Jay Hunter is a celebrated director and
cinematographer whose work runs the gamut from features and scripted series to
documentaries and reality TV. A true innovator, he has crafted unique
aesthetics for television shows such as On
the Lot
and films including Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Jay’s current project is the NBC comedy Superstore, about the employees of a big
box retailer. For that series, he makes viewers feel like they’re part of the
action through a visual style that looks handheld, but is not. Jay’s camera
operators work with camera support systems that include Cartoni’s Airfloater.
The patented head perfectly simulates handheld camera movement, while relieving
operators of the burden of holding heavy camera systems on their shoulders.
Jay Hunter recently spoke with Cartoni USA about his career, Superstore
and the Cartoni Airfloater.
Jay Hunter

Cartoni USA:      How did you
get your start?
Jay Hunter:         I went
to college at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I went to school to be a
film critic and so I thought I’d take a filmmaking class. I fell in love with
it. I had a background in photography, so I gravitated toward cinematography.
No one in the program was very good at shooting, but I was the best of the
worst, so I became the cinematographer for our graduating class. I was lucky
enough to get an opportunity to shoot a couple of low budget features while I
was still in school and got to work early on. I bounced between being the DP on
small stuff and operating on bigger productions. I was in the trenches, paying
dues. Years past, I went from operator to DP and now I have an awesome job at
Universal on Superstore. It’s a fun,
way cool job and ten minutes from home. I feel like I won the lottery.

CUSA:                   You’ve done
features, documentaries, reality TV and now a sit-com. What do you like about
each genre? How do they differ?
JH:                          I started doing scripted work, features,
commercials, and a little TV. That’s my roots. When I moved to L.A., I was
operating and fell into reality TV. I wasn’t always jazzed about the subject
matter, but I was a young guy and I learned a lot. I treated each job like I
was shooting a movie, and because of that, my work stood out. I got a
reputation and began to work with Mark Burnett Productions. He was doing the
most high-end cinematic work in reality. It was a way to gain film experience
without shooting a film. When I moved back into the scripted world, I brought
with me the lessons I’d learned about lighting, camera operating and blocking.
For me, it’s all part of the same cinematic world and telling stories. I
wouldn’t be the cinematographer I am today without the skills I developed in
CUSA:                   Is Superstore a good example of that? It
seems to employ some reality TV techniques.
JH:                          Reality TV helped bring handheld camerawork back
into vogue and made documentary verite a
hot look. But, I think it’s come full circle and that aesthetic is now blah. Superstore is a tangent, a new variation on that look. Almost
everything we do has a handheld feel, but what we do differently is use
extremely long lenses, often an 85mm lens. Most shows use 21mm or 25mm lenses
for wide shots, and save the 85mm for close-ups. We go deep into the tele-photo
world. We put our cameras far away from the action and use out of focus texture
in the fore- and mid-ground. It’s more observational. It walks a thin line. We
don’t want it to be like a stalker in the bushes. It’s more like you’re another
shopper in the store, watching from a couple of aisles away. It’s like things
are happening around the audience and they become another character in the
story, witnessing it from afar.
CUSA:                   How do you use
Airfloater on the show?
JH:                          The show feels handheld, but 98 percent is shot
with the Airfloater head. People who arrive on the set are surprised when they
see them, because they assume we shoot over-the-shoulder. The Airfloater gives
us the look we want without requiring the operators to have cameras on their
shoulders all day. As a result, they’re not going to the chiropractor and they don’t
want to quit the show. They walk around all day with smiles on their faces.
Cartoni’s Airfloater
CUSA:                   Does it really
make that big of a difference?
JH:                          You can survive a 30-day shoot working handheld,
but a TV show goes for months and months. It’s very hard on the operators. I’ve
been an operator. I’ve been in their shoes and I want to be sure that they are
comfortable and happy. The Airfloater is the most essential piece of gear we
have on the show. I don’t know what we’d do without it.
CUSA:                   So, it keeps
operators from becoming fatigued?
JH:                          The telephoto lenses we use are heavy and they
make the camera out of balance. Operating a camera with a telephoto lens
handheld can be brutal on an operator’s body. We also ask them to keep it
steady. If they have the camera on their shoulders, their bodies are tense;
they need to maintain a certain pattern of breathing. In the old days, you
might roll through a whole mag of film. Today, it’s not uncommon for a director
to roll for 20 or 30 minutes. If you are operating for that long and not
moving, your body starts to cramp. Work a 12-hour day like that and when you go
home, you roll over and die.
CUSA:                   The operators
must like Airfloater.
JH:                          When we bring in day players and they find out
it’s a handheld show, they think, “Oh god, it’s going to be rough.” But when
they see how we execute, their eyes light up. They ask if they can get more
CUSA:                   How did you
discover Airfloater?
JH:                          I saw it at NAB six or eight years ago. I saw if
from a distance and immediately got the concept. I wondered why no one had
thought of it before.
CUSA:                   Would you
recommend it to others?
JH:                          If you’re doing a show that requires handheld
camerawork, you need the Airfloater. You can get the handheld vibe, you can use
any lens and you can shoot for a long as you want without putting the camera
down. On top of it, your crew can perform any task and won’t be worn down at
the end of the day. They’ll get up the next morning, fresh and ready to do it

Jay Hunter and the “Superstore” camera crew.
About Manios Digital & Film
A division of Ste-Man, Inc. and led by President
Steven Manios, Jr.,  Manios Digital &
Film has been bringing the world’s highest quality products to professional
filmmakers, videographers and ENG crews in the United States since 1992. The
company has longstanding relationships with leading manufacturers around the
globe and an extensive dealer network spanning the United States. It is an
authorized distributor for Cartoni, Vocas and Kinotehnik. By working closely
with its customers, and by listening to and understanding their needs, Manios
Digital & Film has become a trusted partner to film and video professionals
Manios Digital & Film 10663 Burbank Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA 91601; 818.760.8290.
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