For the past 10 years, director of photography Zach Zamboni has brought a cinematic richness to Anthony Bourdain’s various travel series, from Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations to the current CNN show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
And his talent for merging grittier documentary-style filmmaking with artier feature-film techniques has paid off, earning him three cinematography Emmys (two for No Reservations, one for Parts Unknown).
The magic that is Parts Unknown is, in good measure, the result of a push-pull between two friends and collaborators who respect each other’s talent, but have conflicting artistic impulses.
“The chemistry between Tony and me is this very good balance between me trying to control everything and him not wanting to control anything,” Zamboni observes. “I’ll want to control things through lighting or where I want him to go, and he’ll push me into chaos and surprise by shaking things up at the last minute. But that chemistry leads to moments that are real. It’s this very strange blend of film and nonfiction.”
Their shared goal is to make each episode of Parts Unknown stylistically distinct. For example, an episode in Rome was designed as a visual tribute to Italian film masters like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci. A segment in Buenos Aires emphasized activity and movement while integrating black-and-white with color footage.
Parts Unknown is much more than a standard travel show. A former chef, Bourdain is known for his unrestrained approach to everything from food and art to politics and culture. So it helps that Zamboni’s points of reference are equally broad. His college studies encompassed not only cinematography, but writing and philosophy.
“I always thought I would be a painter, then I got into writing,” recalls Zamboni, who splits his leisure time between his native Maine and Granada, Spain, with his Spanish-born wife and their infant son.
“I was an hour away from a movie theater growing up. We didn’t have cable TV. I never thought about being a cinematographer until a writing teacher [at the University of Maine] said, ‘You write in a very visual way. You should think about film.’”
For Zamboni, Parts Unknown is about pushing the creative envelope by using various cameras, lenses and visual techniques. In one episode, that meant 11 different cameras.
“So much of what we do is about being brave or crazy enough to try to make something that hasn’t been made before,” Zamboni says.
The result? “It’s both mentally stressful and rewarding.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2017