The Crown – trailer

Consider this…

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Whilst looking through a magazines at mums yesterday evening, this small top of column photo of the master photographer: Cecil Beaton, caught my eye. Why? Because for several days I have been wondering whether the era of the ‘Considered Photo’ is nearly over. I would certainly suggest it is in deep decline. I was bought up on a diet of photographers who produced “considered” very well constructed photographs: Cecil Beaton for one, Angus McBean, Cartier Bresson, Bill Brandt, Richard Avedon, Herb Rits to name but a very few. I can not say that I am aware now of so many photographers that produce single images that where planned, thought out and executed with such construction and pre-meditation as the likes of Cecil etc. Nowadays we are mass image producers and I would certainly say that includes me. Stills photography has always been quite volumess by its very nature, but where once I produced may be 10k images now its often 20k – so many photos – I do try very hard to consider every frame but I admit I get drawn into the shoot, shoot, shoot policy that so many ad and marketing agencies encourage. I genuinely believe – and know for a fact – that this amount of imagery is indigestible, how do I know? Because of the inability of the vast majority of those handling all this photography to actually be discerning, edit and chose images for circulation that are definitive and conform to basic compositional attributes, many unfortunately would not know what a compositional attribute is any way! and if you don’t know please don’t ask me – search it on the net – So I’ve decided the next assignment I get I am going to Produce one image, and one Definitive, very well considered and extremely well thought out image only. I’m going to work on the basis that the client is hiring me for my experience, knowledgeable and ability to produce imagery that sells their product – just in this case it will be ONE PHOTO ONLY.

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Sharing a few insights with Andre of New York

Hi Alex,

thanks for getting back to me. I am a graduate student at School of Visual Arts in New York as I mentioned. I am currently working on films and also building a portfolio in advertising portraiture. I have been employed in the past by independent (non union) productions to photograph behind the scenes and specials. I’ve been following your work for a few years now and have been inspired by your images and hope to continue my work upon graduating.

I am curious to know more about the creative process and standard business practices surrounding the creation of movie posters and still photographs for film marketing. I listed a few questions below. Thank you for taking the time to answer them for me.

Do most unit photographers belong to a Camera Guild and if so, what is the route to become a member as a unit photographer?
Actually there is no union here in the UK or association which is a shame. There is no association or any kind of formal contact between photographers operating in this rewarding area of photography. I believe there is something more structured in the USA. But I no Nothing about it. I understand there is quite an active group on Facebook? Hence the reason I run an active blog and wrote Movie Photos .. to put some info out there.

I know there are a few agencies that represent unit photographers in the industry. Do agents usually seek photographers who have some credits?
I am aware of only one agency based in LA I think? I deal direct with clients so I can not advise you on the ins and outs of agencies.

As for creative issues, I sometimes color grade my images before handing them to the producer. I will ask the camera crew about color temperature and focal length from time to time. But I was curious to know if you have conversations with cinematographers or the camera crew before starting an assignment and what that would entail.
Generally I do have technical chats with the DOP and camera guys most days about many different technical issues, ideas, concepts and equipment. We are all interested in what we do so talking gear and technique is always on the agenda. The specifics of grading is something I can confirm be looking at the DOP’s graded DIT monitor or if on film by seeing rushes. But lets not get to hung up on the technical. Content…. content…. content…. What do want most? Sharp well exposed GREAT images that engage the viewer and SELL the movie….

Do publicists request you shoot video as well?
NO. My view is I do not offer..BUT. There are days when shooting some clips is more benficial to the marketing machine than stills. Or more like at times during such days. Clips would be more beneficial. Stunt work with actors doubles for example.

Is it common practice to hand over RAW files them after the shoot?
YES
if they buy out the images they would be the ones responsible for having them processed and graded.
Correct

Also, what was your most memorable experience while working in the industry?
Oh ….Andre 25 years in the industry 65+ movies many, many great memories (and a few more to come yet!) … Flying onto a live volcano in a helicopter with Angelina Jolie that was pretty special… But to be honest I have been to so many beautiful and totally interesting places courtesy of the film biz its very hard to single out single events. I still love just being outdoors in the UK on a lovely day with white clouds a blue sky and some beautiful low light and an interesting subject to photographically explore……

Thank you again Alex. I look forward to hearing from you.

Looking forward to more books!

Black Sea – Photo released

Photo: Alex Bailey

The movie teams Law with director Kevin Macdonald in a tale that follows Robinson, an unemployed submarine captain and former British Navy man who is hired to lead an expedition to find a sunken sub supposedly loaded with gold, supposedly sent as a bribe to Hitler. So he puts together a ragtag crew to take on the gig, and naturally, things don’t go as planned. Macdonald cites “Run Silent, Run Deep” and (of course) “Das Boot” as thematic touchstones for the film.

