When a simple portrait is not so simple

 

Drake. Photo by Michael Muller for Kodak.

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You might be tempted to look at this national “So Kodak” campaign, shot by Michael Muller, and think to yourself, “Okay, so it’s a handful of portraits shot on seamless. Easy.” But you’d be wrong.

As Michael recently explained to me, the four hip-hop and R&B stars featured in the campaign—Rihanna, Pitbull, Drake, and Trey Songz—were in different cities and different locations within those cities, and available at different times. He shot the photos over a two-month period, working in Miami and New York City (both Brooklyn and Manhattan), in settings ranging from a church basement to a nightclub to a soundstage. And he had to plan his shoots around the filming of the related Kodak TV commercials. (The agency, by the way, was Partners + Napier. Go here for a post from their blog about the “So Kodak” campaign.)

“I had a very minimal amount of time with the talent,” Michael recalls. “And we had to shoot at really odd times because they were filming the commercials at night—because most of these guys are night people.”

He continues, “There was so much production involved. You should talk to Michele Stanger, the producer on the job. She was put through the ringer on this one but managed to make it all work. It looks like we shot these in a clean white studio, but to actually accomplish these photos—it was not as easy as it looks.”

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Pitbull. Photo by Michael Muller for Kodak.

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So I sent Michele an email and asked her to tell me what the shoot was like, how she managed it, and her previous work with Michael. Here’s what she wrote:

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Michael and I have worked together since 2004. He is my favorite photographer to work with. He knows exactly what he wants, has super high energy and is really all about the job and its execution. A few memorable moments from other jobs I’ve done with Michael: having a skateboarder “riding” a taxi cab with a smoke effect in TIMES SQUARE. Smoke in Times Square says it all, as you can imagine. Also, in the middle of a New York snowstorm, being out on a boat on the Hudson River shooting a campaign. The snow was falling, the waves were rocking the boat and, of course, Michael was hanging off the back of it. It was exhilarating. The 2 boat captains commented on what a “hardy” bunch we were. I got off the boat cold, but with a huge smile on my face. It was so much fun and, of course, the shots were fantastic.

Every job offers its own set of unique problems to solve. The Kodak job was difficult predominantly because we had several celebrities to schedule in a fairly tight timeframe. Not only to schedule dates, but to accommodate whatever city they were in at the time. Each celebrity was shot on separate dates.

Dates were confirmed very last minute. The commercial production came first, and everything for us revolved around their planning. Usually, I find all the locations and make the necessary arrangements before a shoot. In this case, we had to wait until the last moment to know where and when we were shooting. My poor caterers. I had booked them and even until the day of, they had no idea what time or where they were supposed to go. (Neither did Michael and his crew.)

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Rihanna. Photo by Michael Muller for Kodak.

Trey Songz. Photo by Michael Muller for Kodak.

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Fortunately, the commercial production understood exactly what the requirements that I had stipulated for our shoots. They came up with locations close to where the commercial was shooting (though at the last minute) that met our needs. We shot Trey in a church! In Miami, for Drake, we needed to get background plates of a nightclub he frequents. We were waiting around until 10pm with no word on when we could get into the club. Eventually, Michael and I and his assistant Chris just went to the club and talked our way in, just as it was opening for the evening.

I realized very early in the game that the best way to deal with the last-minute element was to not panic. To be patient, trust the commercial production and realize that once we got to set, almost any problem could be solved if I remained calm and thought it through. It also helped to have an extensive equipment order to deal with any logistical problems that could arise from not tech scouting our location beforehand.

Michael and his crew were on an extensive back-to-back schedule of shooting with an immense amount of international travel from another job. I was worried as to how they would keep up the energy level needed to accomplish a successful shoot. Of course, they were amazing. Michael has more energy then anyone I know!

I also worried about the celebrities. How would they be after shooting a 12- or 14-hour day on the commercial? This is one of Michael’s specialties. He has a way of making celebrity clients feel very comfortable and brings out really positive energy in them. (His supercharged, positive energy sets the mood on the set for everyone.) Plus, he is so experienced at what he does, which allows him to shoot fast and get amazing results. There is no waiting around or fussing with lighting when the celebrity steps on set. Everything is absolutely ready to go. The celebrity has no time to get bored or distracted. They always appreciate this and are always very happy with the results and go on to request Michael for future shoots.

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Thank you, Michele and Michael!

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