ComingSoon had the opportunity to speak with cinematographer and director Tom Magill, best known for his work on Angie Tribeca, Atypical, and the Netflix feature Moxie. Tom is currently shooting the NBC series, Rutherford Falls and recently worked on the reboot of Saved by the Bell.
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Jeff Ames: What led you to become a cinematographer and director?
Tom Magill: As a kid, probably around five years old, I fell in love with a black and white portrait photobook my family had. There was something about looking at portrait photography that spoke to me at an early age. It led me down the path of learning photography and finding expression in photographs and how to try and tell a story in the single snap of an image. Almost forty-five years later, I’m still passionate about images and the craft of visual storytelling.
What was it about Saved by the Bell that made you want to work on it?
I had previously worked with our creator Tracey Wigfield and executive producer Franco Bario, on an NBC series called Great News. I love working with them and when they reached out to see if I was interested in coming aboard for the Saved reboot, I jumped at the chance.
What was the most challenging aspect of Saved by the Bell, and how did you overcome that?
One of the most challenging aspects about the last season of Saved was working around the Covid protocols. That’s the case with everything in production now, but it hit us especially hard. Our show takes place in a school, so to make it feel real we have to fill the hallways and classrooms with a lot of background actors. We even had a few scenes where we had big dances in our school gym. We’re limited to how many people can be on set at any given time, so we had to be very creative on how we lensed everything in those situations. A lot of times we would shoot directional on a slightly longer lens and pack the frame with as many people as we could. When we would turn around we’d do the same thing, but try to mix up the background actors so it doesn’t look like the same exact people in both shots. We had to play that game a lot, but I think it worked out in the end and the show feels authentic to how a real school would look and feel.
Do you have any fun, behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Saved by the Bell?
Our last episode of Season 2, “Let the Games Begin,” was a bit of a challenge to shoot. It takes place outside on a football field as there’s a spirit competition happening with a couple of different schools. It was a big episode. We were chasing the sun every day which is always stressful and we had lost a location midweek. We were shooting at a local high school and some of the day scenes were shot into early evening, but it still had to look like a bright sunny day. We would try and shoot all the wider coverage while we still had sunlight and then try to match the lighting for the close-ups. Some scenes took place in the stadium bleachers of the school, but we weren’t able to actually shoot that on location, so we recreated the bleachers on the Universal backlot in a parking lot. I don’t think you can tell all the cheats we had to make to get the episode to feel seamless. Very proud of the work our crews did to make that week happen!
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What were some of the things you learned from Saved by the Bell, that you’re excited to apply to future endeavors?
The biggest thing I learned is how amazing my crews are. Each year the scripts seem to get a bit longer and the work feels like it gets a bit harder. We don’t have any extra time or money to accommodate the growth of some of these shows, so having crews that can knock it out of the park every day is essential. I’m fortunate that I’ve had the same crew for about ten years now. They’re an amazing group of people that have a fantastic sense of humor and the best work ethic I’ve ever seen. They make the long stressful days fun and I’m thankful to be working with them.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
I just finished shooting the second season of another Peacock series called Rutherford Falls. I’m currently color grading some episodes, so hopefully, a release date will be announced soon!