of a wild card, not following the conventional ways of shooting."
Parnell uses Sony F35 cameras that are outfitted with motion picture lenses. He shoots in 16-9 format with muted lighting, and employs a great deal of negative space in the frame.
"Being a dp, the lighting was probably the most important tool at my disposal," said Parnell. "I think the show has a dark look because the stories are pretty dark, exploring themes like political intrigue. We have a lot of heavy foreground and use very heavy overs. We are trying to create our own look with this show."
Parnell works very closely with department heads from the other creative areas, including the art director, production designer, costume designer and makeup artists. The various department heads have regular meetings and open dialogues on set to exchange ideas designed to enhance the scene. Parnell also relies upon the suggestions and efforts of his camera department staff in developing his shot.
"I believe everybody in this business has a creative bone in them," said Parnell. "That is part of my job, to inspire people and get them to share their ideas."
Also employed in the creative process is a visual effects crew. Having limited experience with VFX in the past, Parnell found it enjoyable to work closely with the VFX team, having them on set during shoots and collaborating with them for their needs.
"It’s been free flowing without restricting my work in any way," said Parnell. "They may sometimes ask for a little more light or a little more level, but I can still do my dramatic lighting, and they work with it and around it. It’s been a really interesting and positive thing for me."
As with every television show, there isn’t a great deal of prep time prior to shooting each episode. A few episodes were shot entirely on location, increasing the challenge of prepping for each shot. The creative team sometimes has less than five days to secure locations, build sets and prep for shooting. While Parnell recognizes the pressure such limited pre-production time places on the producers and production designers, he enjoys this most challenging aspect of working on each new episode.
"The biggest challenge is also the most satisfying part," said Parnell. "We deal with large locations involving special effects, stunts, and a lot of elements. It’s not a small intimate show about two people in love. It’s a political thriller with elements of the supernatural, so the stories are complex and so is every day on the set. But we have a lot of really great people working on the show and a really great cast so every day is just fun. I like getting up and going to work. It makes it all worth it right there!"