The Right Tool For The Job

When director Pete Conlon of WUT IT IS ( met with Mirror Films ( cinematographer Vasco Nunes (Planet B-Boy, DiG!) to discuss shooting the opening credit sequence for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the producers were interested in using one of the latest HD DSLRs, but still needed some convincing. Since Nunes had experience working with the Canon EOS 7D on a few MTV promos, he was confident that the small, compact HD DSLR would be the right tool for the job.

“The concept was to go in and get an insider’s perspective of Los Angeles,” explains Nunes. “I knew I needed a camera body that would have to be very small and that could be configured in different sizes with different lenses. We also had a small crew, and we wanted to capture images as fast as we could with ‘real’ people in each location.”

Perhaps the main reason for choosing the Canon EOS 7D was because the production was going to be shooting at night, and HD DSLRs, due to their large sensors and access to fast lenses, can capture good images in extreme low-light conditions. But for Nunes, the selection of the 7D was based more on the needs of the production rather than the low cost of the cameras.

Since they were capturing shots more “on the fly” with no planned setups or professional actors, it was more about capturing the energy of Los Angeles nightlife. The opening is a montage of various L.A. locations, featuring people hanging out in open venues such as bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as exterior spaces. In terms of the overall look, Conlon and Nunes were looking for strong graphic images with saturated colors rather than a specific palette of colors. Also, the framing was extremely important because they had to make sure to leave space for the show’s titles.

“We wanted to push people and items—whatever the graphic weight of the image—to one side or the other,” explains Nunes. “This allowed for space for the titling to occur. We wanted to shade away from seeing people—either put them in a dark sort of environment or abstract them in a way out of focus because the eye has to travel to the title and not stay on a face.”

For the shoot, Nunes, Conlon and their small crew took two 7Ds and ventured out and grabbed glimpses of actual nightlife in the corners of the frame, silhouettes of real people outside of the camera’s depth of field and patterns of light and negative space in architectural structures.