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Food Informants: A Week In The Life Of Zach Zamboni, Anthony Bourdain's Cinematographer

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Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.

Zach Zamboni is a cinematographer. Logging more than 10,000 hours of camera work throughout the world, Zach has been awarded two Emmy's for Non-Fiction Cinematography (2009, 2011), and is nominated for a third. He's shot more than 70 episodes of the highly successful travel series "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations," and "The Layover." Between shooting documentaries and features, he's finishing a screenplay about the spooky side of traveling. Follow his adventures on Twitter @zachzamboni. Find him at www.zachzamboni.com.

Read more about Zach's trip to New Orleans to shoot "The Layover" with Anthony Bourdain.

Friday, July 28. Portland, Maine.

2pm: Typical moment, scratching my head, staring at open suitcase. What am I missing? Where am I going? Home for barely 48 hours from the last "Layover" shoot in Toronto, following on the heels of Taipei, Sao Paolo, Rio, Italy... Try not to unpack too much for this reason. Take toiletry kit back down from wall. Get laundry. Get aired-out boots. Packing is an art; have redundancies, expect the unexpected. Antibiotics, climbing gear, respectable shirts, rain gear, spare hard-to-find nuts and bolts. Going somewhere hot? Bring a sweater. Cold? Bring swim trunks. I've read the episode treatment, double-checked equipment orders, shared notes with my favorite colorist Mr. Beganyi, checked weather, paid bills and watched a fine cut of a previously shot episode.

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7pm: Jam bags in car. My girlfriend and I take out a pizza, drive 5 minutes to the harbor and ride the launch out to my sailboat. Woods and water time speeds my recovery to sanity. We eat on the deck. Mackerel jump and a seal eats them.

8pm: Twilight. Lukewarm beer. Of all the places I've been in my life, I'm reassured Maine is my favorite. We pick out constellations with a star-finder App. You still need a blanket in July. The zodiac is no joke.

Saturday, July 28. Falmouth, Maine.

6am: A lobster boat chugs close by. I make strong coffee, waking up girlfriend with the clatter of the percolator parts. Ducks bob around. A few more fishing boats pass. Eventually I bail out the dingy. She drops me off at the airport again. Staying behind sucks.

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8am: Checking in for the millionth time. Portland's airport is 15 minutes from the boat and there's never a line. One TSA guy gives me a hard time for snapping a picture, the other says, "ah, you again."

11am: LaGuardia Airport, New York. Connect with comrades-in-arms, Jared and Erik (Producers) and Jerry (Camera). Big hugs. Haven't seen you in 2 days jokes. We're tight, having experienced much laughter and grinding of teeth over the years. Bourdain and Tom (Director) coming in on a later flight. Load up friendly skycap with Pelican cases. Lift with legs, not back. Reunite with my camera bag. "This is my camera, there are many like it but this one is mine..."

Check-in again, always a task with all the cases (love your airline employee). Express angst over travel agent putting us in middle seats again. Why? Followed by breakfast meeting talking shop and road stories. There really are urine drinking seals in the Arctic.

4pm: New Orleans, Louisiana. I like how the gap between the plane and jet bridge provides the first smell of local air stirred with jet fuel. I like both. It's hot and wet and the air feels like a foreign country. I love this place. It's my fifth show in NOLA. Initiate ritual of cramming bags into pass van. Despite the request, they usually show up with the back seats still in. My Groundhog Day is in an airport. I smell the air like a dog or sailor, trying to get a feel for the weather.

5pm: Check into nice hotel, good for crew morale. Throw bag in room, meet local Camera Assistants, begin next ritual: unpack. Build camera, test things, tape and velcro, repack for the field and jettison empty pelican cases, organize sound kits, bitch about equipment, label things.

7:30pm: We have the luxury of time for a scout. Unusual on "Layover," which runs more like a hit-and-run operation. Bourdain and Tom are still stuck on the rained-out tarmac in NYC. Producers talk contingency plan.

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8pm: Scouting a restaurant has us looking like wayward mental patients. Slowly wandering around the dining room staring at ceiling, whispering and subtly gesturing. Determining the best table to shoot presents a dilemma: maximize the depth of the restaurant, making for nice backgrounds, and we have to sit in the darkest spot. One founding principal of "Layover" is no lights. I don't mind things being low key and under-lit; we've shot some very dark spots. I have a hard time accepting no eye-light. Need life in the eyes. As a rule, Bourdain hates lights. No time to use them on "Layover" and he likes that. I sit in his seat and my eyes wander around the room looking for a place to hide a small lamp.

