Compared to Planet Hollywood, the NY indie film community is a tiny island filled with a tight knit group of talented filmmakers and actors, all working together on each other’s no budget films. (It very much reminds me of how the indie rock scene was before Nevermind was released). Kate Lyn Sheil is one of the main players on the scene and rightfully so. She is beautiful and talented, with an uncanny ability to express the subtlest emotions with the quietest of intensity. If you don’t believe me go see her latest project The Heart Machine. I had met Kate at a few parties and I was really hoping to have the opportunity to work with her at some point, so when Scott from Filmmaker called I jumped at the chance. And it happened quickly. I got the call on Tues and we shot on Weds: no lights, no assistant, no production at all really. Classic NY Indie style! Kate arrived straight from an audition and was operating on one-hour sleep, having taken the redeye from LA the night before. We were blessed with perfect weather and our walk together on the Highline was the highlight of my day.
My latest project is called Interior Lives. I’d been thinking about starting something new for a while but I couldn’t put my finger on what to do. My life has been filled with so many surprises lately and much has changed in the last few years, I didn’t want to fall back on the same old tropes of my past. So I asked myself a few seemingly easy questions: What do I care about now? What do I want to learn more about? Where do my interests lie? The answer presented itself through a series of simple revelations; I am interested in how relationships work and how people choose to live, the architecture of life. Eventually it dawned on me, why not photograph my friends in their homes and interview them about their lives? It’s such an obvious next step, as if the idea was right in front of me the whole time, and I just wasn’t looking. You can visit the site here www.interiorlives.com.
I found myself crawling around on the ground in a dirty alley in Chinatown one early Saturday morning shooting plates for our Gotham gallery shoot with FOX. After dusting ourselves off, we spent the rest of the day at Pier 59 setting up our lights and getting ready to shoot the wonderfully talented cast on Sunday. No rest for the wicked! The shoot was a blast and lots of great images were made. It was an extra bonus to have the opportunity to work side by side with the super talented photographer Justin Stevens. (He gets credit for the amazing poster headshots) It’s so cool to see how the master retouchers at FOX put together this powerful image!
If you don’t know who Gabby Hoffman is, you should look her up right away because she is one very cool woman. For starters her mom was a Warhol superstar and she grew up in the Chelsea hotel. As a child actress she had roles in such classics as Field of Dreams and Sleepless in Seattle. Lately she has been killing it on the indie circuit with cameos on Girls and Louie, and her performance in the Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (with Michael Cera) was stellar. If you can, definitely catch her in the new Amazon show Transparent, it’s great! Oh and you can watch her in the horror film LYLE here. Anyway, I got to shoot Gabby for Bust Magazine, and I when we met at her apartment in Brooklyn I don’t think she could have been any sweeter. We walked around the park, talked about everything under the sun, I snapped some photos and sadly, we said good-by. If I ever get to make a movie, she’s gonna be in it.
The video from my photo shoot with Lexi Rasmussen for Filmmaker Magazine didn’t happen the way I had originally intended. We did an interview but it felt too conventional. I shot some other footage where the audio was lost. After looking at the images and watching the footage I did have, the monologue really stood out. Lexi was charming, relaxed and fresh. The piano piece was also nice so I thought it would be cool to mix these two images together and see what would happen. The original version was completely crazy and way too dizzying for anyone in my household to watch, but after some fancy editing, I was able to pull the visual story into view.
There is a belief within the advertising community that celebrity photographers don’t know how to photograph real people. I think it stems from the notion that celebrities are used to being in front of the camera and after hours of hair and makeup and styling, they are more prepared to deal with the harsh stare of the lens. With regards to capturing the essence of character, this completely unfounded myth misses the point about what portrait photographers actually do, which is make people feel comfortable and relaxed, disarming their insecurities so they can be “themselves” in front of the camera. Actors can be difficult to photograph unless a clear role for them to connect with is defined. I have always enjoyed photographing musicians the most; generally, I find their demeanor so chill and easygoing. For this photo booth that I set up at BUST Magazine’s PRIMPED craft fair I photographed over 200 actual “real” people in just a few hours. Due to the nature of the event, 99% of my subjects were women! I liken the experience to the 5-second drill in Life drawing class. It’s a quick sketch, the goal being to capture the soul in just a few frames. Here are some of my favs but you can see the whole set here.
