James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte are Emmy-nominated documentary directors and producers for the HBO documentary series, McMillion$. Brian and James return to Cinepod to talk about their latest documentary, The Big Conn, now airing on Apple TV+.
The Big Conn is a four-part documentary series that tells the unbelievable true story of larger-than-life attorney, Eric C. Conn. Conn stole over half a billion dollars from the government and taxpayers in the largest Social Security fraud case in United States history. Conn got away with it for more than 10 years before two whistleblowers told the FBI what he was doing and Conn went on the run.
Documentary filmmaking has grown and elevated as an art over the years, and James and Brian take a cinematic approach to the form. Their previous documentary series, McMillion$ had a thread of comedy throughout, with such interesting characters that it reminded them of a Coen brothers movie. For The Big Conn, Brian and James took a similar approach. They dive deep into Eric Conn’s life, using comedy to hold the audience’s interest, but underneath it’s a very serious exposé about the broken American Social Security system.
To put together such sprawling stories, James and Brian create a story outline, determine who the interviewees should be, interview the characters, write a script and then decide where they need to put in animated graphics, archival footage and recreations during the editing process. Talented cinematographer Jeff Dolan has worked with the team for years, shooting both interviews and recreations on The Big Conn and McMillion$. Brian and James planned out and put together a guide for lighting and shot composition for the look of the interviews, based on shots from scripted movies they love.
The Big Conn is a 4-part documentary series currently airing on Apple TV+.
James and Brian have a podcast to accompany The Big Conn, diving deeper into the story and subject matter. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-big-conn-the-official-podcast/id1621583098
Fun Meter, James and Brian’s production company: https://www.funmetermedia.com/
James Lee Hernandez: @iamthejlh
Brian Lazarte: @bdlazarte
Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep169/
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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com