Saturday, October 9, 2010

Behind the scenes of Rules of Engagement – Pjazza magazine October 2010 photo shoot

On September 12th, we turned up at the plush surroundings of The Phoenicia Hotel, situated just outside Malta’s capital city of Valletta. Our bunch consisted of me, stylist and shoot co-ordinator Isabel Ripard, make-up artist Justin Brincat, hair stylist Antonio Patane’ and models Davide Tucci and Rodianne Grech.

The team behind the camera know and respect each other, so it is always a pleasure working with them all. I like working with familiar collaborators as it makes the whole process easier and we understand each other, know our characters and they know what I expect and what I want from a shoot or production. Antonio is Italian and doesn’t speak much English... and I speak less Italian, yet we seem to understand each other and manage to take the piss out of each other all the same. Isabel cracks up at this, able to understand both of us.

The concept for this shoot was a 50’s set storyline. I knew from the start that I wanted a cinematic feel and a developing narrative. The story is about two lovers, displaying immaculate social etiquette of the time when in public, but as they start to give in to their passionate attraction to each other, they retreat to a private (if not a bit seedy) locale and let themselves go.

Isabel and I recced the locations before hand and I pretty much planned my shots there and then. I knew what I wanted. I had planned it out in my head, I presented all concerned with a mood board document with examples of poses, fashion, hair, make-up, past photographers etc. I like to go into a shoot well prepped and I like the rest of the team to be well prepped too.

As for casting, Davide was always on our list as we had seen him in various shoots from before. For the female role, we looked at various options but, when Isabel saw test shots I had recently done for Rodianne, she wanted her. This was Rodianne’s first proper photo shoot gig. I knew I had to treat her differently than the experienced Davide... but felt she would deliver with the right amount of direction (not too much, definitely not too little).

So, back to the day itself. We turned up at 7am, started to settle down and got going with make-up, hair, costumes and props etc. Make-up and hair went on to about 10am. There was a lot to do and the guys are very particular about their hair and make-up. I factor this in, even though it eats into my shooting time but it’s a kind of investment! I use this time to think through the scenarios, prepare equipment and, probably most importantly, have a bit of banter with the team. It is important that, when we get down to shooting, we have a good rapport. There needs to be some connection with the models in character and they can only do this if they feel comfortable with each other and with us behind the camera.

When we started, I felt we really hit the ground running. I shot with strobies, shoot through umbrella, snoot, diffusers and a reflector. It was clear that the models came into it prepared. We moved from our first scene, out in the gardens, into the hotel’s club bar (a really swanky place with an old world, colonial feel) by around 1pm. It was perfect for what we needed. I took some time lighting the place up, balancing available daylight with reflectors and continuous lights, but they are cool-lights, which was important as the interior location was warm enough already. I really wanted to light up to compliment the models but also to do the location justice.

After this scene, about 3.30, Isabel asked if we wanted to get something to eat. I didn’t want to stop as we were running late and had to move to another location but asked if anybody else wanted to stop for a bite. Everybody just wanted to plough on... so we did.

Arriving in Valletta, we found the building we were to shoot in was locked. We had been assured it would remain unlocked as it is used for commercial purposes! We were left outside, wondering what to do when Justin went for a walk down the road and found an identical building with the door open. We went inside and shot guerrilla style. The place was perfect but it was residential and the people that live in these places in Valletta are not the type you want to mess with, so we kept the volume down, eyes peeled and moved as fast as possible. The place was dark and we didn’t have mains. The camera had trouble focusing so I had to ‘blind focus’. Lighting was down to my strobies, but the hot weather also took its toll on the rechargeable batteries, so I was down to one working flash unit. I was obviously limited to a shutter speed of 1/250 and I didn’t want to push ISO over 200. Thankfully, I had chosen to shoot the entire day on my ‘plastic fantastic’ 50mm lens, which allowed me to shoot at f/1.8 (although this made ‘blind focusing’ all the more critical). It was not an easy finish to an already difficult day! It was also the hardest scene for Rodianne to nail... but she remained calm and got it. Davide’s experience showed through and he remained focused.

At around 7pm I declared the day a wrap... very exhausted but very satisfied.

Thanks team.

The magazine comes out today so I will be uploading tear sheets soon.

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  1. Great, can't wait to see the pictures :)

  2. Thanks, Gonzalo... your interest is really appreciated.