10pm: Sweating still, wander a bit, cool with Daiquiris. Team lands at Napoleon. I happily order jambalaya. Bourdain and Tom finally in the air.

Sunday, July 29th. New Orleans, Louisiana.

8:30am: Call time. AC's warm up cold cameras and lenses. Humidity is Singapore-esque. Suss out cab-shot possibilities, front seat or back? Our cab driver Mr. Flood, back from the last episode, says I sat in the front last time. Done. Organize vans. Walkie up.

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9am: Bourdain arrives in terrific spirits, early for his call as always. Never late, thinks lateness reflects poorly on people. Wayward platoon happy to be united, ready to work. He mikes himself, knowing I'll futz around and try to get it perfect. In cab, my legs are going numb, jammed against the dash and door. Tom is trying to squeeze out of the shot in the back. Bourdain tends to be hilarious in the a.m., also on long commutes, or when crew is suffering. Sadly, so many funny things he says are television-impossible.

10am: Crab Trap, an open air shack. Heat immediately knocks us down. We have audio issues upon landing. Owner insists on a quick tour of his winnings from storage unit auctions. Lot of texture here. Bourdain asks if we can un-fuck ourselves so we can get to eating the bounty of boiled crabs and shrimps before us. We do. Scene looks very nice. Dirty over the shoulders, T4.0, long zooms.

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12pm: Lunch. Heat index is cranking, we are fully sweat-soaked. This is one of those scenes where we get to sit and eat afterwards. Hot, but I love this place.

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2:30pm: R Bar. Arrive just before Bourdain to a dark bar with screaming highlights coming through side and front doors, no light in the middle. Need to pick a seat fast. Extremely high contrast situation and we need to do a walk around the neighborhood first. Sun is blazing hot, contrast maximized, they want to walk in shade. S-log is needed but it's difficult to see focus with it and navigate the walk backwards. Never easy.

They land in the middle of the bar. There is great, hushed confusion over the walkies, the AC's slowly opening and closing doors as we try to control the light. "Not your right, my right, that is the side door, I need you to open the front door, the other front door..." Still looks good.

5pm: Sitting down for po'boy at R&O. Air Con good. Funny scene, coverage is easy. Happy for HipShot and room to work. Plenty of light.

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9:30pm: Jammed in cab again. Town is looking good but roads in New Orleans still really rough. Head is banging off ceiling, trying to keep the 50mm steady and focused at T1.8. Just need a few moments. Night driving can be very pretty.

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10pm: Snake and Jakes. Jammed behind bar, no room to move, front of my pants soaking up liquor spillage from the well. Crowded, bartender happy to bang Jerry and I around. Shooting on primes which are last-resort, prefer the zoom's flexibility. It's very dark, few candles around, a small LED dimmed and hiding on the bar. We're T1.8 at 3200 iso, camera digs into the shadows nicely. Jager shots.

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11:30pm: Last stop of the day, King Pin. Run in for a table, land in the middle of the room. Giant TV flickers epileptic light over Tony and Donald's faces as they talk. Quietly ask if it can be switched off over the walkie. Snaps off, total darkness, "back on, back on!" Tony gives me a "quit fucking around" look. The enemy of good is better.

12:30am: I'm standing in the taco truck framing up the bar's door expecting Bourdain to walk out and wander up to the window. I can hear him on the wireless. Exits, immediately drunken fan stumbles into frame and asks if she can smell him. This is video gold for Tom so he doesn't intervene. I like mixed flourescent green and sodium vapor lighting.

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1:30am: Finish up with some B-roll, stand and eat a taco. Shoulder tingling, shirt is soaked. Cold beer while riding home in van.

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Monday, July 30. New Orleans, Louisiana.

9:30am: AC's warm up air-conditioned cameras and lenses with a crappy hair dryer. Equipment van is a disaster which is a no-no. Messy bed, messy head as they say in rehab. Let's sort this out.

10am: Back in cab, struggling with extremely high contrast two-shot again, trying smooth out bumps from middle-front seat, coiled XLR cables tangled with my head phones, I'm nearly sitting on driver's lap. Can't feel legs, grinding teeth. (SOS, need sound person).

