Clubhouse Conversations — Genius: Aretha

In this 76-minute episode, interviewer Rodney Taylor, ASC talks to Kevin McKnight, ASC about his camerawork in this Net Geo series profiling the life and artistry of legendary singer Aretha Franklin. (The cinematographer is seen below, on left, with director and executive producer Anthony Hemingway.)

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McKnight shot the series employing Arri LF and LF Mini cameras (capturing in 4.5K, open gate) paired with a variety of lenses, including Arri Signature Primes (mostly the  29mm, 40mm, 47mm and 58mm), Fujinon Premista 8-100mm and 80-250mm zooms (for concert sequences) and Angénieux EZ 22-60mm and 45-135mm zooms (for handheld, documentary-style shooting). He shot without filtration except for the occasional Schneider Hollywood Black Magic for close-ups and to bloom lighting.

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He created numerous detailed lighting diagrams to help plan his on-set approach, and you can see all of them here.

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McKnight was invited to join the ASC in 2019. He became immersed in photography at an early age. “Cameras and my darkroom were a place to create,” he said. But it was through a job as a projectionist at a local theater that the would-be cinematographer was first drawn to photography in film, and it was an impulse he followed to Los Angeles.

McKnight studied film at ArtCenter College of Design, and, following graduation, began his career as a camera assistant for fellow ArtCenter alumnus Shelly Johnson, ASC. But, McKnight says, “It was the odd shooting job that fueled the fire.”

Since 1989, McKnight has shot hundreds of national commercials for clients including AT&T, Coors, McDonalds, Honda, Gillette and Visa, among many others. During this time, McKnight was also enlisted by cinematographers to perform second unit work on their films. He again collaborated with Johnson on Hidalgo and Sky High as well as Russell Carpenter, ASC on Killers. He also provided additional photography on Men in Black 3, shot by Bill Pope.

McKnight served as camera operator on the popular Showtime series Shameless, and in 2012, became the show’s director of photography. This move was “championed,” he says, by Rodney Charters, ASC, who had also photographed the show. 

Since then, the cinematographer has shot the WGN series Underground, for which he was nominated for a 2016 ASC Award in a Regular Series for Commercial Television, and the USA series The Purge. He also photographed the pilots for Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. and Backstorm, among others.   

Rodney Taylor grew up in North Carolina with a love for movies. In college, during a television-production class, he looked into a viewfinder for the first time and knew he had to shoot. After gaining experience photographing live sports, he made the transition to film when asked to shoot a documentary. In 1988, he moved to Los Angeles and began working his way up through the ranks, learning from such mentors as Mehran Salamati and Rogier Stoffers, NSC. A contact from the Maine Photographic Workshops, Levie Isaacks, ASC invited Taylor to Roger Corman’s production company, where he was hired as a camera assistant.

Learning to use the large-format Imax system, Taylor served as an AC on such documentary projects as Ring of Fire, Africa: The Serengeti and Search for the Great Sharks before transitioning to director of photography on Alaska: Spirit of the Wild, Wildfire: Feel the Heat and Michael Jordan to the Max

Moving into narrative production, he photographed such features as Swimmers, Save MeThat Evening Sun and Supremacy, and later shot TV series including Married, Getting On, Shots Fired, Ballers (earning an Emmy nomination for his work) and Swagger.


You’ll find all episodes in our ASC Clubhouse Conversations discussion series here.

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