Behind the Cinematography: ‘Will & Grace’

Gary Baum has been a part of the Will & Grace production team for quite some time, before and after the reboot. Baum explains the traits of a cinematographer and how useful they are to the entertainment industry.

ATM: How does cinematography influence the way an audience can convey the message to a television episode?

GB: It is up to the cinematographer to interpret the story to be a visual medium. It is up to the cinematography to convey the story and the emotion through moving image. To not influence the story, but to help it move along. It is very important that the camera and lighting don’t get in the way of the story, but actually enhance the story.

ATM: How do you believe you enhanced the story-lines in Will & Grace?

GB: The show takes place in New York and has a very urban upscale feel to the show. We try to keep that feeling throughout the episode. The production design is very upscale. We try to keep this in mind when we shoot the story.

ATM: What was the reaction people had around when the series first came out before the reboot?

GB: It was a hit right off the back. It got more popular as the years went on. It was a lifestyle and a social movement that really changed people’s view of comedy and people in general. It was a very popular and groundbreaking show.

ATM: What are the traits of a good cinematographer?

GB: A cinematographer job is to listen to what the creators of the story are telling you and trying to interpret this story with mood and lighting without getting in the way of the story. Cinematographers need to bring the viewer into the story visually without any pretext. They have to let the actors and the script come through without being aware of the camera or lighting.

ATM: What makes you a good fit for this profession?

GB: I have always been a visual person. I always had a still camera in my hand. I was always looking at lighting, architecture, and people. I always was trying to convey through the lens what I saw. This is what you need to do as a cinematography. It is basically the field photography in motion.

ATM: What does this show say about male/female friendships in our society?

GB: It simplifies the human need for friendships. Also, being in contact regardless of gender, social or sexual orientation. It is about people.

ATM: Do you believe the setting of the show in any way impacts how the audience might convey the show? If the show was in another location, then do you believe this would change the show in any way?

GB: This is a good question. I cannot image Will & Grace living in any other place than New York. New York and the way the show was originally created helped to push it through to where it is today. I am not sure if another locale would have been any different or not. New York City being what it is as the mecca of the world in many ways it shows the microcosm of the city in these pails of friends.

ATM: How has working on this set transformed as to how you work as a cinematographer and how you could view the show?

GB: Personally, I got my start as a cinematographer on Will & Grace. I was an operator for seven other years and I move up on the shelf. It has profoundly influenced me as a cinematographer by looking at a style that I embrace. While working with the executive producers and directors, I was able to have an open mind to convey the story they wanted to convey. It was a good thing that I did not have any preconditions.

ATM: How could you explain the progression of how the American television culture displays a homosexual and non homosexual friendship based on when the show first started and now 20 years later?

GB: The show was groundbreaking in this. It showed that gay people can be funny and have a funny view on life without having their sexuality being in the way. The story is about four friends, but two of them happen to be gay. It changed the culture of people’s awareness that it was a funny show. It did not have much to do with their gayness, but with the writing and the stories. It opened up a lot of people’s eyes who had no idea of what this means. It was still a very unique show in this respect.

ATM: In the show displaying four friends who accept each other’s flaws and sexuality, everyone is happy for the most part, do you feel this is a mirror of what our society would look like if we rightfully accepted these things?

GB: It lens discussion of how we can live and learn and get along with each other. This is regardless of religion and sexual orientation or gender.

ATM: How do you believe the characters have progressed in how they portray their roles now? 

GB: They are basically the same people, but it is 20 years later. They have the same characteristics and the same traits, but they are a little bit grown up. They are not in their 20s and 30s, but now they are in their 40s and 50s. It shows how life changed, but the basic personality of people do not. They are different special circumstances that someone who is older has to deal with.

ATM: How different do you think the show would have read if it was called “Jack & Karen” rather than “Will & Grace?”

GB: It would probably be a different show if it were “Jack & Karen.” The show would be certainly recognizable to viewers.

ATM: What do you believe makes the characters Will & Grace has a such a power, deep platonic connection? Why do you think they are perfect for each other to be onscreen friends? Also, how can this show make people look at friendships in a different way?

GB: Like you mentioned before, they accept each other’s good points and flaws. Their friendship was going on for many years prior to what we see. It broadens one’s view of the world. Hopefully channels your views into being a little bit open-minded in exploring different people and their own way of life.