HBO Max’s Legendary isn’t the first reality competition series to shine a light on a fascinating slice of LGBTQ+ culture, but series director Rik Reinholdtsen brought a showstopping cinematic look to the Ballroom competition show’s first season that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Reinholdtsen (Cooked with Cannabis, Inside the Actor’s Studio, Chelsea) shot with the Canon EOS C700 Full-Frame Cinema Camera, EOS C500 Mark II, and Sumire Prime Lenses to create a larger-than-life look that matched the majesty of the Ballroom performances, which blend dance, performance art and fashion. Reinholdtsen used the same gear to shoot in the field for the documentary portions of the show, helping him achieve a cohesive look. We spoke exclusively to Reinholdtsen about his experience on Legendary, why Canon was the right choice for this project, and what inspired the show’s aesthetic.
PH: What’s the story behind HBO Max’s Legendary and how did you get involved? How did you envision the look to make the series stand out from other competition shows?
Rik Reinholdtsen: For Season 1, there was the desire to take a cinematic approach to the live competition format. The challenge was to develop techniques that would provide a visual flow and consistency from the single-camera field shoots, to the docu-reality, to the 16 Camera multi-cam stage competition portion of the show. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to direct projects in all of these formats. I combined my years of experience in these vastly different worlds; each one requires unique skill sets. This allowed my team and I create a consistently cinematic look that flowed throughout the series.
PH: What techniques did you utilize to make the ballroom community come to life on screen? / Tell me a little about working with the Canon EOS C700 Full-Frame Cinema Camera, EOS C500 Mark II, and Sumire Prime Lenses. Why did you choose them? What were you able to achieve?
Rik Reinholdtsen: Utilizing the Canon C500 MII and the Canon C700 Full-Frame Cinema cameras gave us the flexibility to film in any surrounding. We were able to take single cameras with Sumire prime lenses into a city environment and film “in the moment” due to their incredible low light capabilities. We then only needed to change lenses to the Canon Cine-Servo 17-120mm lens for flexibility to cover the docu-reality action. Lastly, we then created the “Live 35” technique. We clicked these same cameras into fiber systems. We sent them back to a live multi-cam truck where an engineer could control the color, iris, and camera set up, allowing us to capture all the live-action on the performance stage.
PH: Tell me a little about working with the Canon EOS C700 Full-Frame Cinema Camera, EOS C500 Mark II, and Sumire Prime Lenses. Why did you choose them? What were you able to achieve?
Rik Reinholdtsen: Traditional competition shows tend to use broadcast cameras and lenses. They work well as they provide a lot of flexibility but lack film-ish qualities and are limited in depth of field. By choosing a full sensor camera solution and cinematic lenses, it opens up so many visual opportunities. The Canon EOS C700 Full-Frame Cinema Camera and the EOS C500 Mark II allowed us to film in any environment at a very high quality and capture gorgeous imagery. With the 15 stops of dynamic range and filming in LOG, this provided us with outstanding creative opportunities in post-production to maximize our picture.
PH: How did you prep (and achieve) the stunning ballroom performances?
Rik Reinholdtsen: We had very little time on this show, so it was important for our camera systems to be flexible, durable, and reliable. We filmed nine live episodes in 5 weeks, starting with 40 cast members in the competition. After each live show, we went directly into filming the reality and single-camera documentation in between episodes. We repeated this every four days. Our team (and the cameras for that matter) did a fantastic job keeping up with the non-stop pace of this production without rehearsals. Because of this, it allowed us to be creative and capture the action as it was happening. It’s all about preparation, being in the moment, referring to your notes, anticipating, and reacting to the live-action. It’s very much like sports when you are working this quickly… be prepared with a well thought out plan and then be in the moment. This allows you to capture the energy and excitement as it naturally happens.
PH: Did you face any challenges, and how did you navigate them?
Rik Reinholdtsen: On any production, you always face challenges. On this show, it was ramped up even more due to the aggressive filming schedule. With very talented teams, lots of pre-production planning, and equipment that was reliable, it allowed us to keep up with the fast pace required to finish this project and maintain a high-quality product.
PH: You also filmed the documentary portions with the same equipment. Why?
Rik Reinholdtsen: We wanted cohesion throughout each episode, and throughout the full series, regardless of the environment we were filming in. By creating a visual style and utilizing the same cameras, we could sustain a consistency that tied the whole experience together.
PH: What else (if you can discuss) are you working on? Upcoming?
Rik Reinholdtsen: I am involved in a variety of projects currently. With the unique situation of COVID 19 we find ourselves in, and things change on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow me to discuss what else I am “officially” working on at the moment.
PH: What is one thing that everyone can learn from Legendary? What do you hope audiences take away?
Rik Reinholdtsen: Creativity and the opportunity to reimagine new techniques to film programs are possible. Technology continues to get better, and their costs continue to come down. This is essential as production budgets are changing, and production schedules are getting shorter. I have a saying, “Out of necessity comes creativity.” With an open mind, hard work, and talented people around you, there is always a way to deliver a beautiful looking show.