In our latest interview, we spoke with Jay Visit (Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror) behind They Call Me Magic, which is currently streaming on Apple TV+. The docuseries gives an exclusive look into Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s life, including how he left his mark on history through his work and how he continues to impact our culture today.
PH: What were some of your motivators to become a cinematographer?
Jay Visit: I always had an affinity for art growing up. Particularly painting and illustrations. This led me to work in graphic design for a little bit. But once I was able to pair that with my love for storytelling, I fell into cinematography.
PH: Let’s talk about They Call Me Magic. How did you come to work on it? What enticed you about it?
Jay Visit: I had worked with Delirio on some past projects and when they approached me with an opportunity be a part of Magic Johnson’s story with Rick Famuyiwa and to meet some NBA legends along the way.. well I didn’t hesitate.
PH: Can you talk about some of the other projects you’ve worked on and how they presented different challenges compared to this one?
Jay Visit: This had obvious differences in my narrative and commercial work. But I’d say I don’t normally get to work with talent that are quite as tall as the players in the NBA world. We basically had to add a foot or so to any stand-ins we used for lighting.
PH: What elements added to storytelling for this docuseries?
Jay Visit: Setting the mood with locations was key for a lot of the interviews. Whether they were players or friends or business associates, we wanted to make sure the locations made sense for their story.
PH: Do you approach shooting a docuseries differently than say, a fiction drama? If so, why and how?
Jay Visit: Fiction drama takes a lot of prep to guide the storytelling with location scouting and shot-listing. Then deciding on a lighting motif to push the story forward. Of course that prep goes sideways from time to time. But in a docuseries, the prep and decision making comes with a shorter turnaround. And you kind of have to roll with the punches a bit more.
PH: Can you discuss why you chose Canon’s EOS C500 Mark IIs and Sumire Prime lenses?
Jay Visit: For longer interviews without cutting camera, the EOS C500 Mark II was a great choice for this docuseries. It’s easy to work with on location and in tight spaces. The sensor can also handle a very wide dynamic range that allowed us to shoot in locations with bright skylines just as well as in darker locations with a naturally dimmer setup. The Sumire primes also work well in low light and fairly wide open. Pair the two together and you got a great combo.
PH: What are some of your favorite specs from the EOS C500 Mark II?
Jay Visit: We were shooting log and definitely wanted to take advantage of the full sensor.
PH: What goes on in your mind before you start shooting? What did ideation and pre-production look like?
Jay Visit: For this project, there was a lot of discussion about looks in the beginning. But once we shot a few interviews and established a vocabulary, it kind of became second hand nature.
PH: After years in the industry, what are some of the biggest lesson(s) you’ve learned?
Jay Visit: Being open to change will sometimes lead to a better shot than you planned months for.
PH: In your opinion, a great cinematographer has to embody what characteristics/qualities?
Jay Visit: Imagination to see what can be. Resiliency. Pride and humbleness in your work at the same time.
PH: Would you like to share any other upcoming projects you have in the works?
Jay Visit: I’m working on some projects both fiction and doc, but they’re still under wraps.