Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A New Gig... Sorta

I scored a new, regular, gig recently and, if any job calls on my skills at keeping things simple and avoiding complexity, it's this one.  This job, in big ways, forces me to utilize many of my "Keep it simple, stupid" techniques and maintain an Ockham's Razor mindset like few others... you know, those streamlined, guerrilla-style, approaches to the work I'm often touting here, on the blog, and which are the major themes of my first two e-books, Guerrilla Glamour and Guerrilla Headshots.

It's not a completely new gig for me. I've worked for this client on a semi-regular basis for a couple of years now. I started with them, two years ago, as a glamour photographer. That lasted about 6 months. It was a great gig: Three evenings a week, about one-hour's worth of work, paid each night before I walked out the door.

Then, as good things often do, it came to an end. The company decided they weren't going to use a photographer any longer. (Budgets and all that.) I did, however, continue with them as their back-up video shooter, i.e., whenever their regular shooter couldn't work I'd get called in to replace him... which has been fairly often. I guess when some good things come to an end it's not always a total and complete end. You know, like Miracle Max says, "There's mostly dead and there's all dead."

The work is for an online, adult, streaming company. The company is the largest adult-streaming company on the web and this particular show has become the #1 online-streaming adult show on the internet. Leastwise, that's what the company's higher-ups tell us... while also telling us production is still in the red. Regardless, I've worked long enough in this business to know that "production is in the red" and long-term profits are mutually exclusive data.

Currently, the show live-streams two nights a week. It's a one-hour program and is produced like a live TV show with a host and guests. The crew includes a producer, makeup artist, a camera person, a technical director sitting in a control room switching between cameras and overseeing the digital storage for each camera's feed plus storage of the "switched" rough-cut version of the show. Another tech person mans (in this case "womans") the computers. This 2nd tech person not only controls the internet feed and performs other computer-related duties, she also interacts with viewers in a chat room as well as performing pre and post show "production assistant" chores.

Everyone has multiple monitors to view the live feed, including the producer, host, and guests. Besides seeing the live feed in real time, the host and guests (and the camera person) can also see what's going on in the internet chat room via a big screen mounted on a wall in the room that houses the show's simple set: A big couch with drapes behind it and a few other set pieces. The set remains permanently pre-lit with multiple Kino-flos. Sound is recorded with stand-alone microphones mounted on short booms with shock-mounts which are secured to the ceiling. In all, it's a fairly high-tech production utilizing all the same production techniques as most any live show on television would.

The live show utilizes three video cameras: one mounted to the ceiling offering a bird's eye view of the action, another cam on sticks (a tripod) pointed at the small set in a static wide shot, and the third camera operated, hand-held, by a camera person.... that would be me or whoever happens to be the camera person for any specific show.

Anyway, back to how this show calls on my skills as a "Keep it simple, stupid" photographer...

Recently, the show's producers decided they needed to again start shooting still photographs... glamour photos, that is. Yep. All of a sudden they again needed photos of all the show's guests. (They're getting ready to release a slew of "Best Of" DVDs cut from the many episodes of the show already "in the can" and those we have yet to record.) Beyond the stills I had shot some time ago during that 6-month stint, they were considering using "screen caps" for the artwork for the DVD compilations of sequences they had no photography for. (A "screen cap" is taking a single frame of video and using it like a still photograph. The quality of most screen caps suck, BTW.)  Anyway, their distributor balked and put the kibosh on the screen cap notion. Leastwise, for future production. The show's producers, however, still had budgetary restraints. So, they asked if I'd be interested in shooting the stills as well as shooting the show and to do so as the regular person, not the backup. (Fortunately for me, the regular shooter is a video guy only, not a vid-shooter and photographer.)  "Sure! No problem," I told them, in spite of not being 100% sure the "no problem" part would prove to be no problem. But hey! Work's work! And they pay me fairly well. They also pay me each night before I walk out the door. There's a lot to be said for getting paid COD or "net zero" or however you want to describe getting paid immediately after the job is done. So, it's a Win/Win for everyone, in my opinion. They save some of the costs of bringing in a dedicated photographer to shoot the stills, and then paying a video shooter separately. (Yeah, I give them a pretty decent discount for taking on both roles.) I become the regular shooter for the show.

