VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race earned several Emmy nominations this year, including “Outstanding Competition Program” and “Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program.” The series, which is hosted by RuPaul, brings queens together to compete in fashion and performance challenges, all in the hopes of snatching the crown as the next drag superstar.
The series’ body of work is being recognized for “Outstanding Cinematography For A Reality Program.” A team of production talent give the show its look, including director of photography Michael Jacob Kerber, and camera operators Jay Mack Arnette II, Jason Cooley, Pauline Edwards, Mario Panagiotopoulos, Brett Smith, Jeremiah Smith, Justin Umphenour and Jon Schneider.
Mario Panagiotopoulos, who is a four-time Emmy-nominated cinematographer (three of which he earned through his work on Drag Race), says the series’ performances are the most exciting segments to shoot.
“The incredible and talented contestants perform at their highest level, and it is essential to not miss a moment,” says Panagiotopoulos. “We like to call it the ‘Focus Olympics’ behind the scene because you never know what the contestants will attempt to do, as there is no rehearsal. These segments have such high energy. To be on the stage with the music pumping and everyone cheering, you can only hope to capture the excitement on camera.”
The uniqueness of shooting a competition show, from a camera standpoint, has a lot to do with the amount of cameras the team is working with at a given time — sometimes as many as a dozen during bigger performances.
“At times it may seem like a compromise to have so many, but because of the ‘live’ element, it is often necessary,” he explains. “So we allow each operator to be able to do their job while staying out of each other’s way.”
Panagiotopoulos says the relationship with the cast is also important.
“These are real people and there are a lot of components to the show they need to execute, so it’s important to be aware of their presence and give equal attention and camera time to everyone as best as we can in order to tell all their stories in an authentic manner.”