DP Donald A. Morgan, ASC is a highly experienced veteran of broadcast shows, and his credits include shooting many episodes of “Home Improvement” and “My Wife and Kids” for ABC, and “Girlfriends” for UPN. He’s currently the cinematographer on the new Lifetime comedy series “Rita Rocks,” which follows the story of a frazzled wife and mother who faces an identity crisis and decides to dust off her old guitar and form a garage band.
Tell us about the show.
It’s a lot of fun and really well-written, and it stars Nicole Sullivan as Rita, the woman who gets back into music in order to do something for herself.
Where do you shoot the show, and what are the main challenges for you?
Although the show is actually set in Detroit, we shoot it at CBS Radford in Hollywood, and the big challenge is the week-to-week changing of the swing sets –– anywhere from one to four. You have two days to set them up, then light them, and then within the body of the show there’s always a change in blocking and so on, and then you have to make sure that the girls look the very best you can make them as a DP.
What camera gear do you use?
We shoot in HD and use four Sony 900s that have been modified and which are all rented from Panavision in Woodland Hills. The camera breakdown is two wider-lens 8:1s on the inside cameras and then 10:1s on the outside cameras. I like shooting HD; it’s a little bit more sensitive than film and it has a nice texture. Before, a lot of broadcast shows were shot in 35mm film because of syndication. You could easily take out extracts and then syndicate all over the world. Now, shooting HD and 16x9 is 30-percent cheaper, they say. And now we’re also back to using the four-peds set-up, which goes back to basics. As for lenses, there’s a variety you can use, but because of how the sets are and the distances you have to deal with and how rapidly, we tend to use the standard lenses. The outside lenses go for more singles and crosses, as you need to be more precise, while the center cams are for masters and two-shots.
What other equipment do you use?
A lot of times we’ll use this hybrid pick-up. On the last show I did I used two dollies, two peds and a Jimmy Jib. For this show, I like to use three peds and a Jimmy Jib. So the configuration just depends on what you need on any given day.
How does “Rita Rocks” rate in comparison to all the other broadcast shows you’ve done?
This is our very first season and I love it, and it’s a fun show to work on. As a DP I like to be as steady as possible, and I like to change the face of four-camera shows.