American cinematographer and director Tom Magill has years of expertise in the industry and recently worked on the second season of Peacock’s Saved By the Bell. He is also known for his work on Angie Tribeca, Atypical, and the Netflix feature film Moxie. Tom is currently working on the NBC series Rutherford Falls, which is set to premiere this year. Tom took the time to chat with us about his transition from editing to shooting, favorite past projects, advice for aspiring cinematographers, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What was your first job in cinematography and how did you decide to pursue your craft professionally?
I started my professional career editing local news in Philadelphia in my early twenties. That led me to a documentary company in town that was looking for an editor. I spent two years editing a lot of different types of news and documentary features. I remember having the distinct feeling while working with footage that was shot halfway around the globe, that I’d rather be out in the field experiencing the world, instead of stuck in a dark room all day. Soon after, I had the opportunity to shoot one night on a pilot doc series that this same company was producing. I spent the night in the trauma center at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital following a trauma doctor around. By luck, there were a lot of interesting cases that happened that night and a lot of my footage made it into the documentary. When the pilot was picked up to series, they asked if I would be interested in shooting. That was the moment I left the editing bay and started on my cinematography journey. Since then, I’ve shot documentaries, news features, sports, reality TV and my current role as DP for features and scripted drama and comedy series.
How did you balance the original look from Saved By The Bell, but at the same time give it a modern-day feel in the reboot? What was the process like?
The goal with the Saved By The Bell reboot was to connect the fabric of the original series into a current day, single camera feel. The world at Bayside is a bit disconnected from reality, so we chose to play that up with a very rich looking texture. The colors are a bit brighter at Bayside and things have more of a snap to them. We tried to shoot the reboot as directional with our coverage as possible, allowing us to get the lighting down from above and onto the floor, helping making the word feel a bit more cinematic and less like and old-school sitcom.
What gear do you tend to use, especially in the production of Saved by the Bell?
We shot with the Sony Venice (4K, 2:1 aspect ratio) and Cooke S4 T2 lenses. Prime lenses also helped us achieve a current day feel, giving us the ability to have a shallower depth of field. I love the Sony Venice. It’s incredibly versatile and delivers a beautiful image. I shot a Netflix feature with a beta version of the Venice back in 2019 when it was brand new and have been using it ever since.
Is there a specific genre you prefer shooting? If so, why?
I don’t have a specific genre I prefer shooting. I love being able to jump back and forth between different genres. Dramas tend to allow me to push some things visually more than the comedy world, but comedies are a lot of fun to shoot. I have an incredible crew that I’ve been working with for about ten years now and they all have a wonderful sense of humor. Comedy sets are a bit looser than dramas. My crews bring a great energy to work every day, helping create a great environment for comedies. We laugh all day long.
What are some of your other favorite past projects?
A project that was a perfect blend of the comedy and drama worlds was a TBS series I shot years ago called Angie Tribeca. It was created by Steve and Nancy Carell and was brilliantly written. It was a parody of police procedural shows in the vein of the movie Airplane and the Naked Gun films. We gave it a stylized gritty drama feel, but the tone was deadpan comedy. It felt like a perfect match. Each season we would slightly change up the look so it was always challenging and different. I loved working on a comedy that was bold enough in it’s choice to not go a traditional way with its cinematography and lighting.
Do you have any advice for anyone trying to get behind the camera?
The best advice I could give anyone coming up, trying to get behind the camera is never stop shooting and learning. There’s never been a better time with information online about gear and technique. You have access to interviews and masterclass teaching videos with some of the best cinematographers in the world. Keep shooting and allow yourself to make mistakes. That’s the best way to learn. It takes a while to hone some of those skills and the only way to get better is to just keep shooting and learning.
What is happening next in your world?
I’m currently finishing up filming a NBC series called Rutherford Falls. You can catch it streaming on Peacock in the near future.
Thank you for reading! You can learn more about Tom Magill here.