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Michael Grady is Focused on the Storytelling for The Morning Show

The Apple TV+ streaming service has launched with a number of high-profile series, one of which is The Morning Show. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell and Billy Crudup, the show pulls back the veneer on the comedy, drama, struggles, and backbiting that goes into broadcasting a top-rated morning news program, and how it all spills over into personal lives. Emmy Award-winning producer and director Mimi Leder shepherded the flagship series, directing three episodes. She brought cinematographer Michael Grady on board to steer the visuals, who alternated with David Lanzenberg for the remainder of the season.

Photo courtesy of Apple

According to Leder, “My vision was to take you behind the curtain of the personal lives of these characters we wake up to who deliver the news to us every morning. Explore and shine a light on real issues in today’s corporate workplace. Explore the shifting  gender dynamics. Take a snapshot of where we are NOW in the #MeToo movement. Tell a story about two very powerful women who are intersecting at a moment in their lives where they are tired of people controlling their destinies.

“Michael Grady and I wanted to give the lighting a bright sunny look in front of the camera,” she continues. “And when our characters were off camera we wanted the lighting and the shooting style to reflect their complex and messy lives. As part of the visual language of the show we also wanted to hold moments longer than usual. We wanted the audience to sit with the discomfort of these characters in their private moments.”

Grady has worked with Leder for nearly 20 years. “I love working with her—it's an extremely collaborative relationship,” he says. And, with a healthy preproduction schedule, working with Apple was a very streamlined process with Grady noting that “it’s very much a changed landscape with distribution but for the better.”

Photo courtesy of Apple

Grady turned to his usual camera house, Panavision Hollywood. “I've always been super loyal to them because they have incredible customer service. For every single job throughout my whole career, almost all of them were with Panavision and almost all of them were with [retired Senior Marketing Rep] Dan Donovan.” 

Grady professes to never be one to focus on the technical tools but rather the storytelling. But shooting a series about the shooting of a news show did present an interesting visual challenge in this digital age, where broadcast cameras have rapidly excelled in resolution and quality. How would he differentiate the look of the show within the show? The answer was large format.

The series offered the perfect opportunity to shoot large format 8K with the Panavision Millennium DXL2. “It is strange,” he muses, “now that broadcast cameras are UHD, it is not as obvious to separate the two worlds of film and TV anymore. The images have blended because there are 4K cameras everywhere. Now that the large format has come to be, it is so much more equivalent to the human field of view. When we started shooting this about a year ago, the DXL2 seemed to be the first large-format camera for which you didn't need a different camera for Steadicam and other applications. It was by far the most versatile choice.”

Photo courtesy of Apple

“Michael and I decided we would have no rules,” Leder adds. “We loved that idea. We wanted the show to have a real, grounded, deeply saturated look. The large format was great for big beautiful close ups. I loved the size of the frame. Michael has an incredibly beautiful eye and always keeps it real. I love the way he articulates the light to help tell the story. Michael is an amazing storyteller and collaborator. He’s truly one of the best!”

AppleTV+ has adopted the 4K-or-higher origination model similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime. The actual “morning news show” portions were shot live in a designed television news studio set with 4K Blackmagic Studio cameras on pedestals. Behind the scenes and everything else was acquired in large-format 8K with two to three DXL2s on Primo 70 prime lenses.

Photo courtesy of Apple

Because of the meta shooting of those producing a TV news show, the production specifically sought Local 600 camera operators that specialized in shooting live TV, news, game shows, and the like. “We shot the morning news show live, as if they were doing a real broadcast, and then we just planned camera movement through and around them capturing the show with the pedestal cameras,” the cinematographer explains.

Grady continues, “The DXL2 has such a clean and drastically different image quality compared to our broadcast pedestal cameras that I didn't have to worry as much about the visual separation. We went for a classic Hollywood, elegant look—beautiful people moving through beautiful spaces, the illusion of grandeur.”

Though set in New York, the series was shot mostly in Los Angeles, with certain sequences and establishing shots filmed in New York City itself, so those “beautiful spaces” involved a lot of modern, reflective, glass architecture and production design. “I found myself quite often working negatively, taking light away,” Grady notes. “It took some time for me to get used to the DXL2's speed, and I love this camera at night. At 1600 ISO native, it's just silly how fast the DXL2 is. I remember we shot some in Las Vegas and at times had to just grab shots without artificial illumination, but we got amazingly clean, quite cinematic images of Steve Carell. The DXL2 image is almost perfect, which is what we wanted for The Morning Show. It is so precise... it sees better than humans!”

The Morning Show is available now on Apple TV+.