“Any human story you set in Rome to me is visually interesting.”
Anthony Bourdain

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“Rome on No Reservations is probably the show I’m proudest of all the shows we’ve ever done, only because it was the stupidest thing we could possibly have done. We absolutely went against the grain. Even here people there were people who said, ‘you want to do the whole show in black and white—you don’t just want segments? It’s really a bad idea. It is a food show.’ You go to the most colorful city on earth, with fantastic food in almost every scene, and you’re going to put that in black and white? We well knew that many people turn on the show and see black and white and at the first break you lose half your audience. Add a lot of subtitles to that and you’re going to lose another 25%—we did both.”
Anthony Bourdain
Archive of American Television 

The predecessor to CNN’s Parts Unknown was No Reservation which aired on the Travel Channel between 2005-2012. Both shows are hosted by Anthony Bourdain and are produced by Zero Point Zero using much of the same crew. One of the things that director of photography (on many of No Reservations and Parts Unknown) Zach Zamboni said that they have always tried to challenge themselves to give a fresh spin to each shows that are a mix of travel, culture, and food.

I couldn’t find the black and white Rome show on You Tube, but you can see a clip of it here. (And the full version can be seen on Netflix.) For the show shot in South Korea for Parts Unknown, Zamboni says 95% of the show was shot with the sinaCam, a small cube-like camera allowing you to get usually footage. (Yes, it’s like a Go Pro it’s fully manual allowing you to control focus and aperture, you can put different lens on it, and it shoots ProRes.)


Zach Zamboni with the sinaCAM

So those are just two ways that an ongoing show mixed it up a little bit to avoid getting stale and following the same tried and true template.

Scott W. Smith


“Imagine Rocky without Philadelphia. Sylvester and I wanted to shoot exteriors in Philly—the producers said ‘no way, we can’t afford to bring a union crew from L.A. to Philadelphia.’”
John G. Avildsen

Until Oscar-winning director John Avildsen died a few days ago I was not aware of the 8mm behind his greatest hits Rocky and The Karate Kid. These videos appear to be from Avildsen’s You Tube channel avilden1221.

It appears that there are at least 11 videos of rehearsals from The Karate Kid meaning they essentially shot the whole film on video before actually rolling film.

Scott W. Smith

“I guess what Rocky did was give a lot of people hope, and there was never a better feeling than doing that.”
John G. Avildsen on winning the Best Director Oscar for Rocky

Related posts:

Writing “Rocky”
The Other Side of Rocky
The Rocky Road to Rocky
Hope & Redemption

Scott W. Smith

“I like the new evolving relationship between DP and colorist. It’s such a collaboration—ya got to take care of each other. There are so many options now for them that you got to have a good relationship. Steve’s awesome. The guys an amazing colorist. You both have to support your best skills.” 
Zach Zamboni on working with colorist Steve Beganyi on Parts Unknown

While today Parts Unknown is shot on a Sony F5, and used a Sony F3 before that, they have been known to mix things up for various reasons. Like in the episode shot in Libya where they included footage shot on camera phones.

“The phone footage gave the whole show a desaturated look and those sections were overstylized, which we pulled through the whole show. The people that he talked to just made that show so memorable. He’s basically hanging out with rebels who overthrew the government!”
Steve Beganyi
Studio Daily interview with Beth Marchant 
December 2, 2013

As of that 2013 Parts Unknown was edited on AVID, but colorist Steve Beganyi did his work on Blackmagic Designs DaVinci Resolve.  Here’s how Beganyi spoke about Blackmagic in that StudioDaily interview, “It’s really amazing to be able to track through the scenes, especially when you’re trying to pull out the flattened details in the S-log footage and just protect the skin tones or just project the sky. The qualifiers and tracking tools together are so helpful. When you’re trying to break down an image, the more subtle control you have over it, the more unique look you can give to it.”

And this is a good time as any to say that Parts Unknown doesn’t always go overseas to find it’s exotic locations.

“For me, personally grading the Detroit episode was the most meaningful. I’m from Cleveland, and this was a very powerful show about the Midwest’s most infamous city trying to pretty much come back from nothing. It was really uplifting.”
Steve Beganyi
Studio Daily interview with Beth Marchant 
December 2, 2013

P.S. I was in at the Blackmagic booth yesterday at Infocomm in Orlando and look forward to working more with their tools this year.

