The definition of celebrity is far different now than it was a decade or two ago. Congruently, the role of those who work within the industry that captures the stories of these celebrities and influencers has evolved as well. Omar Ragab embraces this, even revels in it. He didn’t pursue a career in the industry because he wanted to sit behind a desk with everyday mapped out in advance. As a cinematographer on more varied productions than one can count, Ragab has discovered new ways of testing his own skill and confirming to himself that the potential for growth is a continuing occurrence. The art of storytelling rests as much, if not more, in the hands of those who sculpt it rather than simply with those at the center of it. Omar imparts, “My background originally stems from documentary filmmaking, which has informed my decisions as a resourceful filmmaker who can achieve the required results with very little means. Having started in small independent productions, I had to wear a lot of different hats in order to truly hone my craft and have the creativity to achieve ambitious shots/setups with a very low budget. This has allowed me to contribute to the visions of those whom I collaborate in creative ways.
Working on the Netflix Docu-Reality Series Hype House provided an opportunity to recalibrate the way in which Mr. Ragab conducts his role on the camera crew. As camera operator and 2nd Unit DP for this show that merged the worlds of traditional TV with Social Media, Hype House documented the lives of its sixteen cast members around the clock. Omar informs, “We shot the entire show on Panasonic Varicam LTs, Panasonic EVA1s and Panasonic BGH1s. The main challenge was having to adapt to unconventional coverage, mixed with filming people that are used to filming themselves and are usually fully in control of how they are portrayed and edited. It was an incredible character study and it was very humbling when you could actually see the guards going down when the subjects did or didn’t know that we were filming. Something we concentrated on very hard was to capture the spontaneity and immediacy of TikToks and Social media with how we filmed them, and to never be afraid to abandon all the rules at the front door.”
Full on extreme glamour is the subject matter and style of the Netflix series Bling Empire which focuses on an Uber-rich young Asian group of friends in Los Angeles. The story unfolds through the eyes of Kevin who was born in Korea but adopted by white parents in Pennsylvania and then relocated to LA to pursue a career in acting/modeling. Kevin befriends Kane, a Singaporean billionaire who introduces Kevin to a world he never imagined. We see the show as outsider’s through Kevin’s eyes as he navigates incredible wealth while simultaneously getting in touch with his own Korean heritage as well as learning about other Asian cultures. Omar was specifically sought out by director Andrei Cranach (known for his work on The Simple Life and Keeping Up with the Kardashians) and show runner Brandon Panaligan for his expertise. Ragab testifies, “Every shot had to scream bling and any form of shine, sheen, or glitter was captured to an almost exaggerated amount! That meant slow, smooth tracking shots accompanying long dolly tracks and close-ups on jewelry, couture clothing, and one-of-a-kind vehicles. We used a combination of softening and polarizing filters to balance skins tones and soften any edges that were in frame. We used the same filter combination that Andrei used on Keeping Up with The Kardashians.” He continues, “There are two scenes that stand out to me the most in terms of the contrast to which the approaches juxtapose each other. We shot a scene where we had filmed our cast members attending the LA Fashion Week runway show that one of them was hosting; the way it panned out, we had to cover the entire show from eight different angles and maneuver through a crowd of over five-hundred people while capturing our cast seamlessly without being seen. This then led to a fifteen-person dinner in an undisclosed location, all while making it look like a renaissance era feast, pre-lit 45 mins before the show.” Bling Empire was nominated for Best Docu-Reality Show and Best New Unscripted Series at the MTV Movie+TV Awards.
Writer: Arlen Gann