11am: Strip mall, Pho Tau Bay. Insert shot of steaming bowl of Pho noodles. Long end of 30-80mm not quite long enough to keep us out of each others frames. Find good back grounds, dirty OTS good. Between heat index and condiments feels a bit like Vietnam. Our iconic shot, one that hangs in my memory like a blended-up dream, is Tony in one of many far-off markets, getting mesmerized over a bowl of something like this. I need strong coffee, ice, swirling condensed milk. We eat.

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1pm: Taxi again to Frozen Daquiri stand. Cab shots are a pain but I really like them in the show. Nice verite moments. This is classic Bourdain solo scene, sitting alone talking to camera, giant foam cup, I'm on the 16-42mm. Wide shot for comedy, says Chaplin. Agreed, long lens not funny. Tom hands over the Travel Guide, which Tom likes because Tony hates it, and Tony hates because Tom insists on it. This is deemed stove piping, a futile attempt to force content upon Tony. Never works, but the collision of wills, always very funny. A surgeon in scrubs walks up to counter in background and orders a massive Daquiri. Yes, reality is better than fiction.

3:30pm: Frenchman Street. Classic walk around the neighborhood. Bourdain barely tolerant of these B-roll walks. Though great for V.O., doesn't want to stand around whilst we find an angle, which I concur, we have no time to waste time. Rule: I have one shot at walks, get everything I can, it's all going in the show. Vary shots, count the seconds, don't bone focus, swerve hazards, don't over-expose, miss curbs, steps, trees, keep it level, don't get hit by a car. Bourdain hates us walking backwards, despite fact we're in full control of our trajectory, always watching. It brings him great angst as he feels personally responsible for our safety and others, "baby stroller!" "Old lady on left!" "Stop, tree!" Ironically, he never walks just a little slower to help us out. There's no second takes in life either.

4pm: Bourdain on break for moment, giving us chance to scout another bar and connect with Jeremy (Camera) who is swapping out with Jerry tomorrow. We discuss last minute lights at Cochon. Since it's only an eye light, we can cross-key from about thirty feet away with small LED fresnels. Jeremy hides them up high, ratchet strapping them to columns. They sort-of look natural, I'm hoping Tony won't notice.

5pm: Ate shrimp etoufee at Praline Connection. Jared, looking after his crew, insists we take a break from the heat.

7pm: Sazerac Bar. Adjust dimmer levels in bar so we can shoot on zooms. Going with the risky "French Over" camera blocking which puts the characters at the bar and us behind them, as opposed to us behind the bar. This works only if characters can "cheat out" towards camera and not turn their backs to us. Bourdain never, ever cheats out or opens up to camera. Famously, he'll completely turn his back on us. He says camera blocking is "Fascist." Keeps it real I guess. I cheat out his guest Davis, and open Tony's seat out. Gamble and win?

7:30pm: Bourdain comes in, says a friendly hello, lets me mic him, sits and immediately turns his chair towards the bar. Goddamn it. I try going longer on the zoom and clock around Davis so I can see two of Tony's eyes. Hate to carry a whole scene in profile. If he would just open up, just a bit. Nope. Conversation is good, scene looks fine. Reality is not perfect, but I am a perfectionist. I accept, and that's the zen of a bar scene.

9pm: Cochon. Darkish, eye lights look great, we're wide open on the zooms, hard shadows well placed but work against the illusion of reality. Could be more contrast, we'll bring it back in post. Unknown to Bourdain, Bourdain looks good. It's not my taste for things to appear lit. Don't like unmotivated backlights unless I'm lighting a Noir. Tony nor I like disturbing life's petri dish with overt lighting, but here I am breaking my own rules. I constantly consider what is more important in art: consistency in a chosen form, or the creative impulsiveness to snatch beauty? Dude, it's just an eye light. Or is it? Food tastes great regardless.

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11pm: That's a wrap on Mr. Bourdain, for he and Tom this Layover is over. We have a mini wrap party as the heavy lifting is done, we will stay on, pick up B-Roll and the alternate locations Tony has recommended. Donald (the chef) provides a huge spread for us and joins for Bourbon shots and beers. In years of travel, I've realized you can judge a culture by how much they want to feed you. Some people couldn't care less if you eat, other people literally refuse to continue a scene unless everyone stops and eats something. A chef's ego wants things to taste good, their heart wants to feed you. A cinematographer's ego wants to make things beautiful, their heart just wants to tell the truth.