The siren call of beautiful Los Angeles, with its wonderful weather and the allure of Hollywood is so incredibly seductive, I have to admit I hear her call almost very day. So when my buddy Alison Roberto, the creative director at Oxygen, recently decided to take a new job at BLT and make the big move to LA, I was thrilled for her and secretly jealous that she was able to pull it off. My recent move to Brooklyn (which I love so much!) has curbed my appetite for ever moving again, but hey you never know. This shoot of Bad Girls Club Chicago was our last shoot working together at Oxygen. Of course I do hope to work with her down the line, hopefully on a sunny day in LA!
Recently I had the excellent opportunity to work with a lovely trio of women who go by the name of Au Revoir Simone. With all three girls on keyboards, their musical sound is a fresh, dreamy pop served up with a cool scoop of Brooklyn edge. I was shooting for NERO, an independent Japanese music magazine, which meant that I could really let loose and go crazy. The girls were inspiring to work with; the weirder I made the photos the more they were digging it! Our shoot reminded me of how much fun I used to have shooting for the old record labels back in the day. It seems so rare to have that opportunity now. Anyway, we had a blast on our shoot, which we did at Colony Studios, a funky new studio in Greenpoint. This is the actual layout from the magazine. Thanks YUKIKO!
I shot this poster 3 years ago and it is just now coming out. Thats what they call Lost in Development Hell! Anyway, here is my original blog post from October 2010. It was titled TURN THE ROOM AROUND I’ve learned quite a bit since those early days.
In August I spent 2 weeks in Memphis on the set of the independent feature “Losers Take All”, an 80’s Rock and Roll comedy about a DIY punk band looking to make some noise. How I ended up there is kind of a long story but in a nutshell, I was invited by the producer Mike Ryan to come hang out and “learn how its done”. I arrived on day 3 of a 20 day schedule and was welcomed with open arms by the producers Andrew Pope and Winn Coslick, the director Alex Steyermark, the cast, crew, and of course Mike Ryan. He is a veteran indie film producer with endless knowledge of the process and a heart of gold, never tiring from giving in-depth explanations to any questions I could come up with. My head was like a giant sponge, absorbing as much info as I possibly could take in. The Filmmaking process is similar to still photography in many ways, most notably in the composition of the frame, but the differences are vast, the storytelling techniques so much more intricate, the language of acting so foreign, in the end its hard to compare the two, like apples and oranges. Photography is like checkers and filmmaking is like chess, exponentially more complicated. Anyway, my time in Memphis was priceless, I was involved in all aspects of the production, bouncing from the camera dept and the grip and electric, to the art department and to the wardrobe, to hanging with the actors, to sitting in on producer meetings, and most importantly watching the director Alex make a thousand decisions a minute. Even though it was 100 degrees in the shade and we were all melting, Everyone was so awesome. Being on the set made me realize what a lonely job photography is. You get an assignment, you work with someone for an hour, maybe if you are lucky you get to spend a day getting to know them then you never see them again. On the LOSERS set, the work was grueling (I ended up shooting a lot of the on set unit coverage), the hours were long and you really had time to get to know people. It was heartbreaking to leave. I cant wait for the premiere!
Photography can be a lonely game. You meet your subject, spend an hour or a day together developing an intimate bond, then you never see them again. Fortunately thats not always the case. I first met Lee on the Daydream Nation photo shoot for Sonic Youth in August of 1988, and we’ve worked together countless times since then. Our latest collaboration was for the album cover for his new solo project Lee Ranaldo and the Dust. Lee had been fooling around with an fisheye adaptor for his iPhone and asked me to shoot the cover with a real fish eye. I used to shoot with the fish all the time so it was loads of fun to bust out the circle frame again. Along with the original cover, these are some of the outtakes from the shoot. I put some crazy effect on top just for kicks. (The artist Ted Lee did the painting overlay on the final cover image)
When Shailene sauntered up the hill in her baggy jeans and ripped white tee shirt I could tell that I was dealing with a different kind of Hollywood star. She was carrying jars of homemade teas in a half torn box and she could not have been any friendlier. Not a lot of drama to report here about our shoot except that the whole crew was really nice, the location was beautiful and lunch was tasty, we simply had a lovely time shooting around the yard and by the pool. I videotaped the interview but never got around to editing it so you will have to read it in the new issue of BUST Magazine. On a side note, I was at Sundance last week and was able to catch Shailene’s new film White Bird in a Blizzard. Based on the book by Laura Kasischke, the story follows a young woman who is dealing with the sudden disappearance of her mother. I was really impressed with her highly charged performance and I am very much looking forward to seeing what she does with her next big role in the upcoming blockbuster Divergent!
