This was a 3 night shoot I did to use for self-promotion, as well as for the fun of it. The goal was to tell a story without words while creating photography with high production values on a shoestring budget.
I’ve been toying with the idea to produce a photo novella without words for quite a while. But it all started falling into place on a bike ride along the East River last summer.
As I was commuting from Manhattan to Brooklyn the image of a Gangster looking type climbing all wet out of the river and over the guard rail popped into my mind. I started thinking how i could build a larger story around this idea and somewhere on the Manhattan Bridge I was mapping out the basic structure of a circular crime caper centered around an object of desire.
Now is probably a good time to mention 2 movies that inspired the story.
The first one is the old anti war movie “All quiet on the Western Front” which is about a group of young German soldiers in the first world war.
If I remember right there is a great tragic scene in which the boy with the nicest military boots gets killed and his young comrade starts wearing them , since they are much better than his own pair. The camera keeps showing the boots as we see the new owner getting killed and then the next owner and the next. Pretty soon we’ve witnessed the demise of several men and all we saw was a beautiful pair of boots.
The other movie is Angel Heart. A nice piece of 1980’s film making with Mickey Rourke (pre-op) as a private detective and Robert DeNiro as Louis Cypher, the devil incognito, out to get the soul that rightfully belongs in hell. I had to steal, I mean homage, that name.
Once the general outline was in place i decided to use the slick case my digital back came in as the object of desire. Thank you Phase One.
The next step was to come up with the different killing options and the necessary props for them. What’s practical can be important. For instance we decided to use a prop rock instead of a gun, because we had the rock and not the gun. Also pulling a gun on an NYC street sounds like a potential major pain in the ass.
Anyway now production started in earnest.
First up: location scouting. We had to be able to do several shoots per night, so the outside locations had to be close together in an area that’s accessible, not too crowded, rough but cool looking. All this we found in Dumbo and Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. I went on a scout together with my girlfriend Susie, the eventual Louise Cypher and Myriam Babin, fellow photographer and office mate. We brought along the Mamiya RZ to see the locations with the camera and lenses we would be using. Susie and Myriam were the stand ins. The scout was fairly simple and we were done in an evening.
Next : Casting. Casting is super crucial for any photo shoot but even more so for one with cinematic qualities. The looks have to be right, but acting ability had to be there too. Since funds were meager I knew this had to be a friends and family production. I’m still amazed that all these generous and talented style mavens are my friends or friends of friends. But I I’ll talk more about the models later.
Scheduling: never easy with people working for food but hey, them’s the breaks.
Permits: they’re getting harder to come by every year, but still, the mayors office for film is a relatively painless operation and, as of now, still free. It’s is pretty important to have permits while shooting in New York. The last thing you want is getting chased along by a cop after you set up all your gear.
Equipment for the first 2 shoot days:
Camera: Mamiya RZ67 with a Phase One P25 Digital Back, we shot all images with telephoto lenses (mostly the 150 mm) to get a slightly voyeuristic look.
Lights: I brought my own Profoto 7B kit, borrowed another one from my good friend, photographer and Corbis AD Tobias Prasse, and rented one more from Fotocare for a total of three 7B’s and six heads. We also rented 4 magnum reflectors, a bunch of sand bags and a few c-stands.
The location vehicles were my old, semi-trusty Volvo station wagon and the minivan of my friend Pramod who also modeled as the poisoner.
Crew: The importance of the people that make up the crew really can’t be overstated. If you have a good crew even a rough shoot is fun. Claudia Hehr was assisting and working the computer and Myriam Babin was assisting and doubling as on set producer. The PA was JW Perkins who also got cast on the spot as the man with the bat.
Sabine Scheckel helped with the retouching.
Food for crew and talent was purchased at a local deli named Foragers.