DP Joe Gabriel captures Netflix educational series Brainchild with VariCam LT and EVA1 cinema cameras

3 min read

Brainchild is an educational variety show aimed at middle and grade school students and was shot by cinematographer Joe Gabriel with VariCam LT 4K camcorders. The show is executive produced by hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams and Mimi Valdés, as well as Atomic Entertainment’s Jerry Kolber and Adam Davis. Kolber and Davis are the creators of Brainchild, as well as the creators and executive producers of the Emmy-nominated 50-episode hit series Brain Games, which was also lensed by Gabriel.

In addition to the series on Netflix, the show also offers free curriculum for middle and grade school teachers for each episode, developed in accordance with STEAM and Common Core standards, available at www.BrainchildShow.com.

According to DP Joe Gabriel, Brainchild was much more ambitious than he expected, with a wide variety of styles and set-ups that would push the VariCam LTs in a lot of different directions.

The 13-episode series, imparting entertaining lessons on topics ranging from germs to emotions to social media, was shot on location and sound stages in New York City and New Jersey last winter. The production utilized three VariCam LT cameras, with Gabriel operating the A-camera and two ACs and a media manager on hand. “Our A-camera was built-up studio style, the second LT lived on our Movi gimbal and we used the third as our B camera,” explains Gabriel. “We shot 4K internally, 10-bit 4:2:2 AVC-Intra. We went for a lot of looks, requiring different lighting, and made significant use of the LT’s dual native ISOs.”

The DP also brought in a Panasonic AU- EVA1 5.7K handheld cinema camera for pick-up shots at the end of the 45-day shoot, recording 4K ProRes out to an Atomos Shogun Inferno recorder. “Having previously shot a similar series, I found that Brainchild was much more ambitious than I’d expected, with a wide variety of styles and set-ups that I knew would push the cameras in a lot of different directions,” reveals Gabriel. “I’ve always liked Panasonic’s color science, and I was impressed by how well the LT performs in low light.”

Gabriel and team used three VariCam LTs. One of the cameras was used extensively on a Freefly Systems Movi gimbal.

Some of the inherent cinematographic challenges on Brainchild were handling the skin tones of a repertory company of racially-diverse young actors, as well as recreating divergent classic genres - film noir, soap opera, high school musicals and Friday night football. Each episode opens with a cold open in the style of Saturday Night Live. “In retrospect, I’d say I treated ISO 5000 like a film stock," says Gabriel. "For instance, dialing down from 5000 base to 3200 for more grain, or dialing down from 5000 base to 2000 while shooting 60p, which meant we didn’t have to light for slo-mo,” recounts Gabriel. “We were shooting during winter months, and pumping up the ISOs on some very short days would give us an extra 30-60 minutes of shooting. The dual ISOs really helped to maximize our lighting package."

Regarding lenses, Gabriel used Cooke S4 and Mini S4 primes and Fujinon Cabrio zooms. The DP owns both a VariCam LT and EVA1; the production rented the additional LTs from TCS (New York, NY). Post-production was handled by SIM Digital in New York City. “Ultimately, we could do a lot more with the VariCam LT - it supported our mix of scripted/unscripted content and really let us do things on the fly,” Gabriel said. “Most importantly, it elevated our visuals to a whole new level.”

For more information about DP Joe Gabriel, click through here.