The first time I fell in love with Heather Graham was when I saw her in DRUGSTORE COWBOY in 1989. Then of course there was that time I saw her in BOOGIE NIGHTS. And then again in AUSTIN POWERS, and THE HANGOVER, and a bunch of other times too. (I recently just discovered that she was also in my favorite TV show of all time TWIN PEAKS) I worry about meeting celebrities that I admire because of the chance that they might be a jerk and my good impression will be forever tainted. The good news is that Heather was wonderful to work with, a real down to earth nice person with an infectious laugh and a heartwarming smile. The bad news is that I may never get to hang out with her again. Oh well, at least there’s Netflix.
My friend Mott Hupfel is a very talented Director of Photography. He has shot several wonderful films including The Savages and Betty Page. Last fall he was asked to helm the camera by another old friend of ours, Phil Morrison. Phil is mainly known for directing the beautiful film Junebug and for discovering Amy Adams. But he is also a successful commercial director, responsible for most if not all of the “Mac Guy” commercials among many others. Anyway Mott asked me if I would like to shoot stills for Phil’s new movie Almost Christmas starring Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd. I asked Phil. Phil said “Great! I would love for you to take photos for my film! By the way, are you Union?” Knowing that this might be a big problem, I said, “we’ll figure something out!” I spent the next several weeks going back and forth with the producers and the Local 600 ICG trying to do just that. It turns out that you cannot do ANYTHING on a Union set unless you are in the Union. And to be in the Union you have to pay $8000 in dues just to join and then you have to work 400 hours a year to qualify for the fabled Union Health Plan. The producers wanted me to work for 8 days, which wouldn’t even come close to covering the cost of joining. It became clear that I would not be able to do the job so I turned it over to an old friend of a friend who is IN the union, Niko Tavernise. Nico is known for his on-set photography of most of Darren Aronofsky’s films, including the Movie poster for Black Swan. Nico did a great job of covering for me and I was thankful that it all worked out. So what it all boils down to is that I ended up going by the set for one day to shoot some portraits, the whole time dodging the Union eyeballs so that nobody would get hurt.
When we decided to move to Brooklyn I knew it was going to be challenging but I am here to tell you that it’s been way more difficult than I could have ever imagined. And nothing very bad even happened. Everything is pretty much proceeding as planned, we are of course several months behind, but going through it is a lot different that thinking about it. I can’t stray very far from the construction site that is my future apartment. So one day my friends and me decided to take advantage of the situation and make something. I had just spent a year making my short WEEKEND AWAY and I wanted to try a more casual approach to filmmaking. Mott and I spent one day concocting a storyline for a thriller, one-day prepping gear and one day of shooting. Then I edited and this is where we are so far. I have to admit it was really fun to make and I am hoping to shoot more of the GENE and LONNIE storyline in the near future. Fortunately for me, we will not be able to reshoot any of the existing scenes because the renovation is almost done!!!
Shooting for the Television networks is the extreme sporting event of photography, the X games of the photo assignment. Admittedly its not quite as challenging as scaling a cliff with your fingertips or sliding down a 70ft monster wave, but shooting a TV gallery is as difficult as it gets in the photo business and working on The Following shoot for FOX was the granddaddy of them all. This was a massive endeavor: I had 7 set ups running, each with variations, and a whole video set for the Living One Sheet. Not only that, FOX had hired another photographer, my dear old friend Frank Ockenfels and he had seven sets of his own in the next room! I’ve known Frank for over 20 years and it was a real treat to be able to work together on this project with him. Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy are the stars of the show and most of our photography was concentrated on them, but the whole cast consisted of 9 people so individuals of everyone plus multiple group configurations had to be shot. I think there were 3 different video crews running around shooting BTS, it was crazy! Working on elaborate projects, where the energy level is so high and the concentration required so critical, is truly an invigorating experience and while not quite as dangerous as crashing down a black double diamond, its what I love to do the most!