Nickelodeon is amping up the nostalgia with the re-release of some of the network's most popular 90s shows, including the fan-favorite All That, which will be a weekly sketch comedy series. Michael Franks, the cinematographer behind the new revival of the Nickelodeon hit series, answered a few questions about the revival.
He's lent his work to other hit shows including Disney’s Girl Meets World, Jessie, Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, That’s So Raven, Amazon’s Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, NBC’s Saturday Night Live and many more.
ProductionHUB: First, I want to ask how did the idea to revive All That come up?
Michael Franks: Brian Robbins became President of Nickelodeon in 2018. He was the Executive producer of the original All That. One of the thoughts the producers had was that All That has been a vehicle or a "birthing place", if you will, to foster young talent. It started the careers of Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchel, Amanda Bynes, Nick Cannon. So bringing it back is a great way to find and develop new talent. Kevin Kay, who produced the 90’s All That, as well as Kenan & Kel, are all producers on this re-boot.
ProductionHUB: Playing off of a show that's so nostalgic and so 90s, what sort of elements do you infuse to still give the viewer the familiarity with the original show?
The writers do borrow elements and sketches from the original show for fans. For example, reviving Good Burger and using the Large Ear of Corn as a character again.
Michael Franks: From a cinematography standpoint, there’s not much from the 90’s show that I’m incorporating. I was asked to give the show an upgraded look. One of the ways I have chosen to do that is to give each sketch a look that’s specific for the sketch. We don’t light the show in a formulaic manner. A Silent Place, which was a spoof of a Quiet Place, was a very dramatic look.
Our director Jonathan Judge, who I have collaborated with often, wanted me to create a much more single-camera looking sketch. Lighting to favor a single camera angle, vs lighting from all angles. He also wanted the shots to be specific so we could achieve this look. Many sketches, because of the nature of the material, allow me to create bold looks like this one. Technology has changed vastly since the show’s original days. We are shooting HDR in 4k vs standard definition and 4:3 ratio of the ’90s. This enables us to do so much more with the look of the show, and my crew and I work hard to keep the standard high with regards to the lighting and camera work.
PH: What sorts of techniques and shots did you use?
Michael Franks: I had asked in the beginning if we could shoot on cameras with larger sensors, to give the show a more cinematic look. Nickelodeon wanted the show delivered in 4k, so thankfully that wasn’t an issue. This automatically gives us a shallower depth of field, which is a challenge for camera operators who, as is common in most multi-camera shows, have to pull focus themselves. I keep light levels low to help in keeping that shallow depth of field, as well as utilizing lighting techniques that give the show a clean, sculpted look that’s 3-dimensional and pops. Some sketches need to look more high key, but we still work hard to keep a clean, single-shadow look.
PH: Are there new elements you'll be showcasing? Is the intent to bring the 90s All That into 2019?
Michael Franks: Yes to both. The producers and writers do a lot to pay homage to the fans of the original, but they are also creating sketches that showcase this new cast's talents and relate to the current popular culture.
From my end, I am using a lot of the new technology available to us. Such as wireless lighting fixtures, LED fixtures, the latest automated lights for our musical performances, 4k F-55 Sony cameras, and other new technology where I can. These new tools not only enable me to create looks and effects that the writers and I come up with, but also allow us to be nimble and work at the speed we need to on our very tight production schedule. We only get a short time each day with the cast because they’re minors. So there’s very little time for making corrections or lighting fixes once they’re on set.
PH: How has the show evolved since its creation?
Michael Franks: I didn’t work on the original, as a number of our writers and producers have. But, what I see is that a lot of what worked with the original show is being kept, like some of the sketches, a lot of the silliness, and absurdity in the writing, that is hilarious and both kids & adults loved in the original. What’s new is that the show is being made so that it's relatable for the current audiences, the current social trends, and also this great new cast that brings their own brand of humor and characters, that I think are hysterical.
PH: You've also worked on Girl Meets World (another revival of a 90s hit show). There seems to be a trend of that happening. How exciting is that and what sort of opportunities does it give you as a cinematographer?
Michael Franks: It’s very exciting I think because each show, whether a revival or not, present unique opportunities for me to create a specific look for the show. They also each have their unique challenges, whether single or multi-camera.
I shot the revival of Sigmund & The Sea Monsters for Amazon, which we shot single-camera on location, as well as on stage. I was asked to create a wholly different look than that of the original. Amazon set the bar high, and I was asked to create a “feature quality look" that was much more cinematic than what was done originally. Collaborating with director Jonathan Judge to do this was a great experience and was a success in achieving the quality look they asked for, according to the Amazon execs, and we got to do more episodes.
PH: What other projects are you excited to be working on this year?
I have been asked to shoot a feature that is a sci-fi thriller that takes place on Mars. It sounds like it’ll be fun and challenging. Much of the live-action will be shot on green/blue screen, as well as some practical sets. I’m looking forward to it.
PH: How are you consistently pushing the envelope and developing your skills?
Michael Franks: I am constantly learning. Whether it’s about new technology, lighting, cameras or techniques, I love discovering what’s new and how I can utilize these tools to create a look or help achieve a shot. My crew and I always quote the adage: “Yesterday’s miracle is today’s standard.” The great thing about working for a number of years is I can find new techniques and incorporate them with old ones. The thing that doesn’t change is aesthetic.
With All That one of the things we must be is flexible, spontaneous andfast. I think that’s one of the things I find most appealing, as I did with SNL, is working under a very tight schedule. It pushes our creativity to come up with ideas and solutions. On a weekly basis, we are lighting sometimes 8-10 new sets. Some sets are set up overnight Thursday, and we light and shoot them on Friday. It’s an intense schedule, but I find it appealing. But I couldn’t do it without a great crew, which I feel lucky to have. These women and men on my crew I get to work with each week, are absolutely fantastic.