2am: Bourdain flat-out refuses, but crew makes their way to Bourbon Street. Yes, we know. Jerry and Tom are leaving and our youngest member, Erik, has never been to New Orleans before. In the interests of science we'd all like to see how this unfolds. No, you should definitely try hand grenades. No, barely any alcohol in Daiquiris. Eventually Erik is drawn into a bar by one of the rough and busty test-tube shot girls. She puts four tubes in her own mouth and draws Erik in tight, pouring mouth to mouth. Kinky. Erik pumps fists, hacks, grimaces and pulls a large, blue wad of used chewing gum from his mouth. And...laryngeal spasm.

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Tuesday, July 31. New Orleans, Louisiana.

9:30am: Cab to Cafe du Monde. Touristy, but love this place, always go when in town. Like the bitter chicory coffee and sweet powdered sugar. Sweating and drinking hot coffee feels South Asia. Good to have a moment to not think, rest eyes. Hard to get out of looking for next shot state of mind.

10:30am: Call time, split crews to divide and conquer B-roll and Alternates. In this no-Bourdain vacuum we're like a pack of greyhounds sulking around after the hare has disappeared. I do miss the man.

12pm: I'm standing in the street, in a place that is not home, looking around for a way to describe it. This is the core of my work: the walkabout. Me and camera. A translator in some places, always good to have a local. Abroad I'll memorize key words. May I, thank-you, delicious, beautiful, good morning. People like the effort. This is classic street photography; get with the people. Moments. Interactions are everything, I enjoy chatting with strangers. As in most hot climates, there isn't a soul under the mid-day sun. Who shoots B-roll at noon time? I encounter a man who constructed a catapult so Hunter S. Thompson could shoot flying dinner plates with his .45. They did many drugs. Big fan of the show Good time to shoot window shutters and doors. Like the iron work.

3pm: Ran all over city. Now on a wide shot from river bank opposite the city. Mayflies. Need more clouds. I stand around with a towel over my head waiting for a time lapse to finish. I think my brain is poaching. Stranger told me the heat is population control.

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7pm: Head to Cochon to pick up the kitchen work we missed last night. Working on the line is a familiar place; can't imagine how many kitchens I've shot. Hundreds. Can tell things taste good by the way they look. Being out of the way is a source of pride. My grandfather spent his life as a chef, being by the fire makes me feel close to him. 30-80mm zoom needs to be a bit longer. Wait for moments. I like a cook's concentration. Rule: good food will look good; shoot it hot, don't fuck with it. Find some shape or a backlight. Never slow the line down. If something important happens too fast the audience won't understand; if needed, ask for key moments just a bit slower. Make repeating things rare. Don't be a burden, don't get burned, pay attention. There is a best way to shoot each thing, each thing has its own way.

11pm: Jared and I arrive at Maple Leaf. Gets packed. Sauna-hot. Very hard for a camera to bring energy to a place with no energy. This is not that. Love shooting musicians, especially raw and raucous one like Rebirth Brass Band. Easy to get lost in coverage. Great faces, moody red lighting, sweaty people, thrashing trombone slides. 135mm Prime. Without a fast camera, it's a world we never see.

Wednesday, August 1. New Orleans, Louisiana.

11am: Dooky Chase, Restaurant Alternate. Mrs. Leah Chase was deep in thought when we entered the kitchen, her eyes brightened right up seeing us. People are my favorite aspect of work. I get tired; people give me joy and energy. Mrs. Chase wants me to try the mustard sauce she's throwing together. I imagine she reminds many people of their grandmothers. Photographically, I want to do by best by people. She takes my hands and makes me eat some of her shrimp etouffee. The art we collect says much about us. Standing in the dining room, can't recall being as struck by the art in another restaurant, or someone's house. There's so much life on the walls. Mrs. Chase tells me travel shows are so important because people have to mix things up; mix up ideas, mix up recipes. Being around her, eating her food, I am happy.

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1:30pm: Standing in the sun, shooting tall buildings. How can we see the same thing differently? I shoot a hotel Alternate Scene. Shooting these gets difficult, we shoot many, and do it quickly. How to capture a place in ten shots? How to stay creative in volume, stick to format and still be inventive? The endurance is more mind than muscle. I can always find more economy and clarity in camerawork; that's what makes it beautiful.

