Michael Jacob Kerber Interview: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ cinematographer
“We strive to capture every moment that we can,” says “RuPaul’s Drag Race” cinematographer Michael Jacob Kerber. “There’s no re-dos!” Kerber expertly captures the stories of the driven queens who sashay onto the main stage. His work for Season 12 recently garnered him an Emmy nomination for Cinematography for a Reality Series. It is his third consecutive nomination in the category. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Part of the challenge of shooting “Drag Race” is juggling the sheer number of personalities strutting into the “werk room” on day one. Kerber positions his team in “prime zones” around the room in hopes that they can follow every contestant and never miss out on a moment. They have come up with tricks like putting cameras behind makeup mirrors, but the set up mostly requires a high level of coordination among camera operators. One wrong move and you are in your colleague’s shot.
The other major test for the cinematographer is the constantly changing nature of the show’s weekly challenges. Queens might have to film an infomercial on a soundstage one day, then perform an improv challenge outside the next, and then perform a Las Vegas inspired musical routine on the main stage. “We have to capture the vérité,” explains Kerber, while also adapting the shooting style to the specific needs of each challenge.
“I have a background in many different genres,” explains Kerber. That varied experience helps him oscillate from handheld cameras in the werk room to larger dolly shots on the mainstage. He notes that the camera operators on the series need just as varied a skill set to pull off the demanding episodes. And they need to be able to “tell a story.” For Kerber, the ever shifting needs of the series helps keep the job fun. “It keeps us on our toes,” he states.
Each episode concludes with a Lip Sync for Your Life, where two bottom placing queens take the stage to save themselves from elimination. Backstage, “there’s always a kind of buzz” for those moments, shares Kerber. “Two queens are about to give it their all.” It’s tricky business for him though since lip syncs are unrehearsed and it’s impossible to know whether a queen will start cartwheeling across the stage or keep their entire performance in their face. Kerber reveals that capturing these iconic moments is all about honing the “skill of being able to follow action… it’s about just doing right by the queens. Our number one thing is to showcase them.”