6.26.2010

If it's Tuesday Night it must be a dress rehearsal at Zach Scott Theater.....

I love the call from Jim Reynolds that starts with, "Well, The Drowsy Chaperone is opening on Thursday and I wanted to see if it's possible to get on your schedule for Tues. night so we can have you shoot the dress rehearsal."  Like they need to twist my arm.  If you aren't shooting for a great local theater you are missing out on big fun.  Yeah, you'll get some good press because your credit will be next to fun images that go viral all over town.  And yeah, you'll get to use some of the very best stuff in your portfolio.

It doesn't hurt that the actors give you better expressions and gesture than you'll ever find in a non-actor model.  Or that highly professional costume designers are doing your wardrobe for you.  Or that set builders are making things look great.  Don't forget that you've got a lighting designer making  your images look ultra dimensional.  Did I mention that you'll be helping a group of dedicated artists fill the seats and keep working in the field that they love?  Did a I mention that theater people throw the absolutely best parties imaginable?

But the real reason to shoot for a great theater in your city is the fact that you have a front row seat for the best drama, comedy and musical performances I can imagine.  I'll tell you a secret:  Belinda and I hardly ever go to movies anymore because live stuff is so much more exciting.  A movie is the same. Over and over again. But in the theater every performance is absolutely brand new.  A different interpretation.  And every night the actors put everything on the line.  No retakes.  No retouching.
This past Tues. I dragged a bag of gear over to the theater to do the dress rehearsal for the funnest and funniest play I've seen in a long time.  It was called, "The Drowsy Chaperone".  The cast was packed with Austin's favorite actors.  Meredith McCall, Scotty Rodgers, Martin Burke, Jamie Goodwin and many more.  Even with the IS technology in several of my lenses I had a hard time holding my cameras still enough because I was laughing so much.  Amazing.  I'm getting eight tickets for next Saturday night so I can enjoy it without any distractions.  Like full CF cards.
No doubt someone will want to know how I shot it.  I took the Canon's this time.  5d2 and a the 7d.  The 24-105 on the 5 and the 70 to 200 on the 7D.  Everything on manual.  Spot metering.  Color balance set at 3000.  Most of the files were shot at medium res.  I didn't use lights and a tripod would slow me down too much.  I just paid attention to hitting focus and hitting the timing.  That and getting the exposures right on the money. (Meter caucasian skin and open up 2/3rd's of a stop.  Meter white with vague detail and open up two stops.....etc.)
I'm back to shooting the theater stuff in Jpeg because it's so much quicker of a workflow and I get so many more images on a card.  I can shoot like one of those New York fashion photographers from the 1970's who had two guys who just kept loading identical Nikon bodies with film and handing them to the "artist" as he blazed through roll after roll.  I love to shoot a couple thousand shots during the dress rehearsal.  You never know what you'll catch.  I guess if I can to two or three rehearsals I'd know what to anticipate and I'd be able to pare down the take....but who's got that kind of time?
The important thing in shooting theater is to keep your head in the game.  There's always a cute actress you'll want to fall in love with.  You always end up fascinated by the good lighting that's being done.  And for people that are moving!!!!! But you've got to keep your head in the game.  Watching the action outside the viewfinder and anticipating the blocking.  Most importantly is to watch for gesture and expression and keep remembering that the money shot for the newspaper is two or three actors, close up, interacting with lots of energy. The love scenes.  The fight scenes.  The glorious finales.
Watch the backgrounds and keep an eye open for good color contrasts.  I love white on white with silhouettes in the background.  And I love stuff that moves.


And not much beats actors on roller skates.  The moment before the kiss is more exciting than the kiss because of the anticipation.  The lead up to a punch is more exciting than the punch.  And the lead up to implied sex is better than the stage version.  There's more emotion in wanting than there is in getting....
I go to a lot of theater.  I shot this play on Tuesday evening and the night before I was shooting a Shakespeare production at Richard Garriott's place  (yeah.  I'm name dropping.  Really, Shakespeare...) but when Zachary Scott Theater pulls out all the stops and does a big production musical comedy....well, they had me and my cameras at "Hello."  If you live in Austin and don't go see this you're either on life support or you don't know the highest and best way to spent your entertainment resources.


It's all worth it to see the reigning master of Austin theater, Meredith McCall, as.........The Drowsy Chaperone.

If you fancy yourself to be a photographer.  If you want more exposure.  If you need some other art in your life.  Find a theater to support.  They'll thank you, but.....you'll thank yourself.  

( I love the shot just above.  It's not my shot.  It's the best collaboration of a marketing director, a photographer, a prop master, a costume person, a lighting designer, a set designer and a great acting talent.  Beats sitting at home.)

Tested by the mischievous gods of photography.....a tale of relative woe.

Before I plunge into my "tale of woe" let's get one thing straight.  All hardship is relative.  I'm not for a minute suggesting that my set backs this week are anything more than a minor annoyance.  Compared to famine, disease, amputation or even a severe headache my travails are less than a mosquito bite on the ankle.  And a bite inflicted on someone with a very high tolerance for mosquito bites.  Still, it's interesting because life's foibles are part and parcel of the photo trade......


I was lucky to be asked to do a fun job by one of my favorite ad agencies last week.  I'd just finished a job for a tech company from the mid western U.S. so my brain was already cogitating in the sphere of industrial pictorialism and I was hungry for more.  I won't go into details about the shoot or the actual clients because I signed some NDA's.  But I'll give you the big picture.....

