Assignment: Evil (Dead – The Musical)

As I mentioned last week in Getting your foot in the door I’ve been pushing for more creative opportunity with Red Branch Theatre Company. Back in the early Spring I started talking to them about creating new photography for their Heathers: The Musical production.

Unfortunately, scheduling and budget didn’t work out for that and we decided we would make something happen for Evil Dead: The Musical opening in October.

While not really a horror fan, I love the comedic horror of the original Evil Dead movies. I wanted the shoot to honor those movies and their original posters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is typical with this kind of collaborative effort, you start with some pretty grandiose ideas and the reality of coordinating schedules, location and (yes, again) budget quickly bring you down to earth.

I had hoped to spend the time scouting looking for an actual cabin in the woods that we could shoot at. We did drive around Howard County a bit looking for a suitably creepy spot.

The location was actually in a neighborhood and the, apparently, abandoned house might have been an opportunity for getting arrested for trespassing more than a photo op.

The day before we were scheduled to shoot, I scouted around the theatre. When I saw there was one of Columbia’s ubiquitous path’s leading into the woods down the street

I decided to explore back in the woods there, not even a quarter mile from the theatre… and look what I found. A creepy old fence in the middle of the woods. Not a cabin, but decent enough window dressing.

 

 

 

 

So, we now had a location and we just needed to get our models.

Originally, RBTC production staff had thought about providing me with one or two leads for the shoot. In the end they provided me with the entire cast and took the hit in the rehearsal schedule, which was amazing. We also got the services of their makeup artist, Hannah Fogler, and their costume designer, Andrew Malone, to make the Deadites look awesome for the shoot. My assistant, Allie Press, who is also a trained makeup artist helped Hannah get through the large number of cast members in a timely manner.

 

 

 

 

While the cast was getting made up, I sacrificed my assistant to that process and went to set up lighting in the woods. It was my hope that by shoot time, around 7pm, it would be cool in the woods. However, this was still early September in Maryland. It was hot and ridiculously humid. You wouldn’t know it by how fantastic the cast looked or behaved.

Photo credit: Allie Press

Lighting was an interesting affair and there was a bit of trial and error getting our setup. My concerns were having enough light from the front so I could see good detail in the actors’ faces, so I used my pretty powerful Godox AD360II with a small Godox portable Octabox as my key light and a Godox Ving V860 with a shoot through umbrella for fill. This still left the need to provide some light to separate the subjects from the background. This was accomplished by two more speedlights, one back about 20 feet shooting directly at the back of the actors and one off camera left.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

This didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. The Deadites behind Ash were kind of lost in shadow. So, I took the mid-light and modded it with the Magsphere from MagnetMod. This was placed behind Ash in the midst of the Deadites coming behind him.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

In the end, I’m really happy with how the images turned out. The cast completely got what we were going for. A little post-processing and I think we did credit to the original movie images.

In order to get the look I wanted, I added a ton of local contrast, blue to the background and magenta to the highlights. Here, you can see the before/after:

As always, I want to thank the folks at Red Branch for their trust in me and their enthusiasm for creating art of so many flavors. Thank you to Jenny Male, the director, for giving up some very precious rehearsal time and Dana Medford, stage manager, for making this all come together. This cast was great fun to work with an I think you are going to love their take on Evil Dead. Get out and support local theatre!

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Getting your foot in the door

In my previous life as an consultant in the government market I learned that you don’t always get into the ideal situation with a new client. Sometimes you have to just get in the door, consistently deliver results and look for opportunities to make it your ideal job.

I have a long history of involvement with theatre. I love the theatre.

I’ve been working with the amazing creative folks at Red Branch Theatre Company for a number of years. RBTC is a local non-profit professional theatre with a mission to produce socially aware content and serve the community.

First, simply taking production stills during tech week.

