Cinematographer Michael Jacob Kerber knows and thing or two about capturing visuals for unscripted reality programming. A five-time Emmy Award nominee – including two 2022 nominations for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” – Kerber says his ultimate goal as a cinematographer is “telling a person’s story in real-time in real life.”
That mission statement came through loud and clear during Season 14 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a standout set of episodes that included numerous complicated structures, like a cast reunion, the grand finale in front of a live audience, and major events like a lip-sync performance smackdown and Snatch Game. Kerber discusses the show with Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview as part of our Meet the Experts: Cinematographers panel.
“It is a lot and everything’s a bit different,” Kerber says of working on the show. “I do enjoy the challenges because those tend to be unique – and often that’s a new and different set design. So we can approach the camera work and the lighting differently. So it keeps it fresh. I like doing the runway. And the lip-syncs are really dynamic and fun. You know, these queens are just amazing performers and artists. And it’s all kind of a joy to watch and to help document. It’s about supporting them. We’re really here to showcase them as artists and performers and drag queens. We like to have fun with the camera work in the lighting, but ultimately, we’re not going to get in the way of them. To me, at least, it’s all about showcasing them.”
Kerber has worked on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for years as the show has grown in acclaim and viewership. But that doesn’t mean it’s made his job any easier. “As the show has grown, the schedule hasn’t,” he says about the pressures to execute a season of the reality show. “But after doing so many seasons, you know what works, or what tends to work,” he adds later. “And the danger is, you know, just continuing to repeat yourself. But there’s only so much we can change, right? So we’ll try to find moments to use different camera angles, or different movements, introduce new lights to the lighting rig on the runway to add some more dynamics or more options.”
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