I don’t get starstruck very often, but I recently had the chance to shoot Christopher Lloyd for BYUtv’s production of Granite Flats and lets just say that I was very excited for the opportunity. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m a Sci-Fi geek who as a kid watched Doc Brown explain time paradoxes in Back to the Future a few hundred times. In this show he is playing the role of a professor who moves into Granite Flats to become an english teacher to many of the main characters. He’s a lot of fun to work with and a true professional.
I do a lot of set photography for BYUtv, not only on Granite Flats, but for several of their shows. This includes shooting stills on set of scenes being filmed and marketing shoots that are set up on location, usually in a very short time frame. I had just a few minutes to get as many different looks as I could so that BYUtv could use a variety of images in their marketing and social media campaigns to advertise Season 3 of the show. In this type of situation, I try to find a location that will give me several options without having to move very far. Christopher’s character is an eccentric english teacher at the high school so I thought it would be best to put him in that setting as much as possible. I spent a good hour scouting the best locations in the school and decided on starting at the back entrance to the school. I figured if I could put Christopher there I could get a shot of him in front of the double doors at the schools entrance and then I could move to his side and shoot him with the brick wall trailing off in the background. The plan was to have him walk inside the doors and go into the very first classroom on the bottom floor, which was maybe ten steps from the first setup. In there I could get a shot of him from two different directions, so with two spots 15 feet apart I had 4 completely different looks.
I decided to prelight both locations and trigger the lights with a Pocket Wizard Plus III. This is done to save the time it takes to move and reposition lights and then dial them into the correct exposures, and remember, every second counts. Both stations were on different channels, so when Christopher walked into the classroom, all I had to do was change the channel on my triggering wizard and the second set of lights was ready to go. We did the entire shoot with three Einstein E640 monolights, powered by Vagabond Mini Lithium batteries because we didn’t have any power on the set at that time. We did test shots of all my setups and by the time that Christopher arrived I was really confident that we would be able to get the shots we needed.
On shoots like this I always shoot with a wireless tether, sending all my images instantly to my iPad which is either held by an assistant, or in this case my art director Michelle. We use the Canon WFT-E6A wireless file transmitter sending jpgs to my iPad which is running the shuttersnitch app. Michelle was able to see each photo 2 seconds after they are captured, which helps us know if there are any adjustments we need to make or if we have the shot that we need so we can move on to the next look. When Christopher arrived we showed him the test shot I took of Michelle on the iPad so he knew what we were trying to accomplish. I think this type of feedback is very helpful for actors, by knowing what the camera is seeing they can adjust their performance to it.
Both of these shots were done with a single Einstein E640 light with a stripbox and fabric grid just to light and shape his face and I let the overcast ambient take care of everything else. I like the look of the fabric grid over the softbox because you get a great quality of soft light from the softbox, but the grid keeps it from wrapping to much and gives the light an edge. Christopher gave me exactly the look I was going for, so it didn’t take long for us to get the shot and move on.
For the next shot, my idea was to shoot him through the window panes from outside so that I could frame him in the pane. In this photo I have a wide shot of the classroom so that you can see I had another Einstein with a stripbox and fabric grid set up camera left and illuminating Chris and camera right I had another Einstein with a barn door acting as a separation light and filling in the other side of his face.
We walked him into the classroom and here came the hard part. The school is unheated and it was freezing, but I really didn’t want him to be in his overcoat for the shots inside the classroom, it wouldn’t have made much sense visually. I explained that we wanted to get a shot of him through the window panes, like he was keeping an eye on the students outside and then I sheepishly asked him if he would be willing to take off his coat for the shot, apologizing for the cold all the way throughout. His response was classic “Yes, its cold. Ahh, but for the sake of art.” Then he pulled off the coat and went right to my mark. I actually had to have him stand on top of a apple box, just because I needed him to be up a bit higher so that he was centered in the window pane.
This was the shot that I really wanted to get. I shot it at F/5 to darken up the ambient of the room so that Christopher would stand out starkly against the dark background. I love how the metal window frame and the dirty panes of glass gave some texture to the photo. For the final shot I wanted to use the windows from inside the classroom. I grabbed my stripbox and positioned it camera left up high and asked Christopher to smile and to look up into the light.
With that photo we were done, I thanked him profusely for his time and he went onto set to film a scene. When all was said and done I had taken 150 shots in exactly ten minutes, which to be honest was more time than I was expecting. Its pretty gratifying to have a shoot of this scale go off without a hitch, but I think that all the work I put into planning the shoot and testing each of the locations solved most of the problems that usually come up. Granite Flats is a really fun show that is great for the entire family, if you haven’t seen it yet you can catch up at BYUtv.org.