The job was ultimately for a company that does printing and just about every type of advertising delivery and mailing you can think of, with the exception of television and web content.  They own plants in several cities.  They own and operate web presses (not presses for the web but giant machines that print high volume stuff with ink on paper.....) and sheet fed presses.  Complex mail stuffing and sorting machines.  Pre-press machines and much more.  And they needed an assortment of photographs that would show how they span the chasm between good, old fashion high craft and very modern and very high tech integration of digital data.

I love shooting stuff like this and I love working for companies that produce a physical product because it's visual.  Can't tell you how many software companies we've done projects for that basically have nothing visual to represent their "product" but the wrapped box the program disks come in.  We shoot two basic things for those kind of companies:  People meeting.  People working at their computers.  In the shoot I just finished we got to shoot precision gears, pulsating metal rollers, sluicing ink, platemakers, pressmen pulling huge sheets and much more.  We did the IT think with people making data but the bulk of the job was real people using real mechanical machines to make real stuff.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I need to throw the woe at you first.  So, when you estimate jobs like this you have a few calculations that go something like this:  How much time will I spend shooting?  And post processing? And meeting?  And traveling?  And, ultimately, what sort of usage licenses are we conveying to the client?  We'd be shooting in Ft. Worth on the first day and Austin on the second day.

Ft. Worth is (on a good day) about a three hour drive from Austin so it makes a lot more sense to drive it than to wait at the airport, fight about baggage restrictions, get delayed, fly to DFW and wait for a rental car, etc.  I decided to leave Austin mid afternoon on Weds., meet with my client for a preproduction pow-wow in the evening at my hotel and then, refreshed, hit the ground running on Thurs. morning early.  It would be a full day and it didn't make sense to get up at 5am and drive up, shoot all day and drive back at night.  Especially with an equally big and important chunk of the job continuing in Austin on Friday.  Sounded good to all involved.

I had my car's oil changed and a good "once over" done by my Honda dealer the day before and they gave my car a clean bill of health.  I had a ripping good lunch at Sullivan's Steakhouse with good friend and art director, Greg, dropped by Precision Camera to pick up yet another lens and then, at 2:30pm I headed north on Interstate IH-35 for my dat with destiny.

I'm tooling along with the cruise control set at 70 and Elvis Costello's, "King of America" on the music machine when, up ahead, the tire of an eighteen wheeler goes "Kaa-blam!"  and sends heavy rubber shrapnel everywhere.  On particular piece is guided by the mischievous photo gods right into the lower right hand side of my windshield where it leaves a nasty scar of a crack.  Why do tires explode?  Not sure but I think some it has to do with high temperatures and that afternoon it was up around 100 degrees in the shade.  The car thermometer was telling me that the roadway temp was around 121 (f).

The sudden smack against the windshield sure woke me up.  I weighed the risks and my relative position and decided that the windshield was virtuous and would hold for the next few days.  My heart stopped racing and I pressed north.  Then the next shoe dropped.  I was 45 minutes out of Ft. Worth proper when the air in the car started to feel warm and clammy and then warmer and clammier.  I turned off the air conditioning and attempted to restart it which causes a grinding noise and made the car shudder.  The air conditioning gave up the ghost and joined all the other appliances that have let me down in a circle of hell where they no doubt wait for me to arrive.  Ready to put me to work......

Windows open, I press on into the maelstrom called Ft. Worth rush hour.  True to form, trouble comes in threes.  I was making good time in the heart of the city, looking for loop 820 when everything ground to a halt.  A truck driver flipped his rig.  All traffic was blocked for the better part of an hour. Which is generally just annoying when your AC works and you've got a handful of good CD's or something ripe and saucy on the iPod.  But with no water in the car and the temperatures on the asphalt in the Mojave Desert range I was getting a bit nervous.

I stumbled into the Courtyard by Marriott, handed over my credit card and begged for water.  I'd made it.  But what do you do when your schedule is tight and compacted over the course of three days and your horse is crippled?  My response was to suck it up, get the job done, get back to Austin, get the job done and then see to the car this coming monday.  It was a miserable drive back home.  It got hotter and hotter and the crack on the windshield got bigger and bigger.  But the bottom line is that I'm quite capable of spending time in the heat.  It was a matter of comfort and not safety.

But the responses I got from other photographers ranged from all over the place.  One suggested that I should have hired an assistant to pick up my car at the client's facility and spend the day shepherding it through the local dealer.  But there's never the guarantee that you'll get the car back on your schedule.  Every corporate person I talked to suggested, cavalierly, that I get a car service to pick me up, take me to the airport and that there simply must be a service that deals in stranded cars for busy execs. (I don't fall into that category).  Several wealthy doctor friends suggested that I should have just called my bank and whatever car dealer I favored and bought a new car and had it delivered to the workplace in time for the drive home.  No muss, no fuss.  One worn and battered old assistant suggested riding the Greyhound Bus but I'm not that cheap yet....

I guess it would be fun to hear what you guys would have done........  


The job went off without a hitch and the client couldn't have been more gracious. We shot 1500 frames in two days and I've already edited the take down to around 800.  In addition to the facilities and machines we also photographed their senior executives.  Everyone was so down to earth.  Another reminder that, perhaps, companies that make real things are a bit more grounded and nicely process driven......

It was a fun, old fashioned (pre-recession) style shoot.  Lots of moving around.  Lots of images and permutations of images.  Grizzled crafts people.  Bright technicians.  Lots of "show off" photo opportunities.  Given a choice I'll take industrial assignments every day of the week over just about everything else out there.

Your car, like your camera and your lights, is part of your kit.  I guess I need to start making contingency plans for transportation just the way I have back ups for everything else..........one more thing to worry about....

Best, Kirk