Anthony Bourdain has one of the coolest jobs in the world. He travels all across this planet, meeting people from different cultures, eating all the food – and making some serious bank while doing it. His series “Parts Unknown” (and “No Reservations” before that) has captivated millions of viewers across the years. The reason? It’s not just about the food, it’s about the story. And a story is only as good as the storyteller (as obvious as this may seem). Part of a good story is the visual narrative, how the images are shown to the viewer, and “Parts Unknown” succeeds at this thanks to the man behind the camera, Zach Zamboni.
Not to throw shade at Bourdain (we’d never dream of it), but Zamboni is just as vital a part of the show as Bourdain. We learned this in a recent interview he did on the Go Creative Show with Ben Consoli (we’re big fans of Go Creative here at The Elevator, check out our post about the cinematography of House of Cards). While Mr. Bourdain brings the team together and finds the people and the stories he wants to tell, it’s up to Zamboni to figure out what’s in Bourdain’s head and show it the way he envisions it.
In order to achieve this, Mr. Zamboni approaches cinematography in a philosophical way, as he likes to put it, especially because it is Bourdain’s vision for every single episode of the series to be different. And Zamboni talks about the challenges this presents every time. There is no formula, there are no predetermined equipment and lighting kits he uses, there is not a fixed way of working with Anthony Bourdain. Zach has to be prepared for anything in a shoot, and that’s why his flexibility as a cinematographer is what makes the show so unique. Every city, every environment has a particular feel to it, and this philosophical approach to storytelling allows him to “capture the atmosphere” for each setting.
As he puts it, everything in ‘Parts Unknown’ is about problem-solving. Finding the right light in enclosed spaces, using the right equipment on the streets of Lima or the ports of Maine. But the most important element, he says, is finding a point of view to tell the story. In Parts Unknown, story is King, and the rest will follow. To Zach Zamboni, Parts Unknown, is Anthony Bourdain’s personal essay about a particular place – it’s not news, but it’s not fiction either. And walking that fine line is Zamboni’s true task.
Travelling across the world may seem glamorous, but it’s not without its challenges. And while there is a lot of improvising, there is much planning to be done beforehand. Working with locals, adjusting to their customs and their pace, transporting crew and equipment, getting the shots at the right moment, and adjusting to Bourdain’s vision for the episode, all at once, while sleeping in hotels for months at a time, not coming home – it all takes its toll. But the end result is one of the best stories on television today.
The biggest takeaway from this interview is the interesting way in which Zamboni approaches his work, and how he holds flexibility as one of the highest and most important values when it comes to shooting video. Yes, planning and producing have an enormous weight on the final product, but being open to trying new things, techniques and experiences is really what will get you the best story possible.
Listen to the entire Go Creative episode here. And if you haven’t watched Parts Unknown, get to it ASAP – you’re in for a treat.
(Cover Photo: Creative Commons)