Judd Overton: Plenty of Activity and No Letdown

October 18, 2017
One of Australia’s busiest and most versatile cinematographers tells us about working on No Activity and The Letdown.

Starting off in the camera department of his hometown Adelaide’s filmmaking community, Judd Overton moved into shooting short films, local features and documentaries, both independent and government-sanctioned. This varied experience has served him well, as Overton continues to land jobs across all forms of screen storytelling, including the ABC/Netflix series The Letdown and the Australian and US versions of the streaming comedy No Activity.

Did you shoot the original pilot of The Letdown that aired in 2016?

I have been working with director Trent O’Donnell for a number of years and I was hired to shoot the original pilot for The Letdown in 2015 for ABC and Giant Dwarf [the production company behind The Chaser]. The project is written and created by Sarah Scheller and lead actor Alison Bell who picked up the AACTA award for best new script, so we knew this pilot had a chance of going into production. In early meetings with the producers and creators we knew we wanted to make a show with a strong local voice but with the quality and sophistication for an international audience.

The series is co-produced by the ABC and Netflix. How was shooting for two very different companies?

Shooting for Netflix comes with a bible full of technical requirements. However, there didn’t seem to be any interference when it comes to content. The ABC were more involved with the production through script, shoot and post production.

Can you tell us about the cameras used?

To meet the Netflix protocols of shooting 4K, we used the Panasonic Varicam 35 LT camera and recorded to RAW on the Convergent Design Odyssey. I loved the look of DP Andrij Parekh’s work on 13 Reasons Why and discussed the camera with him. I was really happy with the look of the Varicam and the native 5000 ISO sensor. It was perfect camera for this show.

How long was production?

The whole project was 10 weeks, four weeks of prep and a six-week shoot. The thing which ties it all together is the parent group meetings, which occur in each episode. We had our hands full over four busy days shooting these scenes with six mothers, babies and Noni Hazlehurst as our counsellor. We used three cameras on these scenes and gaffer Russell Fewtrell built an overhead soft box with a 20’ scrim and 4 Arri Skypanels. It was quite a big set up but it allowed us to shoot 360 degrees, which was the only way we could get our days.

The show presents a deadpan view of life as a new mother. How did you go about shooting that?

All the scenes were cross shot with two cameras, so we could capture the great performances and reactions from our amazing cast.

With regards to No Activity, you started on the Australian version of the show. How did you get attached to that project?

I have been working in the United States for the last few years, in fact each of the previous seasons of No Activity has featured a shoot in the U.S. This gave us access to some great actors. Season 1 guest starred Tim Minchin and Jake Johnson, while Season 2 starred Rose Byrne and Damon Herriman. The first two seasons were the Australian streaming service STAN’s first foray into original programming

How did CBS approach you about shooting the U.S. version?

There was a lot of interest in a U.S. version of No Activity. When the project landed at CBS All Access with production by Will Ferrell’s Gary Sanchez and Funny or Die we knew we were home! This gave us access to the audience base of a Network and the talent pool of some of the world’s best comic actors.

The show is meant to lampoon the crime drama genre. How does the cinematography play into that?

No Activity is designed to look and feel like a dark drama. The visual approach plays to the cinematic intensity of a procedural drama but the dry performance and ridiculous situations counterpoint and creates a unique comedic approach to the genre.

How are Funny or Die to work with as a production company?

I am really enjoying the environment on No Activity. Funny or Die have been great supporters of the project all along. They have told me personally how much they love the look of the original series, so we have stuck with the winning formula and grown on it.

Who’re your crew for the shoot?

We have a top LA crew that is a mix of TV and feature talent the producers and I have worked with over recent years. I’ve even managed to bring in a few of my Australian colleagues, who are now based in the US.

What equipment are you using? 

The main unit shoot is three Arri Alexa Mini cameras shooting 3.2K. Plates were shot on the Sony A7s to a 4K Odyssey Recorder which gives the in-car sequences such a great look… the Sony really can see in the dark! Also in my arsenal is the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K, which is being used for splinter unit and some VFX plates.

The Letdown screens on the ABC 9.35pm on October 25, 2017; the Australian No Activity Seasons 1 and 2 are available on STAN. now. The US version will premiere on STAN. on November 13, 2017.

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