It's time for the biggest sports event of the year, the Super Bowl. Or as we filmmakers like to call it, the world premiere of the year's biggest commercials! From conception to post, the Super Bowl offers an excuse to create some of the best commercial storytelling out there.

And the Super Bowl is no stranger to Sony VENICE.

Starting last year, it was the camera of choice for the official Super Bowl broadcast. This year, it returns not only for the broadcast, but also as the camera behind commercials like F. Gary Gray’s larger-than-life official halftime commercial, featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar.

With rap and hip-hop legends, fast cars, big locations, and a ton of VFX, how in the hell does the director of photography shoot something on this scale?

For Paul Cameron, ASC, it's all in a day's work.

Cameron spoke with No Film School to talk about how this wild production works behind the scenes.

No Film School: When you come on to shoot an official trailer for the Super Bowl, how does the project start? Did the filmmaker F. Gary Gray hand you a script?

Paul Cameron: I got a call from F. Gary Gray, who I've worked with in the past on some commercials. He said, “Hey, do you want to do this thing? They want to launch something for the Super Bowl.”

So we just started throwing around some ideas that he had featuring the artists and a script from the agency. Gary likes to jump in right away with building an animatic, which is basically just getting it going with some music and some imagery, so everybody can get on the same page.

In this case, I did a director scout with Gary, which was great. You go out early with a production designer, producer, and director and get a lay of the land, and talk about what you can accomplish in a day or two days.

It's hard as a DP, because if you're not brought in ahead of time on something this scale, then when you go scout, you don't really have time to figure it out in one day. So I'm glad they gave me a little lead-up.

NFS: There's so much VFX in The Callas well. After the director scout and the animatic, do you storyboard further? How do you get to the next stage?

Cameron: The animatic is like a previs in a way, and after we build that, Gary and the production company hire a storyboard artist, so we know basically how many shots we've got to accomplish at a location.

Specifically, with celebrity talent, it’s tricky. You may get a half a day or a full day at a location, but you are only going to get the artist for like an hour and a half. How to fold setups into setups? What can you shoot with doubles? How can you block shoot as quickly as you can? So in other words, like with Mary J. Blige, you need to have the photo studio ready, the area where she's getting photographed with a car, and then she's picking up a call and a makeup station there.

If you’ve got Mary for two and a half, maybe three hours, you've got to figure out and pre-light and figure out all those shots.

Basically, we board it, make a shot list, and then given the time we have, we have the priorities to execute the shots that Gary needs to satisfy the creative length and the animatic. Gary really does love to stick to his full idea, which is the animatic or previs of the whole thing.

But obviously, there's a lot of room for like, “What if we do an FPV drone?” Or “What if the photo studio wipes with Mary in one location, let me see stitching her in the next location?” So we build it ahead of time.

Mary_j_blige'The Call'

NFS: You can't keep Mary J. Blige waiting while you come up with something creative.

Cameron: You can't keep any of the celebrity talent waiting.

For the Eminem, Marshall Mathers, Slim Shady sequence. There was a lot of discussion about once Eminem got there, how would he play off of the stand-in? The stand-in was ultimately going to get this technique called Deep Fake, which is a visual effect that's done over that character's face to make it look like young Eminem.

This was a complicated one. How do we figure out the words? And where the hand slides the words? A lot of times, they don't want to make the decision. Somebody like Eminem comes in, and he works so fast and he's just flying. So my whole thing after shooting many years of music videos and live shows and things like that, you get used to the real-time energy of an actor or performer. So, I was just like, “Listen, let me move the technocrane with Marshall Mathers and Eminem, and I'll get these kind of camera moves based off of their moves.” And everybody's like, “Oh, how are you going to do that?”

EminemA young Eminem is featured with the use of Deep Fake technology in 'The Call' directed by F. Gary Gray and lensed by Paul Cameron, ASC.

So you do a couple takes, and everybody gets excited, and you realize the camera on has this weird twitchy, panning tilt style to it. It just kind of all came together. Of course, you think Eminem's going to stay for a little while, we're going to get some closeups, and then suddenly he's leaving. It's like, “Okay, we'll see you at SoFi Stadium for an hour at the next night,” or whatever it was. They can tell when you’ve shot them enough and kind of satisfied the material for that day.

They may have said he was going to be there four hours, but I think we had him maybe an hour and a half or something like that.

NFS: That’s fast.

Cameron: You have to work fast, but it’s also planning. I've obviously done a lot with visual effects. You have an understanding of what goes into the image in post. And in this case, it was very specific what Gary wanted to do. But it's simple things like, even that Eminem stage is. We did a concept drawing that had this concrete, coffered ceiling with this window light and that's with Dominic Watkins, the production designer, and Ajit Menon from The Mill.

