Anatomy of a Press Junket Shoot
Thursday August 9th, 2012
by Maria Luci
Celebrity shoots are balancing acts. Getting the right shot means working around tight schedules, a gaggle of publicists, handlers and assistants, odd requests, and on and on. However, some photographers can make any shoot seem like a breeze. Just ask Tim Rue, who recently shot Oscar winning actors Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones for USA Today. Below, Tim breaks down the “anatomy” of the assignment, and just how he got the shot he wanted all along. Enjoy!
7/11/12 – Receive phone call checking my availability for a USA Today cover shoot of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. Shoot is to happen during a press junket to promote the upcoming film Hope Springs.
7/12/12 – Assignment is confirmed for 7/16 and the studio publicist reserves a ground floor room in the hotel with a shoot time from 9:45-9:55. Set-up is allowed no earlier than 8:45.
7/13/12 – Assignment photo editor at USA Today makes a request to publicist:
Photo Editor: “Since it’s early, we’d like to photograph them having a cup of coffee or tea together for a sweet nod to their characters in the film.”
Publicist: “We ran this concept by the reps, and unfortunately, they came back requesting that this be a straight-forward portrait in the room (no props, etc).”
Photo Editor: “I’m curious, was there a reason given? We could produce the image within the given time frame for sure!”
Publicist: “Meryl’s publicist didn’t give a reason. She just said it needs to be a straightforward portrait. Sorry, we tried! Also your photo shoot time changed on Monday. You are now scheduled to shoot from 10:20-10:30am. Set-up at 9:15.”
9:15 a.m. – Arrive at hotel’s loading dock with assistant and gear for shoot. (Hotel will NOT let you come through front lobby.) After waiting for 10 minutes a spot opens up between beverage and produce trucks to unload. Assistant gets everything on a cart as I head to locate best path to shoot room. He puts SUV in valet and we navigate through a labyrinth of behind-the-scenes corridors and exit at a service door, next to a Monday morning wedding reception. We make a path to our room amid scurrying hotel workers.
9:45 a.m. – Load into completely empty room with the exception of a beverage bar in corner and a few small chairs. I spy a small table with tablecloth next to the drinks and decide to use this as our ‘denied’ coffee prop. Knowing full well I will not be allowed to use this setting, I still have the assistant set-up two lights around the table and set off looking for what space I will actually use.
10:00 a.m. – I pick out a decent spot in adjacent garden outside room and have my assistant hide a large umbrella as a key/fill light with power pack around the corner. Hopefully I can use the sun as a rim light, although, it is cloudy at the moment.
10:10 a.m. – Publicist arrives, sees the coffee table set-up and immediately says that is NOT allowed to be used in the photo. I put up a phony stink and say I’m out of time to do anything else but… MAYBE I can find something outdoors. After wandering around a minute I motion to my ‘new’ location. Publicist agrees to it as time is now of the essence. I told her I didn’t want them standing so I needed a chaise or small bench. She called hotel services and magically one was delivered in 5 minutes. We do a few lighting tests.
10:21 a.m. – Tommy Lee Jones arrives with four handlers and in a nice, light-colored khaki suit. I’m introduced to him and ask him if he’d like to be photographed with or without his glasses. He looks to his ‘team’ and they decide ‘no glasses’ which of course alleviates one possible problem for me.
10:25 a.m. – Meryl Streep arrives with her four handlers and is dressed in a cream-colored blouse, she asks “where would you like me?” The publicist motions to my little outdoor set at which point I feel obligated to intercept Streep and introduce myself. Streep and Jones take their places on the bench and I make small talk about how they need to sit close and how that shouldn’t be a problem since they just got done playing an old married couple. Jones cracks he’s never seen this woman before—we all laugh nervously.
10:27 a.m. – I sit on my apple box and begin shooting, choosing my 24-105 mm zoom lens to rack in and out of the scene, just as the sun starts to break through the cloud cover. Tommy Lee Jones, who I was warned would be taciturn, never stops talking to Streep for the next 5 minutes.
10:33 a.m. – I know open-mouthed pictures of anyone, especially legendary Academy Award winners, would not be attractive, so with just minutes remaining in my shoot time, and handlers creeping toward me, I moved my apple box closer and with a lump in my throat interrupted their conversation and started directing the two famous actors. They were pros and followed along and I ended the shoot 2 minutes later with 56 frames in the can.
10:37 a.m. – Everyone is gone except for my assistant and me as we pack up.
11:25 a.m. – On the freeway, relieved and happy to be heading back to my office in Long Beach, CA.
Postscript: Client was very happy with the work and exclaimed “I LOVE it when we beat them at their game!” It proved that a little reverse psychology, when used at just the right moment, can work wonders. An email the next day would have me heading back to the same hotel for another ‘junket’ shoot two days later … and the Hollywood ‘Junket’ beat goes on…