Clubhouse Conversations — Swagger

Cinematographer Cliff Charles is joined by interviewer Patrick Cady, ASC for this 55-minute episode focused on his camerawork in this Apple TV+ sports drama inspired by the life of NBA star Kevin Durant.

Swagger depicts the turbulent world of youth basketball, a high-stakes potential gateway to success for teen boys — as well as their families — putting pressure on ambitious players to move up the ranks. Jace (played by Isaiah R. Hill) is a rising superstar, while struggling former player Ike (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) saw his opportunities end and coaching is now his only option for staying in the game.


In this lively interview, Charles talks about his long collaboration with Swagger executive producer-writer-director Reggie Rock Bythewood, the need to realistically capture the game and players with a documentary approach, the use of a highly mobile camera to stay close to the 360-degree court action, incorporating Covid into the storyline, lighting and shooting on practical locations, and his close working relationship with his co-cinematographer on the series, Rodney Taylor, ASC.


The show was recently greenlit for a second season.

For more than 20 years, Brooklyn-based Charles (below, on right) has served as a director of photography on projects ranging from Chris Rock’s Sundance-winning documentary Good Hair to the Spirit Award-nominated feature Jellysmoke to the Jamaican gangster thriller Shottas. He has earned two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Cinematography, on Spike Lee’s multi-award-winning documentaries When the Levees Broke and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise.


His commercial credits include spots and promos for HBO, the NBA on TNT, The Daily News, Converse, State Farm, BET and VH-1, along with music videos for artists including Mos Def and Wyclef Jean. His company The People’s DP Inc. combines his interests in cinematography, diversity and education.

Charles’ other TV credits include episodes of Miracle’s Boys, Cloak & Dagger, Shots Fired, For Life, Flatbush Misdemeanors and Naomi.

Interviewer Patrick Cady was raised in rural New York and attended Ithaca College, later studying cinematography and directing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “My middle-school teachers encouraged me that a country kid could actually end up working in the movie business,” he told American Cinematographer. “I then learned from a slew of wonderful cinematographers in the Nineties when I was a gaffer. Sol Negrin, ASC and [honorary ASC member] Larry Parker have mentored me in both film and family.”

His career took a turn in 2000 after shooting his first feature, director Karen Kusama’s award-winning drama Girlfight.

His extensive television credits include Cold Case, Make It or Break It, Suits, Rizzoli & Isles, Body of Proof, Betrayal, Rectify and Bosch. He earned a 2018 Emmy Award nomination for his work on the series Insecure. He has been a member of the ASC since 2011.

You’ll find all episodes in our ASC Clubhouse Conversations discussion series here.