Sc. 19 - Behind the Scenes Video

We're telling a story in sixty-five still images. The work is so detail oriented that we only make one image per shoot day. Here's a quick glimpse of all the setup that goes into making just one image for the series.

Shot on January 25, 2013.

Videography by Tyler Sparks. Edited by Einy Åm-Sparks.

My First Presentation

 Photo by: Claire Petra Tanner

Photo by: Claire Petra Tanner

Back in August I got the opportunity to present the first twenty-one pictures in the series at an artist workshop in Santa Fe. It was the first time I'd gotten to speak publicly about the photo project and to do so with a portion of the work actually present. It struck me afterward that every other time I'd ever talked about the project it was always without the images present and so all of the language I'd developed for talking about the work was to describe something you couldn't see, but that now with the images made I needed to learn a new way of talking about them.

One great point from Sarah Thornton's 'Seven Days in the Art World' points out how an artist talking about a work of art is a "parallel dialectic" that never actually intersects with the work. It was said in the context of arts education, but I think it can apply to lectures and presentations by an artist as well.

An artist's thoughts about what they made is a kind of conversation or performance that is separate from what's actually behind a work of art. In addition, even the medium that makes a presentation possible—the photos projected on a screen—is a substantially different experience from seeing the images serially on a gallery wall where the viewer can scan back and forth between several images at a time and contemplate them at their own pace—to create their own sense of cinematic time that they feel is right for the work and for themselves as the viewer. The whole presentation process is so different from the intended experience of the work that it necessitates making something new of the experience for the viewer/listener.

As a result, I think any future presentations I give about the photo project will end up being drafted more as performance than as a lecture with either as a conversation with a curator in which I share anecdotes about the making of the project to entertain those listening or if it's just me an evening of musings with music and quotes from sociology and literature that relate to the work's themes of friendship and romance that hopefully leave the listener thinking.

So I won't even call this first presentation I did a good start. Like all projects we take on let's call this first time a beginning, but at some point we have to grow up from being beginners and mature.

September Lighting Workshop

Our crew continues to grow and change like the seasons every few months and I just wanted to give a big shout out of thanks to Rachel Kyle and Nathan Sherrer—our two set dressing apprentices last semester who worked on this project for college credit as they learned how to brainstorm, source, and arrange set dressing to bring the character's worlds to life. The two of them saw us through a big growth spurt in our staff and the solidifying of my process for how we make these pictures and I am hugely grateful to both of them for all of their help. Here's a quick snap of the two of them learning a little bit about lighting as part of their educational experience with us. Best of luck you two!

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Convivium Osteria

We were very fortunate the owners of the restaurant Convivium Osteria in Park Slope let us come in for a few hours one morning before they opened to shoot a big, fancy dinner scene among one set of friends in the story. We were short on crew that day because of various conflicts so I shopped most of the set dressing myself, which is a rare occurrence at this point, and Alissa, my wife, and one of our producers, Sam Blye jumped in to do the actual dressing while I set up camera and lights. I dropped off the film to be processed on Friday last week and I'm dying to get it back and see how this one turned out. It felt very much like trying to arrange models for the Last Supper by Van Gogh, but with figures on the nearside of the table partially obstructing the frame, which made it quite the challenge.

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Three Good Years

I've been working with two of my actors in the current photo project for three years now. All the way from the first auditions I held through an intense and somewhat wacky rehearsal process and shooting process for my first staged project all the way to this current extended project. Here's Neyssan, who plays Phil, and I celebrating his second to last day on set and three good years together. Cheers!

 Photo by: Unknown

Photo by: Unknown

Surprise!

I asked one of our actresses in one of our three backyard party scenes to crouch down in the front of the composition and pretend to take a snapshot with my iPhone of the birthday girl walking in. She gave me back all of these fantastic and fun images. Everything below is by our actress Lily Wen:

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Photos by: Lily Wen

Sign Kit

It only took eight months, but we finally have a sign kit—one of the essential tools of my old job in locations on movies and tv shows for pointing the cast and crew in the right direction. Albeit most of our sets are limited to two rooms and only twice have we been spread out enough (like on this occasion) that I wished for walkie talkies. All good signs that our production continues to grow, though let's all acknowledge the "printed on notebook paper" look is pretty half-assed, but it's a start!

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Hanging Two 20'x20' Silks

That same windy weekend we also needed to hang a two 20'x20' silks to diffuse the sunlight on a fairly wide shot of the party, but the wind just turned them into giant sails threatening to blow away or bowl everyone over. Many thanks to our ever industrious producer Josh Shain for applying his theater and ropes know-how and getting everything safely rigged. With the wind we weren't able to raise the silk as high as I was hoping, but it took us so long to get it up and secured that the sun had nearly dropped low enough that it worked just as well at the height we left it at. It still took four people holding it against the fence with their bodies to keep the silk from billowing into shot, but as you can see there were a lot of smiles going around all the same.

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Protect the Candles

Lighting thirty birthday candles on a cake on what turned out to be an exceptionally windy weekend proved almost to be the death of us. It took shielding the cake with two 6'x6' flags, a black cloth held up on a third side, and the body of one of our crew members on the fourth to get the candles to stay lit just long enough for us to take the picture. It resulted in a lot of laughter, but I think we got the shot.

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Lighting a Backyard Party

Lighting this backyard party night scene was fun. One big broad light, another for some extra pop, a campfire, and a really slow shutter speed. Those are strobe lights, but we used them all backwards because balancing the campfire to the artificial lighting meant exposing with the 250 watt tungsten bulb instead of the strobe itself. All that and then the actors just have to hold really still while looking natural.

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A Homemade Set

This marks the second set I've built in my basement for the photo project. It's only possible when the shot is tight enough that we'll only see (and only need to construct) a narrow avenue worth of set dressing and backdrop. The table we borrowed from the tex-mex restaurant Lobo in Carroll Gardens and the window and chairs came from Eclectic Props. We'll green screen in a sunny spring day through the glass behind them after the weather warms up and we can shoot an appropriate plate shot (much like the taxi cab scene you saw posted earlier).

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Our New Jersey Trip

The four us (plus Maggie who took the pictures and was handling all the costume changes that day) rented a car in July and drove around New Jersey taking digital snapshots at about a couple dozen different locations to tell the backstory of the main characters and place in picture frames in later scenes, everything from a corn field to a carnival, a baseball diamond to the beach, though the most moving and the one I'm most glad we got to shoot at and get in the project was my Dad's house on the last day I got to see it before he moved out.

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 Photos by: Maggie O'Leary

Photos by: Maggie O'Leary

Blocking Test for the Punch

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I've discovered over the last several months that one of the most useful parts of my creative practice is to go to the space we're shooting at in advance of the shoot with an assistant and block out where the camera and each of the characters are so I can work through ideas for what the final composition will be. I then use the mockups from that blocking test to brainstorm possible set dressing ideas with the art department for what surfaces we need to fill, what objects we need to source, and how all of that will render on camera based on the  angle we'll see them at. It also helps my producers know how many extras we're going to need and the costume department know the color and lighting scheme of the space and how the clothes will lie or pull on the actors based on how they're positioned.

This is our only special effects makeup shot with a bloody nose following Phil falling to the ground after getting punched by an unseen assailant. Hopefully the final image we're shooting this weekend turns out as well as this one did.