 

That being said, I wanted to do more with the theatre. So we expanded my involvement to getting decent, headshots of the casts for display in the lobby and something the theatre could give to their actors.

rbtc-headshots

I kept pushing for more involvement and creative opportunity. While my work isn’t central to the work they do, I felt like I could be a larger part of their success. I hope that extending my involvement to other areas like having the headshots be of the characters instead of the actors would be recognized as valuable.

untitled-1

This was really a fun expansion of my work with the theatre. It meant that for new shows I needed to get an idea of color palette, content, tone and a little more interacting with the incredible casts and crew.

That just wasn’t enough I wanted to have a bigger impact and more creative reach. Instead of minutes with the characters, I wanted some real time for setup, evaluation and experimenting (shocker, a creative who wants more time to do their work). Theatre budgets, of money or time, aren’t large. So managing my desires with available resources was important.


Still we worked together last year in gym near the theatre to create some very cool images for a calendar to promote “Dogfight”.


 

 

I don’t know that the calendars sold as well as we would have hoped, but the project was fun and I think it helped promote the show.

 

 

 

 

It gave me more chance to try different things, change-up lighting and tell more of a story in my images.

 

 

 

 

With the new year, there were changes at RBTC. In addition to finally getting their non-profit status approved, they have become a Helen Hayes Award eligible theatre. The first show they produced that was eligible was Sweeney Todd. For Sweeney Todd we did a studio shoot with the principles that I discussed already.

These are the people I want to work with. When they get the grant for 1.5 Billion Dollars, they’ll be the only client I need. Until that happens my work with them will be more of an expression of my creative passions than my greed. 🙂
Along those lines I had hoped to do something funny and dark for the production of Heathers, but schedule and budget didn’t work out for that. That had me looking forward to the Fall and EVIL DEAD: The Musical!!!! I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

 

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Assignment: Philadelphia Funk Authority

The Gig

Earlier this Summer I received an email from Gary at Authority Entertainment which handles Philadelphia Funk Authority (phillyfunk.com) asking if I would be interested in shooting group shots and concert stills of the band at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA. (Is it inappropriate to respond “duh” to a potential client?) PFA is a super fun party/event/concert band and a great bunch of musicians. Of course I’m jumping at the chance to work with them.

I have had a relationship with PFA through my friend George Hrab, the band’s drummer,
for quite a few years. Over those years I’ve photographed the band at Musikfest,

had the privilege to hang out with members of the band (we even watched humans put a lander on Mars together)

and hired them to play my 50th birthday party. You can see the results

People danced!

Scheduling

The band has gone through some changes in the last year necessitating the new pictures. Not the least of which is the loss of singer Alisa B Anderson to cancer. The new line up should be featured in their promotional materials and website. The job called for a new group shot of the whole band as well as images of them in action. I had originally planned to shoot all this on the first Sunday of Musikfest, when the band plays in the big Festplatz Tent to more than a thousand people. This worked well for me, since I planned on being there anyway and I had a wedding to attend on Saturday in Maryland. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best option for the band, so we negotiated to shoot at the Musikfest Cafe Friday night for their 10pm concert.

So, the weekend would be:

  • Drive up to Bethlehem on Friday
  • Drive back to Maryland sometime on Saturday morning (1am or after a nap)
  • Drive up to the wedding about an hour from home on Saturday
  • Drive back to Bethlehem on Sunday as planned
  • Drive home again on Monday

The Weekend

Friday arrived and I arrived up in Bethlehem around 4:30 in the afternoon. I caught up with George at his place to discuss the plan. While Gary is technically the “owner” of the band and handles the bookings, George handles much of the day-to-day leadership activities. The plan is to shoot a group photo in the “green room” and then out on the floor at their show Friday night I would grab some shots of the band in front of an audience.

I leave George to his pre-show ritual (whatever that is) and head out into Musikfest to grab some food and meet up with my friend Todd. A gyro, roasted corn and baked beans later, I’m heading off to meet George and over to the venue.

