I've written here before how I have a large number of ideas and how I'm slowly working on actually making them happen (that sounds like a run-on or just bad sentence, yet I have no idea how to fix it. Oh well). One of those ideas has been a 1920s style shoot of a speak-easy with wise-guys and flappers. This shoot has been in my head for about 2 years now. I've danced around it before with one of my car shoots and I found a local bar recently that just screams perfect location. I'm working on using that bar; just gotta ask the manager for permission next time I go. Now where's that mile-long to do list? Oh right, back on topic.
Well, sometimes things just fall into your lap and you gotta strike while the iron is hot. About four months ago I was asked to take pictures of a community theater production of Give My Regards to Broadway. I said no at the time, but then lo and behold, my friend convinced me to audition for that show. Well after getting casted, I couldn't maintain my answer of, "No," to doing the publicity photos now could I?
Well, here's where I got lucky-ish. In the show there just happens to be two mobsters. A guy and a girl (Success!). Both of them are wonderful actors and pretty good friends after two months of rehearsal. So the week before I'm supposed to take the publicity photos the director, producer, and public relations manager email me with some preliminary ideas. I looked down the list, and as I was reading I made some mental notes of how to set up each shot, things to possibly alter, props and equipment I would need, and the time to do it all.
I gave a cheer when I saw the line with Mugsy and Babs for one of the images. Unfortunately, I didn't really agree with what they wanted, but I already knew what I was going to do. And there was nothing they could do to stop me (This line should have been read in a nasally wise-guy accent. If it wasn't, read it again).
In total, I was being asked to take photos of eight specific scenes or groupings, and headshots of the entire cast and crew: 15 people. So roughly 25 images to snag. Now headshots I can slam out pretty quickly when they're all the same set up. Its basically yearbook photos (pardon me while I gag) but with infinitely better lighting. The real trick was going to be the staged images. Now typically, I'll spend about 30 minutes to an hour getting a staged shot just right. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen here. I asked the director how much time I had and was basically told, "Get it done quickly." So I politely asked everyone to arrive an hour early so we didn't cut into the immediately following rehearsal time. Boy am I glad I did.
The first thirty minutes were a whirlwind of people showing up, getting dressed, and me getting my lighting ready. I went with a three light set up for all images: Two 24x24 inch softboxes powered by Yongnuo YN-565 flashes, a 60 inch Photek Softlighter II, powered by a Yongnuo YN-568, and all remotely fired by Yongnuo YN-622C radio triggers (Yongnuo makes solid products by the way! They're cheap, 3rd party and get the job done. Perfect for a guy with monster college loans to pay off). The softboxes would provide my key lighting and the Softlighter (AKA an octabox) would be my fill.
I'm so thankful I had some preconceived ideas and lighting set ups before walking into the building that day. The whole shoot was utter madness. Between locating everyone, rearranging the set and lights, debating with the director and PR lady on how to set up images, and waiting for people to get manhandled into sometimes bizarre and non-era clothing by the costume lady, it may have been the most chaotic 2 hours of my life. The main thing that kept me sane? Snagging some awesome photos of my mobsters (Yes, this post is still about those images!).
Thank goodness the costume lady went super extravagant with Babs' outfit. That red makes this photo. Especially since we were shooting against black stage curtains. Setting up the lighting took all of 30 seconds because I already knew what I wanted, thanks to two years of day-dreaming and super tight time constraints. When these two walked up, I said, "Stand right here, get close and let me see some serious attitude. Channel your inner Tony Soprano (RIP as of today)!" I only had to take maybe four images before I got this one and pulled the Austin Powers, "And.... I'm spent."
What makes this image really sweet was that the PR lady who had just asked me, "to make sure you take clear, crisp, sharp photos (SERIOUSLY!?!?!)," was commenting how Mugsy's face was going to be in too much shadow while I was adjusting my composition and tweaking my subjects. I remember looking over my shoulder, smirking, and saying, "No its not." This was the next image and when she saw it, she nearly swooned and said, "Oh I love this! Its so clear and sharp! The lighting is beautiful!"
PR Lady with Annoyingly Low Expectations: 0.
This next image may be one of my all time favorites. In the show, Mugsy and Babs are looking for a bookie named Legs and his girl, Trixie. Originally, the director and the PR lady wanted to have them facing each other with the mobsters being threatening. I said, "I've got a better idea," grabbed two rolling walls, staggered them and staged the actors accordingly. I arranged my lights and caught the incredibly confused looks on the staffs' faces as I told the actors what I wanted them to do. The result? An image that has great interactions and also tells a much larger story than just a couple being threatened. Not to mention, Legs' sunglasses are just awesome. After this image, the producer walked over the to PR lady and director and said, "I like his ideas much better than ours. Let's let him do it his way." I can't tell you how much easier that made the rest of the day. It still didn't make me as happy as getting my wise-guys photos though.
So the day was crazy, and I got some great photos. I lucked out in that one of my "goal images" was finally accomplished because it just fell into my lap. Is it exactly what I envisioned? No. Do I like the image I got? Absolutely. Am I done trying to get my mobster photo? Maybe. If I get the chance to revisit it, I'll definitely jump on the opportunity, especially if I get permission to use that bar! I'm just thankful I was prepared to handle the situation when it was afforded to me, otherwise it would have been a huge missed opportunity. I also learned a lesson from all this: figure out who is running the show when the images are actually being taken, and as always, have a solid plan before you start.