It's great to work with a company like The Mill where you do the final color on it and they put the ceiling in exactly the way they said they would. That goes for everything, like Kendrick Lamar's environment with the circular set turns into spinning paper, or whether it's the cloudy ocean day and the camera descends into the sea with the keys playing in the water and revealing Dre.

You need to kind of have that rapport, specifically the director, the production designer, and the visual effects supervisors, so that you're not surprised later.

There's a tendency out there for people to say, let's just shoot it against green screen, and we'll figure it out later. No. We need to know where are they standing, where the light’s coming from, what color is the light. We need to understand the basics so we know how to light somebody for a particular shot. It’s great to work with a bunch of people who know what they're responsible for doing, and do it well.

Snoop_doggShooting Snoop Dogg in his low-rider was achieved by Paul Cameron, ASC, using the Sony Rialto Camera Extension, which allows the the body of Sony VENICE to be up to 18 feet away.

NFS: When we last spoke to you about lensing Reminiscence, you had used Sony VENICE. You shot again on VENICE here too. Why was it the camera of choice?

Cameron: I shoot a lot with Sony VENICE. In this case, we wanted to shoot spherical 2.39 widescreen and also be able to extract 16:9. And then obviously, it's a big-scale job, so they want to pull 9:16 for social media, and 1:1. So there's a whole list of what's going to come out of the image that you shoot. I just made a decision because I love shooting 2.39. It's 5.6K in VENICE, with full-frame lenses. Here I used the Zeiss Supremes. I just love the camera and the color space and the flexibility of the internal neutral density filters.

There's a feature to the camera called the Rialto, which enables you to pull the front optical block off. Then basically you have this very small front of a camera with the lens on it and the main body of the camera in the recorder now, 18 feet away. So, I can use it on a very quick handheld shot, or jam it under a dashboard with Snoop in a low rider, or stick it on a hood and strap it down to a sandbag to get a quick shot of him driving without doing a big car rig and stuff like that.

The camera's got a lot of great attributes. When you're run-and-gunning with celebrity talent, and you've got changing light, it's helpful to have things like internal NDs. I do it all myself, or I flip a frame rate or a shutter speed or whatever I do it very quickly while I'm operating.

Dr_dreThe construction of Dr. Dre on the beach with a keyboard emerging from the waves was a collaboration between the director, the production designer, and the VFX team at The Mill.

NFS: Given how massively complicated this was, how long were you in prep leading up to the shoot?

Cameron: One of the big differences on features and commercials or streaming and commercials is that you really don't get any prep time. The post-production companies suffer the most on commercials because it's like, “Hey, you can build this world in four weeks and get it on the Super Bowl?" Right?

Traditionally, on commercials, we might get a day or two of scouting and maybe a day of prep for a job like this. There wasn’t much extended prep on this one. I was on board for half a dozen Zoom calls leading up to it. That was free prep, which ran over a couple of weeks. You really have to do that because the scale is so big, and there's so many changes with the artists. Like, no, we're not going to shoot them on the field in SoFi, and they only want to shoot in the parking lot. We can only do closeups with these two and we can't do two shots with those two.

In a job like this, it’s changing the whole time. You really have to work with the concerns of all the parties. And you have to figure it out before we get there, because nobody wants to be standing around figuring it out when you're on the clock with celebrities.

Snoop_sogg_low_riderPaul Cameron, ASC, was able to work with Sony VENICE in combination with an FPV drone to create the very real car stunts in 'The Call.'

NFS: When it comes to commercial work, the Super Bowl is basically the most epic of all commercials. As a DP, to get into this and to work at this level, what are the skills that you need most?

Cameron: Certainly what the clients look at on a job like this is very important. They need to see that you've photographed high-end celebrity talent before. I’ve done hundreds of big music videos with a lot of these talents in them already. So, there's a recognition there of that type of work.

If you don't have the celebrities, they're going to look at higher-end fashion work. They’ll probably look at how you light women and how you light stars. And if you weren't lighting a star, what do your close-ups look like?

They’ll probably also look at getting a director of photography who has experience with visual effects, and can handle big locations, and not be afraid of how to rig them. They need to know that you can get your lights in there ahead of time, so when the talent gets there, you're just doing minor adjustments.

But even with that, there are a lot of opportunities for up-and-coming or younger DPs for this work. Everybody is looking for cutting edge of things. Short of that, they want to know, predominantly you're going to make the celebrities look fantastic.

Check out our previous coverage of Sony VENICE.