Scott W. Smith

“Who doesn’t like seeing stuff at 120 or 240 (frames per second)? The thing about high speed footage is it’s very easy to use too much of that stuff. Ya got to tie it into the story otherwise people get tired of it. We try to use it judiciously. A couple of great shots in the show is good.”
Parts Unknown DP Zach Zamboni

I don’t know if things changed since Zach Zamboni made that comment or that the editors ignored that for the Parts Unknown episode on Korea, but I recall seeing at least three slow motion shots in under a minute. (But maybe that was a promo, not the show.)  But the case can be made whether it’s shooting at 120 or 240 frames per second, shooting with a fisheye lens, or extreme telephoto—that less is usually more.

Here are some more behind the scene lighting concepts taken from Parts Unknown DP Zamboni’s talk at Cine Able.

*  String of lights with an Edison plugs. These are 20 feet in length and have 24 sockets. Because “everywhere in the world you can buy an Edison bulb—Compact florescent or warm florescent , or tungsten, screw those in and you have a pretty significant light source,” says Zamboni. Because they shoot in a lot of bars and restaurants he finds the string of lights can be hung on rafters and in general blend into the environment. The string of lights can also be jammed into a Chimera pancake.

  • 1X1 Light panels (Not sure what kind they use, but I’ve used the Litepanel 1X1 bicolor before. Small form size—just one square foot. Able to be balanced for daylight or tungsten or somewhere in between. Also able to be battery operated. If using on people you must use diffusion to avoid specular highlight from the dozens of small LED lights that make up the 1X1.
  • LED SOLA Fresnels
  • 12X12 net, 12×12 quarter silk, 12X12 silk (Didn’t say brand, but here’s a Matthews silk.)

And he offered up this practical advice:

“If you want any longevity on shooting you gotta have good posture.” Watch toward the end of the Abel Cine presentation where he shows out he shoot to spare his back.

Scott W. Smith


Director of Photography Zach Zamboni says one of the things that gives Parts Unknown is its cinematic look is host Anthony Bourdain is an encyclopedia of movies and passes on special movie or movie scene references to the crew before they shoot in each country.

And it does help that they have some of the finest tools to help them pull that off. (I’ll list some of them below.) But even before they had the latest, greatest they began with a with a cinematic mindset. They used the Panasonic DVX 100 (“The camera that changed everything,” says Zamboni. ) Then the cameras evolved over the years including the Sony Ex3 and the Sony F3.

These days they shoot mostly with the Sony F5 & Sony F55 cameras and live in a PL mount world giving them a wide choice of lens (with a preference for Panavision Primos.).  They carry with then two sets of prime lenses and two 19-90mm zooms.

“Put on [ISO] 3200 on super speed [prime lens] and you can shoot anything. You’re getting stuff that you can’t see with your eyes. You turn on the monitor and go—WOW!”
Zach Zamboni
A Discussion with Zach Zamboni DP

They also shoot on SXS cards to record data. But don’t dump the footage onto drives. They simply bring “a ton of cards” for all their shooting. And lastly for today, 90% of the show is handheld.

Scott W. Smith

“Entropy and chaos are always upon us.”
Parts Unknown DP Zach Zamoni on shooting on locations around the world

A few days ago on a post about Charleston I mentioned an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown  that was shot in South Carolina.  So I think I’ll take part of this week to touch on how that show is produced. Zach Zamboni is director of photography on Parts Unknown and has won 3 Emmys on the show for Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming.

Here’s a talk Zamboni gave where gives some glimpses into how that show is produced. At the 39 minute mark he mentioned that they shoot between 40 and 100 hours of footage for each one hour show—and probably average 60 hours per show.  Each shot is shot between 4 and 12 days. It’s a super look into the technical and creative decisions that go into each show.

If you’ve never seen the Part Unknown it’s a fascinating show shot around the world with an emphasis on food and culture. All eight seasons are currently available on Netflix. The Charleston episode somehow covers both fine dinning—a cameo by actor Bill Murray— and The Waffle House.

Scott W. Smith

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