Director of Photography Joe Guidry Discusses Going From The Baseball Pitch with Michael Jordan to The Scorching Heat of The Challenge: War of the Worlds
Joe Guidry had gone to school to become an X-ray technician, but as fate had it, he wound up as a production assistant on a news tabloid show. He’d show up to work wearing Michael Jordan jerseys and when Jordan’s father was murdered, Guidry was asked to do some investigative field journalism on the baseball fields of Alabama.
Given a High 8 camera, Guidry set out to do what he needed to do. He hit the jackpot and was soon given his own segment. It was that work that would prepare him for his stunning work and photography on MTV’s The Challenge.
Last season saw the show head to the scorching deserts of Namibia where his equipment was not prepared for the grueling challenges that contestants were facing. Guidry made make shift camera coolers but more importantly, used his years of experience to shoot on sight.
Watch the finale and you’ll see some stunning captures. I caught up with Guidry who is at work on the new season and the location is top secret, but he was still able to talk about Turbo, Georgia and shooting The Challenge: War of The Worlds.
How did you get your start as a cinematographer?
I started off as a production assistant back in the 90s and I was going to school to become an X-ray technician. I needed a job to help pay some bills. A friend of mine worked for a television show called Premiere Story, and it was a news tabloid show.
It’s like the TMZ of today. It was from the same producers as Hard Copy and A Current Affair. I got a job as a production assistant there, transcribing and I’d wear Michael Jordan jerseys to work.
One day, Michael Jordan’s dad was murdered, and the producers wanted to cover a story because they thought that his murder might have had something to do with Michael Jordan’s gambling debts. They wanted to cover the story, and this was a month after his dad had been murdered. I used to wear those jerseys, and everyone at work knew that I was a big fan. The supervising producer sat me down one day and said, ‘I don’t know what you want to do in this business, but we know you’re one of Michael Jordan’s biggest fans and you wear all of his clothing. How would you like to go to Birmingham, Alabama, just to see if you could get an interview with Michael Jordan?’ I said yes.
They sent me there and Michael Jordan was playing baseball at the time. I was this kid who didn’t know anything and they sent me out there with this High-8 camera and just wanted to see what I could do. I did all these undercover journalistic things that I didn’t think that I could do, and I went for it.
I came back with gold. I came back with this footage of me interviewing Michael Jordan and interviewing his bodyguards and maids and other people who lived on his compound. They loved the footage so much that they ended up giving me a segment on the show called The Adventures of Video Joe. I’d go around with the camera and talk to celebrities. It’s the same thing TMZ does today, I was the pioneer of that kind of journalism.
From Michael Jordan to the deserts of Namibia. Those guys are out there competing but you’re keeping up with them. What is that like for you?
The deserts of Namibia? It wasn’t that easy because the conditions were really harsh. It was tough to shoot in those conditions. The heat from the sun would fry our system. I couldn’t see what the guys were shooting because the heat would overheat our equipment so I’d have to direct just by sight. Being a camera operator for so many years, I could tell what camera operators were shooting and direct that way. The conditions out there were difficult to shoot in. Namibia is a beautiful place but shooting with sand and electronics is a recipe for disaster.
Your gear is melting because of melting heat and sand, what did you do to protect your gear?
We tried a number of things, and we had cooling packs and fans. We tried space blankets to keep the heat off of the cameras. There was a lot of brushwork and air in cans to keep the gear working at all times.
Turbo won the finale. What was it like seeing him win? What was your first impression when you saw him walk onto set the first time?
He’s a sleeper. We were very surprised that he rose out of the ashes and was able to take home the crown. There’s a part of us rooting for the underdog, but it was a definite surprise. A lot of times, he couldn’t understand the rules to the game. The first challenge we did, he didn’t understand the rules to Impending Dune. He didn’t understand. He stopped us from starting the game because he had questions. He had questions for the producers asking how to play. He went from that, where he didn’t understand the game, to winning.
The other surprise is Georgia. Talk about seeing her progress to the final.
I’d never really seen her before on her shows and she was a newbie. Listening to her accent alone and to see her grow throughout the season and go all the way to the final. She handled things well and makes it all the way to the end, but she wasn’t able to make it all the way to winning that crown. That final was tough. It was scary to see her fall and then be taken to the hospital.
What is the secret to capturing just how grueling the whole thing is?
I’ve been doing this show for fifteen years. I’ve grown as a cinematographer and as a director with this show. This show has taught me so much by making mistakes in my career and learning from those mistakes. I think at this point; I really have a perspective. The coverage aspect and coming up through the ranks of the challenges.
You’ve been there from the beginning.
Yes, we’re getting more eyes on us, and it’s growing. It’s also a huge family from around the world. Everyone comes back smiling and ready for the next adventure knowing how grueling it’s going to be.