Shooting behind the scenes & production stills on indie films is something I'm still learning and something I enjoy as much as shooting storms. I had already shot behind the scenes on several short films before Nathan Milliner contacted asking me to shoot behind the scenes of his fan film, "The Confession of Fred Krueger". I had previously shot stills for Nathan on the set of "Encyclopedia Satanica", one of the shorts that is part of the "Volumes of Blood" anthology. With Satanica, he really didn't have any imput as to me being there since I was already attached to the project. Having him contact me personally to shoot stills for "Confession" was a nice nod of approval for the work I had already shot for him.
For those of you reading this who don't know, "Confession" deals with Freddy Krueger BEFORE he was burned alive by the angry residents of Springwood. Krueger as a mortal man is scarier to me than as a supernatural night terror. This is in no small part due to Kevin Roach's portrayal of the Springwood Slasher. I've seen Kevin at work before. He has never disappointed, but this performance was the best I've seen from him yet. The entire supporting cast really impressed me. The film is available for free on YouTube. The running time is about 30 minutes. I'll post it at the end of this blog as well.
I was on set for about 75-80% of the film. I think I captured some of my best behind the scenes photos yet. For this project, I used 2 cameras. In between scenes, when sound wasn't an issue or in scenes where the audio wasn't going to be used, I shot with a Nikon D3200 & 2 Sigma lenses, an 18-50mm F/2.8 & 70-300mm F/4. When complete silence was necessary, I shot with a Nikon 1 J3 mirrorless camera with a 10-30mm lens. My ISO range was between 800 & 1600 and I tried to keep shutter speeds above 1/100 of a second. There were a few scenes in extremely dark locations in which I had to shoot at ISO 3200 & 6400, but I tried to keep that to a minimum. Shooting with a crop sensor camera, I don't have the low light capability of a full frame camera.
My first day of shooting was a nice long 12 hour day at the offices of radio station 97X in Owensboro. Being early for everything, it was more like a 14 hour day for me. It is very important when shooting behind the scenes to document as much as possible. This means shooting the cast & crew as they arrive. I know the crew just loves it when they are greeted with a camera in the face. Okay, maybe not but I get over it quickly.
My second day of shooting was at multiple outdoor locations in Owensboro & Knottsville, Kentucky. Outdoor shooting during the day means low ISO shooting, which is my comfort zone. Anyone familiar with my work knows I do a lot of that. Editing these shots was much easier. No noise reduction was needed. I also used my 70-300mm zoom lens a lot more, especially for the ball field & playground scenes.
My third and final day of shooting was at a machine shop in Henderson, Kentucky. This was the most challenging day of shooting for me because of the low light. You can't use flash on these types of photo shoots. You have to shoot under the same lighting as the video or the stills will not have the same feel to them.
I like to shoot a lot on set, much more than I really need to. The main reason I do this is to acclimate everyone around me to having a camera in their face. Cameras can change people's behavior just by being there. The faster I can get people used to it and see me as nothing more than background noise, it affects their behavior less and I can get more candid shots. I encourage everyone around me to ignore me as much as possible. Whenever I see a crew member worried about stepping into one of my shots, I encourage them to keep going as if I'm not there at all. They are part of what I want to shoot & why I am there in the first place.
Another very important aspect of shooting behind the scenes is trust. I may shoot 3,000 photos over a 12 hour shoot. I tend to narrow that down to the best 250-300 or so. The producers and director are the first to see those edited shots. The shots I reject are seen by noone, not even clients...EVER. The images I edit on a behind the scenes shoot go to the producer and director ONLY. If anyone sees the images after that, it is because the producer or director have chosen to make them public. I never post behind the scenes photos myself unless the producer or director have already made them public. There may be some photos you have never seen before posted in this blog, but I cleared it with Nathan before even writing this. He told me I could use whatever I wanted as long as I waited until after September. Also, this is not a movie blog. This is a photography blog. The audience is a lot different.
I see the debate all the time about which is harder, shooting stills or shooting video. It is an argument that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It really is apples & oranges. To me, the argument is as pointless as comparing different fandoms & product brands. The Nikon vs Canon debate for example. I shoot both and like both. To me, shooting video or stills is equally difficult, but for completely different reasons.
From a technical perspective, I think shooting video is much harder. Capturing moving subjects and having to shift focus from one subject to another, all the while keeping the shot perfectly composed is a daunting task. You also have someone else contending with audio which has to be mixed in later. Throw editing into the mix and it gets even more difficult.
From a storytelling perspective, I think shooting stills is much more difficult. With video, you have 24 or more frames per second with audio to tell a story. Shooting stills, you need to tell a story with just a few images. You may need to tell a story with just one image. A fraction of a second can mean the difference between a bad photo and capturing an unforgettable moment. With video, if an actor blows a line or a battery dies in the middle of a scene, they will simply reshoot. Shooting stills behind the scenes, especially on indie film sets, you generally dont have the time for them reshoot a scene just to get the right stills. What you get is what you get.
Shooting behind the scenes, while very important in terms of promoting a film, is the absolute LEAST important job on set in terms of the actual production of the film. This means you have to know when to move in for shots & when to stay out of everyone's way. It is a balancing act. Occasionally you are going to misstep and get in the way. All you can do is learn from it and do better next time. Thankfully, I don't think I've done that too many times. I've always been more of an "observe people from a distance" kind of person anyway. I really had to push myself more to get closer when I needed to than to keep a distance, which is my comfort zone. My camera has always been used as a crutch, something I keep between myself and others. If I were Linus, my camera is my security blanket.
I'm hoping to do more shoots like this one in the near future. Not only is it a lot of fun, each shoot makes me better at what I do. I approach every photo shoot as a student trying to learn something. I'll never stop doing that.