Director of photography Blake McClure was hired for Drunk History at a party, while drinking. That seems logical for a show that involves getting its lead actor drunk to recite an important historical event.
Okay, it didn’t happen exactly like that, but neither do the historical reimaginings in the web short-turned-Comedy Central series. McClure was, however, hired blind after running into cocreator Derek Waters at a couple of parties in Los Angeles.
"It helps to be social in this industry," says McClure, who had long been a fan of the show during its nascent stages on FunnyorDie.com. "He called some mutual friends of ours and got the lowdown on me. We had never worked together, and I didn’t even meet Jeremy [cocreator and director Jeremy Konner] until the first day of preproduction."
Drunk History started as videos for Waters’ live comedy show LOL that he performed at Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). Back in 2007, Waters got the idea from a friend (who happened to be Jake Johnson from New Girl, who was animatedly and drunkenly telling a story at a bar one night). He shared the idea with Konner and the two made a web short, not really expecting much other than laughing at and with each other. Konner had been working as an assistant for Jack Black who saw the short and expressed interest in doing another one with them. Black played Benjamin Franklin in the second episode, and every six months or so, Konner, Waters and whoever was game for some drinking and history lessons would make another one to post on FunnyorDie.com.
Now, seven years later, Comedy Central is airing Season Two this summer after a well received first season where inebriated storytellers were paired with A-list talent on a tour of cities across America. Besides the tour format, there are an additional three episodes focusing on First Ladies, Olympians and American music.
"It’s really like low-budget experimentation," says McClure, who just this past February won an ASC award for his work on the show. "Regardless of being with a network and having more of a budget to play with—still not big, mind you—the goal is to tell the story using whatever tools we can get our hands on."
That would be a RED EPIC and a variety of lenses, including Lomo Anamorphics, Super Baltars, Cooke miniS4/i’s, Zeiss B-Speeds and an Angénieux 25-250mm HR T3.5 zoom. On occasion, McClure even gets an old Varicon filter used in the 1970s to color the shadows in-camera.
The shooting format is as follows: three weeks of prep for a 30-day shoot, one day with the A-lister who comes on set to tell their drunken version of a historical event, then one day to reenact it. Rinse and repeat for nine more episodes.