So what are the potential problems in accomplishing my twin-job job? Well, truthfully, there's only one potential problem: Time.

This show, like any live TV show, is very time-driven. The internet feed always begins exactly on time, to the minute and second, each night it streams. It ends the same way as well. The segments within the show are all on a stopwatch and begin and end at exactly, or nearly exactly, the same times during each episode. Everyone who works the show needs to be punctual and get their work done, before and during, in a very time-sensitive manner.

To make a long story short, I've ended up being allotted 28 minutes, no more, to shoot the glamour stills for between 3 and 5 models each night the show streams. The show begins at exactly 7:30 P.M. That means, at no later than 7:28, I need to be on the video set, with the camera in my hands, switched on, and ready to shoot. It also means the first two models must be out of the makeup chair and dressed in their wardrobe (usually lingerie) and ready to have their photos snapped by no later than 7 P.M.

I arrive at the shooting location at 6:50. I ride share with the show's production assistant/computer person as her home is very near my home and we both live about a 1/2 hour or so drive from the set. It wouldn't be fair to ask her to leave earlier just because I suddenly have more work to do than I did before they re-added still photography to the shooter's chores. Plus, the models wouldn't be ready any earlier anyway. What that means is this: When I walk in at 6:50, I have to immediately go onto the video set, put a fresh battery in the video camera I'll be using, turn it on, stuff a tape into it, check that it's working properly and then turn around and go to another room and set up my strobes -- 3 lights with modifiers which I keep stored in a separate room at the location, already mounted on stands -- and be ready to shoot stills at 7 on the dot... and all in no more than ten minutes. The location, BTW, is a residential house. It's city permitted and all that.

After I'm all set up and, assuming everyone else is being as time-diligent as I am, the first model is in front of my camera at 7 P.M.  Depending on how many models I need to shoot -- three, four, or five -- I have between five-and-a-half and nine minutes to shoot each one of them in order for me to be on the show's video set and have that video-cam in my hands, ready to shoot, at 7:28. The show goes live at exactly... five, four, three, two... 7:30. Whew! That leaves no margin for screw ups or extra time to cajole a model into her groove or futz with my camera or the lights or anything else. Trust me, later on when the company's art people begin working with the photos, no one is going to cut me any slack because I only had 6 to 9 minutes with each model. As you might have already guessed, the only way this works is for me to keep everything as simple as possible and to avoid anything that adds complexity to getting the job done.

The pretty girl at the top is Mia. (Click to enlarge.) I shot Mia just the other night for the web streaming show I just described. I had 6 minutes with her. In that time, I snapped about 35 or 40 captures, approximately the same as a roll of film back in the day, which is my goal for each model. That means at least one of the photos from the quick sets I'm shooting needs to be a useable "keeper" for whatever art work, packaging, ads, or whatever else they put together and use it for. Hopefully, I'll regularly deliver to my client more than a single keeper from each mini-set of each model.

BTW, have a happy Thanksgiving!


Bill Giles said...

I'm curious about the lighting setup. I presume that the lights are set up to get decent light from different angles and when people move. Not having been in this type of setting, I can't even imagine what it would look like with the placement of the lights, mics, cameras and set.

Rick said...

To say the least, there's no grass growing under your feet while on the set. Just don't end up being like an offensive lineman on a pro football team=the hardest worker and the least paid.

jimmyd said...

@Bill-- You're right. The lights are set to light the shooting area broadly and flatly. We use Kino Flos, which are color-balanced fluorescent lighting fixutres. We have a 4'/4-lamp fixture set on stands on either side of the shooting set. They are set vertically. Also, in front and above the set, hung horizontally from the ceiling and angled down, is a Kino Flathead 80 which is a 4' 8-lamp light. These three fixtures put out plenty of soft, broad light.

Check out Kino's website to learn more: