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Emily Miller: How do you simplify the photographer’s job?
Mark Gordon: Our services boil down to digital capture, from start to finish: pre-production, capture, deliver, and post. Within each of those steps, there’s equipment provided: computers, cameras, vehicles, and printers.
Within pre-production, there’s a dialogue that opens up what the job looks like from the eyes of the photographer. I will make efforts to also have that conversation with the producer. Each has their interpretation of how the job is going to be executed. I offer a package that fits best for the photographer and his/her needs, as well as the producer and their budget.
EM: How does your tagline “Watch Your Back” relate to your work as a digital tech?
MG: It’s basically a willingness to operate within the production, be a part of the team, and look out for the best interest of the photographer. I’m there to be their right hand. I give support so they can focus on the creative process. Providing that support and comfort eases their concerns about the technical side of things.
It’s also asking simple questions: Are you doing verticals or horizontals? And it’s very subtle, simple things presented in a manner that is not alarming. I think the appropriateness of on-set behavior is big. A lot of photographers are not comfortable with an art director interacting with a digital technician, but it happens. The support mechanism is truly to understand where I am and what the expectations are in advance. So when a situation presents itself, there’s an understanding of how that situation is going to be handled.
EM: What do you need to know from the photographer, producer, and client?
MG: Typically, it would start with the producer: Shot count? Are we in the studio or on location? Will there be multiple location changes? If we are on location, what’s the environment? Power supplies? From the photographer, the dialogue is typically getting an idea of how they approach the creative process, and how their approach is going to meet this specific client’s needs.
It starts to build a picture for me to understand how I’m going to plug-in on set. Even down to having the computer close by, having it tethered. We’re shooting the cards, does the client have access to the monitor? Do they want to do a formal present with the client?
It’s discussing a shot before it happens, like a walk-through of the shot. That way I can pick up the process they want to approach the job, facilitate accordingly, and also make it fit within the needs of production and the client.
EM: How do you customize your gear and process to fit the specific location you’re working in? More »
Agencies: Digitas Health and
Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Communications Group
Photographer: Jayne Wexler
Artist Rep: Kevin Schochat
Producer: Susan Shaughnessy/SKS Productions
Location: Los Angeles
Total people on set: 30
The ad agency had three photographers in mind for the shoot, and the photographer Jayne Wexler was considered a favorite. The agency called her directly, and Jayne called her rep, Kevin Schochat. Together they talked about the concept, dates, and availability. Next, Jayne and Kevin considered which producer they wanted. Usually, the photographer or the rep has a relationship with a producer. Sometimes the ad agency has a relationship with a producer, and they will recommend one. In this case, Jayne decided she wanted to work with me.
There were three bids submitted for this job, and the estimating process took more than a week, including several rounds of back-and-forth with the agency. We were trying to meet the agency budget, but we were the only team estimating traveling expenses, so our costs were higher. The agency was very fair and understood our numbers, but it took time to get the estimate and photographer approved.
I typically work with my favorite program, Excel, for bids, as does the rep. I turn my document into a custom-designed PDF, so it looks like a neatly presented document with my logo and client info on it. Excel allows you to make changes quickly and frequently, which is so useful when estimating and making revisions.
During the estimating process, I have a crew in mind. Typically they are on hold from the beginning, especially the stylists. Once the agency awards the whole job and the money, then I book. I review the costs, rates, and expectations with each person, to confirm we are all clear. Sometimes the rates, expenses, and layouts have altered during the estimating process, so it’s essential to clarify at this point.
In this case, the casting and location line items were approved first, and then days later the rest of the job was approved. We began right away with a creative call between the photographer, agency, and myself to review layouts, casting specs, and location needs. I hired Eastside Studios in L.A. to cast, and I began researching locations with my coordinators.
Then stylists, photographer, producer, and agency have creative calls. These calls solidify the wardrobe direction and the prop needs. From there I can build a firm schedule, and manage expectations and deliverables for the team. As soon as the job is approved, the rep and I submit a request for the advance, to receive the appropriate percentage of the expenses up front. This money will get the job rolling and secure locations, studios, and all immediate out-of-pocket expenses.
When assembling a crew, I consider the photographer, the project and style, the budget, and the personalities that fit with the requests. It’s also important to have crew members who can work closely together to support each other. The wardrobe stylist and prop stylist know each other, work together often, and were able to help each other styling vintage clothing and props.
With Crestor, because everything was being shot in L.A., I suggested and hired the crew for Jayne. Jayne brought her first assistant, Piero Ribelli, with her, but I introduced Jayne to Mark Gordon, digital tech, along with Ubaldo Holguin and Joe Klecker, who were local photo assistants we used in L.A. Based on temperament, professionalism, and personality, I knew they would fit great with this team.
Having team members who know each other and work well together adds another layer of efficiency. Photographers often get in a groove with certain stylists, and definitely photo assistants and digital techs.
Often the crews stay the same, but sometimes we’ll add or lose somebody because of availability. Like Jayne in New York, we’ll have almost the same crew every time we work with her. For every photographer I work with, I specifically craft a crew that seems appropriate for them, based on their personalities, needs, styles, how fast paced they are, and what they expect in terms of styling.
Who: Susan Shaughnessy, Producer
What: Manage people, schedule, communicate, delegate, problem solve, have fun, take responsibility; write checks; provide deliverables/links to casting, scouting, and visuals that need approvals; take care of photographer; organize everything; insure everything; handle travel, catering, transportation; create production books; answer questions, ask questions, provide confidence; do due diligence; be flexible; stay on budget, get overages approved as needed; work closely with art buyer-producer/agency, accept praise on behalf of crew.
Where: Brooklyn is home, but I produce anywhere
Who: Jayne Wexler, Lifestyle and portrait photographer
What: I find a producer if the budget allows one. Go over the layout, all the details, and shot list. Discuss the casting with the producer. If a location is needed, we find a scout and start scouting. On shoot day my assistants and I set up lights. Then they usually get the set ready and shoot a digital-Polaroid for me to see. In the meantime, I discuss the details with the prop and wardrobe stylists and the hair and make-up artists. Once we are set up and I’m happy with my lighting and composition, we start shooting. After the shoot we edit the images and choose the best selects for the job, then we either make a website or send a disk or hard drive to the client with jpegs. Depending on the size and complexity of the retouching, the client will either retouch in-house or I will use one of my retouchers. Then there is the billing, which can take as long as the production.
Where: I live in NYC — “Nolita” — been in the same apartment for almost 23 years! My studio is on Vandam Street, west of Soho.
Who: Kevin Schochat, Photographer’s agent
What: When a request comes in, I go over the specifics of the job with the creative in charge. I then work closely with the photographer and producer to prepare a detailed photography estimate. I negotiate all fees and rights for the photographer. Once the job is awarded, I follow it closely to make sure everything is running smoothly and we are staying within budget. I also go to the shoot, if it is local, to see how it is progressing, meet the client, and deal with any last minute questions or changes. After the shoot, the photographer and I usually review the invoice together. Then I contact all the key people involved to make sure they are happy with the results and thank them for their business.
Where: New York City
Who: John Robinson, Prop stylist and set designer More »