“They’re incredibly tense, exciting films because of the claustrophobia and the sense that you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be. Like in space, if something goes wrong, you’re dead,” he said.

 

Full or Part Time …..

A film producer putting together a Budget asked me: Full or part time…… ??
There is no strict rule about how many days! It’s about getting the images that count and sell the film or TV production (in the ratings race and for that matter a theatre production or Musical or any other performing arts event!).  After all a film is a product and the first thing the public will see from a movie is an image and…. there is a direct relationship between media coverage on a film at time of release and the success of a movie over its opening weekend…… But I kind of think that this an obvious thing to say. But perhaps those producing or indeed commissioning a photographer to produce the valuable high quality interesting and inspiring images that will pull an audience or raise attention I want at times can be a crowded market place…. tend to forget? or opt for the cheap inexperienced fairly useless option? On the basis saving a few quid on the budget is going to help. remember films and indeed many products can have similar marketing and publicity budget as the the product cost to make. Yup … for real .. a film costing $20m will most likely have a similar world-wide marketing budget a time of release. Whats the point having the best movie  int he world and nobody know about it. Be under no elution .. Films is a product you make it market it it makes money you make another and we all get to work again .. Hooray the mortgage is paid…. Surprised at the mercenary approach.. Why? I work in a modern medium that one of the modern forms of media.. Film, Tv, Music, Internet, Press, and an important element of these mediums is success in their own lifetime… Its fine to be a composer, sculptor , painter and be dead for 100 years before you are recognised… But modern media is here and now and needs fuelling that fuel is cash….. I need expensive cameras lenses and computers as my tools and and infrastructure that costs big cash to support me in my endeavours so my approach to work is business like the luxury is that at times I can indulge myself in my art but I never lose sight of my commercial responsibilities – I am COMMERCIAL CREATIVE .. in that order….
Some productions elect for fewer days but from a more experienced photographer in order to get the images that count. Others go for more days from some one less experienced but run the risk of not necessarily getting a good collection of definitive marketing images.
The trick is to have some preconceived ideas of imagery that will sell the film and offer that as a brief to your chosen photographer and support them on the day to make sure they get the productions cooperation. Do not leave the brief vague regardless which route you go down. Otherwise it’s pointless!
Also you must consider post production and file management ie presenting the work and organising the files. This is chargeable it is time consuming and important So should be taken into account I charge on a half day basis … Basically … every 5 days on set = 1/2 a days post production.

Interview part 2

Which movies presented the greatest challenge for you?

It used to be that films that involved a lot of night work were hard going, but now with digital and the hugely increased light sensitivity range of the cameras this does not pose such a problem. Contemporary productions can be challenging visually sometimes because without the benefit of fancy costumes and large sets the key images are not necessarily obvious. A little lateral thinking and some inventive approaches to the day-to-day photography are required.

What genre do you enjoy shooting the most?

Variety is the spice of life!! I have endeavored never to be pigeon holed as a movie photographer that specializes in one genre, rather selecting assignments that demonstrate versatility. This I believe is reflected in the range of work contained on my web site.
Are period shoots more or less difficult to work on?

They can be a bit tedious sometimes with all the fiddling that goes on with hair, make- up, costume, and I have to be careful and observant that when shooting that everything is how it should be. No hairnets and costume clips!
What was it like to work on the set of Tomb Raider?

Fantastic. I am not sure that as now so much more can be done digitally if we were making those films now, whether we would go on such extensive locations and I think more of the stunts would be done as CGI against green screens, which is a no hoper for me. Tomb Raiders where the best for adventure and locations.

Did you learn any moves from Angelina?

Yes, not karate or kick boxing, but out and out professionalism. She really is incredible, I spent a lot of down time off visiting orphanages and the under privileged in Kenya, China and Cambodia with her. Taking photos as an extra to promote charities. It showed me that if you have that power and attraction you can use it positively, the best moves of all.

What inspired your most creative concepts?

I have been inspired by a range of photographers and visual artists; I am constantly keeping up to date with worldwide styles of photography and other visual mediums. This I translate into my work, or rather I think it becomes subconscious you just keep finding yourself going down creative avenues that afterwards you realize are inspired by other imagery but interpreted into your own work.

Notably I would say that photographers: Bill Brandt and Cartier-Bresson have been influential and artists such as the Impressionists and Banksy come to mind. But then I am attracted by the surreal and abstract.

How do props add a different dimension to an image?

Relevant Props really help when doing set up photos of the actors, essentially they give them something to play off and bring an extra dimension, however they are of course ancillary and should not take over the photo.