4pm: Frenchman Street B-roll and the Marigny. Everyone says the neighborhood is changing; we see this all over the world. Hope the high rises cab stay out. I'm surging sweat. What's the relationship between discomfort and breaking down creative barriers?

5pm: Snug Harbor Alternate. Need to shoot our friend Davis playing the piano. He's deep in shadow, right up against the white-hot door. Impossible contrast, what can I do? Can't move piano, can't move door, no time to gel or control the glass. Very hard to let it go. I'm sure I think it's worse than it is. I shoot S-Log. He'll look good.

6pm: Buffa's Lounge for late lunch. Love this place. No frills. Solid, delicious, working-class meal. So what if I'm eating jambalaya again, classics are classics for a reason. I like unpretentious food.

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8pm: Shoot Sazerac pick-ups. Shoot nighttime B-roll. Shoot time lapse of moon. Shoot from highway. Wander. Looking for vantage points, it helps to have a local.

Thursday, August 2. New Orleans, Louisiana.

8am: Haven't eaten enough in the last few days; too hot, running around, eating late in the day. Body needs more calories. Warm plate in hand, I stand before the hotel's egg station. I imagine Bourdain's head looming large over the steam tables, projected like the Wizard of Oz. He is laughing diabolically, he is Ming the Merciless of Hotel Buffets. This will haunt me. I am joke-fodder.

10am: Atchafalaya Restaurant, Brunch Alternative Scene. Very pretty food, chef's great. I'm at the table shooting Jared slowly cut open a hard boiled egg perched on some crispy hash. I watch him gingerly plow through a plate of beautiful shrimp and grits. A snapper. Some duck. Ming the Merciless towers over the table. "What's wrong Zamboni, no appetite? Bwahh-Hah... Bwah-Hah-Hah!" Poof. Smoke.

11:30am: We have become pressed for time. I'm wandering up and down side streets looking for houses to shoot some interviews in front of. Need shade. Need an interesting composition and a house that feels right for the subject. Symmetry is comedy. Not all lenses are funny. A 21MM lens 6ft from subject is funny. It's humanistic. I'll give it just a little too much headroom. I like to shoot T4.0. We would never survive our schedule without constant humor. Working for Bourdain is both extremely demanding and extremely funny. Crew members without dark, sullied, sarcastic or exceptionally dry senses of humor tend to miss rotation. Shit jokes keep us close, dermal penetration jokes keep us closer.

1pm: French Quarter, looking for more interview spots. Streets are dead. Shuttered doors and windows work for symmetry. Working with sun position; need to find a building with shadow deep enough to keep subject comfortable in shade, get some separation with wall, keep me out of traffic. Hard to find. We get all ready to go in front of a nice buttoned up door. Door opens, man asks us to move. Also offers a Pimm's Cup cocktail. Run around, find another spot meeting parameters. Radial saw wails, followed by hammering and yelling. Move again. It starts to rain. The gods of television are angered. Something must be sacrificed to appease them. Volunteers?

6:30pm: Jared takes to us to Lola's for paella. Fantastic. Gazpacho is best I've had outside of Spain. It cools my blood.

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8:30pm: Shoot Zydeco night at Rock 'n' Bowl. Bartenders hula hoop on bar. Geno Delafose and French Rockin Boogie are very spirited, everyone dances. Big Lebowski changed bowling photography forever. Cheers to Roger Deakins.

10pm: Tipitina's. So much history, need to do it justice. Good crowd, not huge, will stay on the long lens. Moon looks terrific.

12am: One Eyed Jacks, another classic. Bouncer Jeff recognizes me from Maine show, wants to go hunting up there. Acadians unite. Shooting in clubs always a challenge. Don't want to steal peoples identities, don't want to be asshole going around asking for permission. Keep it abstract, if needed make eye contact and get a nod.

1:30am: Wrap. On the drive home I'm falling asleep, laying across the back seat of a speeding van. I've been here so many times; different places but same place. The world is rushing below me, soon I'll be trying to catch it.

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Zach Zamboni // Cinematographer // Director of Photography

Zach Zamboni (zachzamboni) on Twitter

Zach Zamboni - IMDb

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