Group Shots

The green room at the venue was broken up into a couple of rooms. Two of them were bathrooms. No good. One has a TV, fridge, tables, doors and one wall. No good. Another is a tiny dressing room. No good. So, we were left with a lounge that’s pretty small. Just enough room for me to get the group shot with a 24-70 on a tripod jammed into the corner.

I’m not done with the group shots at this time, but I’ll share a setup shot with George and an Easter egg or two

I was pretty happy with the lighting on this test. Good fill and pretty soft using the Godox AD360IIN and Phottix Mitros bounced high off the wall to camera left to counter the recessed cans in the ceiling. You’ll just have to wait to see what image we choose and how it gets processed.

Concert Photography

I was pretty daunted by the lighting in the concert hall. To say it was a little backlit is something of an understatement.

Definitely cool for the audience, but a bit challenging for the photographer in the crowd. My goal was to get a few decent shots of the new(er) members of the band and get more shots at the well-lit stage at their show on Sunday.

Here’s the wonderful Raysa Michelle who worked really well with the veteran Jillian Rhys

, Matt Asti who has a deceptively chill demeanor onstage, but he’s a monster on the keyboard

and Neil Wetzel who holds up the sax end of the Authority Horns with… um… authority.

I’m still editing shots, so that’s it for now. It was a great weekend and beyond fulfilling my contractual obligations I really enjoyed spending time with the band and making some new friends.

Thanks, again, to PFA for the opportunity to work with them. Like the rest of their fans I can’t wait until the next time.

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Sweeney Todd Promotional Shots – Red Branch Theatre Co

Red Branch doesn’t usually do a photo session early in the production schedule to create styled images for promotional use. When they contacted me to do these I was more than happy to jump in. Sweeney Todd is a show I really like and have good familiarity with.

I  spoke to the production staff to get a scope on the job. It would be shots of the two main characters Sweeney Todd (Russell Sunday) and Mrs. Lovett (Janine Sunday).

I  knew I  needed to play up the theme of their season, “Paint it Red”, and keep with the dark malevolence of the show. So, I expected to shoot in the big orange room rehearsal space that is my onsite studio and photoshop a context. With this in mind I stopped by the theatre the afternoon of the shoot to make sure I was on the same page as them.

It’s a good thing I did. While there I spoke to Chester, one of their set designers, who offered me some reclaimed building materials from his father’s yard. It couldn’t hurt to look. Right? Oh man. This stuff was perfect! It consisted of some really old, dirty corrugated steel siding and wooden shutters that looked like they had to be literally dug up. We set them against a wall in the big orange room and Chester produced bailing wire to “secure” the shutter to a nail hole in the siding. Instant set!

I think that looks fantastic, but it doesn’t quite have any mood to it yet. I only had 3 location speedlights with me for this shoot. I felt I could definitely dedicate one to the background. The look I wanted was a wash on the wall from a streetlight over head. So, I put one of my speedlights (the Nikon SB-800) with a RogueGrid and an Orange-y RogueGel on a boom arm to get it over the middle-ish of the background. By under-exposing the background and setting the white balance to daylight, I started to get the effect I wanted.

I almost had the look I wanted, but I thought Sweeney wasn’t menacing enough. I decided a light blue gel on the MagGrid lighting him, would give me more of the effect I wanted.

 

With a little post-processing, this gave me the look I wanted. That post-processing involved adding in a razor, since we were running ahead of the props department.

This gave me my Sweeney set up, but the client also wanted shots of Mrs. Lovett. Lovett is no less scary than Sweeney, but she’s somewhat more light-hearted. I didn’t want her to be as cool as Sweeney. So, she was shot with a warmer gel (1/4 CTO)  on the Rogue Flashbender 2 XL Pro to soften the shadows a little and control the spill onto Sweeney and the background.

Again, there was a bit of photoshop to add the rolling pin and razor (a different razor this time) and toning to get the look I wanted.

So, it was a great shoot. I was able to execute my vision in very short order (about an hour, really) which can be important to some clients. Especially, when you are working into a production schedule.

I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the cast and working with them for headshots and production stills.

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