By now you’ve read Tech Talk 27 on planning for your specials publicity shoot. In this article I’m going to talk about my approach to the shoot session. The shoot itself is in my experience lots of fun, but to be entirely honest stressful too, even with the best of preparation. I think the real challenge is to use that stress to your advantage, and to maintain a level of enthusiasm for what you’re doing.
Before your actors are on set you’ll want to be entirely set up or at least be finalising your set up while they are first with hair, make-up and costume. The bottom line is that once you’re working with actors, you don’t want to be interrupting the flow of the shoot with changes to lighting, equipment or working on your computer. This is great advice for any studio shoot, but I find it particularly important for publicity shoots – this mirrors what happens on major motion pictures, where the actors are brought onto set only after all the technical set up has been completed.
If you can, try and make sure you minimise the number of people on your set at any given time. I did a recent shoot where the studio space was shared with costume, make-up and the actor’s green room. Luckily the presence of so many people didn’t affect the actor’s work, but the excessive ambient noise made the shoot far more challenging than it would have otherwise been.
Another good “on the day” preparation trick is to introduce yourself to the production crew – the make-up artists, art department, costume, runners and of course any producers or publicity crew. These people are all on the shoot with a stake in you producing great results and can likely be called upon for input as required.
Even if you’ve worked with the actors on set, I find it hugely important to spend a short amount of time establishing your working relationship with them on the day (TT 08 – 5 tips for working with actors is a good starting point). That means giving them an overview of what your plan is for the shoot I usually spend at least 5-10 minutes privately with the actor for an introduction and overview of the shoot). I like to start this conversation with talking about my understanding of the character and how I’ve pre-visualised how they will be depicted in the end result and also to obtain their ideas for what they think will work best. The thing about actors, is that they’re trained to work with direction and they’re the creative who is most intimately familiar with their character you’ll find. For this reason you’ll find that if you give the actor good direction as to generally what you want, they’ll work their magic to create the poses and expressions you need.
Important stuff for you to communicate with the actors: How long it will take, What their “staging area” is (positioning in in relation to your lights) and how tight you’ll be shooting them.
Once you pick up your camera, or start the shoot process, maintaining communication throughout the session is imperative. If you need to stop, or pause make that needs to be communicated. Also, I like to provide lots of verbal feedback throughout the shoot. Some actors love seeing the images on the camera as a guide for tweaking their performance and other actors don’t want to see anything on the day. Its important to respect this and if you have your own specific preference for not showing them you’ll need to have a prepared and gentle explanation for not showing them your work.
You also need to remain open to working with curve balls – One particular example for me was an actor who came to the shoot significantly changed from when they were on the show due to another role they were in rehearsal for. This caused quite a stir with the producers on set, but I carried on with the shoot as though everything was fine. It is important to control what you can, but also accept and work with challenges that arise with the understanding that some things are beyond your control, devoting energy to those issues on the day will only distract you from the job you’re there to do.
Finally when things aren’t going to plan, or you’re having difficulty getting what you want from the actors (its rare, but can happen) its important to have an approach for communicating that gets you the results you want but without burning any bridges with the artist.
This might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but once you’ve finished working with the actor, I find it really valuable to spend a few moments “debriefing” the actor after the shoot. It’s important to thank them for working with you and also to give them an update on “where to from here”. If I’ve not said it before, I’ll say it again working with actors is one of the real privileges of working in film and television. Establishing productive relationships with up and coming actors can be very beneficial professionally. I often get job referrals thanks to actors who have enjoyed working with me in the past and when I’ve had the opportunity to work with actors on second and third projects the results we achieve together do get better each time.
Actors or their representatives will often have questions about the shoot and you should be prepared to answer (or gently deflect) questions like:
– When will the results be finished?
– Where will they be displayed?
– Will I get the opportunity to approve/veto the images chosen? (this is usually a contractual issue)
– Can I get copies for my portfolio?
As I wrote in my last article on the topic, there’s no one correct way for going about a specials shoot. This is my approach to organising and running a shoot, its worked for me in the past and every shoot I’ve done has gotten a little easier and a little more planned based on what I’ve learned from previous experiences. A final closing suggestion is to spend your time working on set as a means of learning tips and tricks that can be applied to other aspects of your photography. Much of my conduct in a specials shoot has been learned from watching directors and cinematographers working with actors while filming. Many of these techniques are directly relevant to shooting stills.