Interview Part 1

The Secrets to Scenes that Sell

Alex Bailey’s career in cinematic photography showcases the artists eye for capturing compelling moments in memorable movies. A collection of Bailey’s most iconic images feature in his book ‘Movie Photos’ along with many of the marketing master’s secrets to scenes that sell. The book has a biographical overtone with coffee table appeal but its greatest value is as a instruction manual for publicity professionals, brimming with unique and useful information. Beyond trade secrets readers are treated to a visual feast of well known films reflecting the power of imagery to influence audience associations to the stars and the stories of the silver screen.

Where did your photographic passion originate?

My Dad had a keen interest in painting and an appreciation of the great outdoors. We spent a lot of time out in the countryside together walking when I was young. Dad would always draw my attention to the light and landscape; he would often take my younger sister and me to museums, all very cultural, but certainly planted the seeds of interest in all things artistic.

I attended a photography Saturday club when I was at school and like so very many was enthralled by the magic that was a picture appearing on a piece of photo paper in the print developer. In my late teens, I had a girlfriend who was doing a graphic design degree in London and reckoned I had a better eye that she did. She said I should have a go at photography and get a qualification. So I did, I was 20, I did a City & Guilds in photography at a local college and got my driving license the only two qualifications I have!, My Mum bought me an Olympus OM10 my first descent camera and off I went.

How did you find yourself in the business of marketing movies?

To be honest I stumbled into it. I had worked for three years for local papers, an excellent grounding for a photographer, then I had worked for GEC as an in house photographer, much more highbrow professional, this finished off my very well rounded photo education. Reportage and studio with all the different disciplines involved with the two, where to next? A girlfriend of a school friend who lived a few doors down, knowing I was into photography rung me to ask if I fancied coming in for a few days to help on the movie ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’. The rest is history, well nearly!

What is the key to getting a gig?

It is all about your Portfolio and reputation for getting the shots that count. At my stage in the game, and it has been for a while now, by the time I turn up to meet the filmmakers the decision has normally been made to hire me. With photography, there is no messing around. You live and die by the sword. By that, I mean it is simple your work is out there a client either likes it or not.

How do you balance visual concepts with time constraints?

Damn difficult on a film set… I always set out with great ideas for images I want to achieve from a day on set that too often get clipped down due to the time available, but I am used to it and it doesn’t ever make me any less ambitious I still set out with a head full of ideas and come back with a hard drive full of half of them, I believe in the principal “Aim high get high”. If you only get near at least it’s HIGH.

What is the craziest criteria a client has presented you with?

Being strapped to the outside of a helicopter for two hours flying over the Portuguese countryside at 500, 1000 plus 1500 feet taking aerial photos on a large format camera (which means reloading regularly) for the Giant’s point of view in the film Gulliver’s Travels. I guess this was pretty crazy, but I did it and loved it. Although I feel like I had spent the day in a washing machine on a high spin wash.

How challenging is it to satisfy a client’s criteria without compromising artistic integrity?

Do you know to be honest artistic integrity belongs to someone else, I just get on with doing my job, belt and braces and give the client everything they want and always that bit extra which is my artistry that they could never ask me for or pay me for it’s mine, my vision and it’s not for sale so I am never compromised.

Who have you enjoyed meeting the most?

I can not pick out one individual and you know when I answer this question, I feel you want me to say oh this star or that star and so on but to be totally honest the most interesting people are the local ones. For example: spending time with the Inuit people in Lapland and working with Reindeer was fascinating.

So was spending time in the company of the Native Americans in Canada and around Arizona in the United States. These are the people I have enjoyed meeting the most it was a privilege spending time with and learning from them. The way they view life is so radically and admirably different from our western lives.

What are your most memorable moments from a shoot?!

Number one has to be being flown in a helicopter with Angelina Jolie onto a live Volcano in Tanzania to shoot a scene in Tomb Raider 2. !
Have you had any accidents on set?
None. Film sets are safe environments carefully monitored by dedicated safety officers although I have had few singed hairs on my legs from getting too close to SFX explosions though.

How do you handle elements beyond your control (weather, lighting etc.)?

Wherever you are in the world the weather can often be challenging. The extremes are of course the hardest to handle. I have worked on several occasions in seriously sub zero conditions in Canada, Finland, Sweden and in Iceland on a Iceberg. At the other end of the spectrum I have worked in the desert in Morocco where the dust storms were the worst problem of all weather to deal with. Even the parts in the middle can be tricky for example: Cambodia in the Jungle where humidity and condensation on your lenses is the enemy.

Preparation and experience like so many aspects of my job, is the key to success, up to date reliable equipment is essential and back up kit should something go wrong essential. Lighting wise I work with what I have or if I can adapt it with the help of a trusty assistant or a few of the lighting boys working with Fill lights and reflectors.