What to do when it all goes wrong, and how will you fix it?

The late June morning was perfect weather for a sunrise shoot on Elk Lake. It was idyllic, we wrapped by 10, and were back at our accommodations at Black Butte Ranch by 1pm.

The Hall family are on a glassy Elk Lake at dawn to soak up the incredible view.
The perfect place to shoot kayaking from is a party boat!

Our next call time at Black Butte Ranch wasn’t until 4pm, so we all took a much needed 2 hour nap.

We woke up to thunder. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It’s not supposed to rain in the summer in the Central Oregon high desert. This will quickly pass, right? I started to wonder if we had spent all our ‘good luck weather’ in one place.

Agency, talent and crew met at 4pm and looked at each other with bewilderment. But mostly, they just looked to me. Now what? Fix it, Therese.

Cancelling a shoot due to weather is a hard decision for me to make. Can we power through? Will the weather suddenly break? The next scene was of a family playing corn hole—that game is played in the rain, right? That’s normal, right?

We were also scheduled to shoot a scene of a family making s’mores around a fire. Could we at least get that shot? It’s a twilight shoot, we can still do that, right?

The lightning struck. The thunder cracked. Then the rain fell. In buckets.

I set out all my note cards and looked at my options.

  • Ignore the rain, and shoot it anyways. We’ve done that plenty of times. The CD said  “Sure, you could take a bunch of bad pictures. But why bother?” Good point, I can’t argue with that.
  • Shoot corn hole in the morning (during scheduled time off for cast and crew) and shoot s’mores tonight (fuck the rain).
  • Shoot corn hole in the morning and shoot s’mores tomorrow evening, after shooting all the other late day/early evening scenes we have to shoot. This would involve asking crew and talent to be flexible too.

At that point, I called it. Not gonna happen. None of it would look good with wet talent. UGH. Instead, we ordered a round of beers, and watched the lightning storm.

Luckily, we had clear skies again by morning. The agency account director asked  “why was it so hard to call the shoot, knowing that the weather was so bad?” Great question.

We were on day 1 of a 3 day shoot. It’s my responsibility to review every single option before the obvious one, to do my due diligence. I have to think about my talent, my location, my crew – would they all be available for an alternate plan? And what would it cost? I had to quickly estimate the price tag for a cancellation vs.  a rescheduling, and present these numbers to the agency/client. Get all the options on the table, so that we can all make intelligent decisions. I have to go through this difficult process, otherwise, I lose sleep at night because I feel like I left an option on the table.

For this shoot, we had some fairly simple solutions, with a relatively inexpensive work-change order. But the difficulty in making this decision, even with simple solutions at hand, is knowing that I, alone, am responsible if it’s not the right decision. If you’ve ever wondered what a producer does, this is it, right here. A producer makes the hard decisions, under pressure, while everyone is looking at her silently, wondering “how is she going to fix it?”.

Cornhole the next morning turned out perfectly— Huge sigh of relief! See the rest of the shoot here.

What to do when it all goes wrong?

I was so excited to get the call from Dudley Brooks from the Washington Post Magazine. My father (who passed in 2016) loved this pub, and always saved the magazines for me. He didn’t know the first thing about photography, but he knew this pub always featured the best. When the assignment landed, I really, really wanted to call him and ask him “GUESS WHO WE’RE SHOOTING FOR?”

We pulled together our best team, and set to the task of building the cool conceptual set that Andy envisioned. Dudley was down with the idea from the start. Andy described it so vividly, it was impossible to not be drawn in. Here’s a little bts video of our set.

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How did you show the scale of one man’s fight against the soda industry?

“Godzilla and King Kong movies were my inspiration. Crossfit founder Greg Glassman standing in Soda City as a heroic giant, ignoring the attacks of the Soda City military. My goal was to flip the script—the city crushing monster as the hero, facing impossible odds and winning.” ~Andy Batt

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Ron Skrasek was our set designer and primary prop builder. Galvin Collins was our secondary prop builder and set assistant. I went to the store and spent $700 on soda, and it would be worth it. The vision was driving us all!

We didn’t have much time. Our first production meeting was Monday, and the shoot was Wednesday afternoon. Ron took off after the meeting to create the soda tanks. We all met on Tuesday afternoon to begin building Soda City. At 7pm, Andy’s vision was taking shape and we all toasted our success with a delicious beer.

Wednesday morning, we added the final touches on the set. Galvin’s soda planes were rigged, and it was all coming together. We stopped for a burrito lunch when I got a message from the editor. CALL ME.

My stomach sank. That’s never a good message to receive, especially 2 hours before we’re to begin shooting. I got on the phone with Dudley and was told our subject doesn’t want to leave his house. Ugh.

Dudley asked “what are our options?” This was our moment to shine. This was when 22 years of experience comes into play. Anyone can take a picture, but can they produce under this amount of pressure, for a dream publication, with less than 2 hours to go before it’s shoot time?

OPTIONS:

  • we photograph him at his house on a seamless background, and place him into our Soda City set in post
  • we change the concept completely and shoot an environmental portrait
  • we get him on the phone and try to change his mind

I had so many questions rushing through my brain, but the most pressing one was…where is his house? What if the travel time exceeds 45 minutes? Turns out, he’s less than 10 minutes away, just over the bridge.

We decided on the first option. It wasn’t ideal, but it most closely matched our creative vision. We had to hustle to get to his place, but did it in record time. We built a studio in his driveway and photographed him on a white seamless (luckily, it didn’t rain).

We were so rushed it was scramble to remember all the gear.

Galvin and I had to do a little “shake it off” dance before we left, to let out our frustration with the situation. The last thing we wanted to do was arrive at his place with an  angry cloud over our heads.

Our technique worked, the shoot went mostly great, and we were back in the studio, where the retouching heavy-lifting began.

The final piece turned out great, but keep reading…

Final art of Greg Glassman, before the WaPo lawyers got involved.

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE.

2 weeks before publication, we got another call from Dudley. This is when it really got weird. Our image was reviewed by the WaPo lawyers, and they were concerned our image was too ‘Coke-heavy’.  I really thought these kinds of problems only existed in the advertising industry!  Once again, we had to consider our options. The ‘Soda City’ set was mostly pulled apart, but the background was still up. We could reshoot a Pepsi tower and add another composite to the shot. Ultimately Dudley had one of his retouchers change one of the Coke towers in post.

Sometimes you have to choose your battles. We decided this wasn’t a battle worth fighting. If we had more time, we might have done it differently, but overall it’s still our shot on the cover of The Washington Post Magazine, and I think my dad would be really proud.

 

Bucket list assignment!
interior spreads

Here’s a little ‘behind-the-scenes’ treat for those that scrolled all the way down!

My 4 minute shoot with the real Tommy Wiseau

Dramatic entertainment photographer Andy Batt shoots actor Tommy Wiseau
Andy’s shoot with Tommy Wiseau

“This is probably wrong, but it’s how I remember it. I think Jason called me the day of, asking if he could use my studio to interview Tommy Wiseau. That guy from The Room. The “Oh Hai Mark” guy. I’d heard many stories about Tommy from Jason. There was no way I would turn down a chance to have Tommy in the studio.

Jason and Ian showed up with Tommy. He’s a whirlwind of energy, kinda crazy, kinda edgey, but also incredibly friendly. He’s intense. He’s nuts. He’s indescribable. Jason and Ian shot a couple episodes of  Tommy Explains It All — I learned all about Tommy’s Thoughts on Kissing, and his Secrets to Success. After they wrapped the video, I grabbed an opportunity to photograph Tommy—you don’t get the creator of The Room in your studio and not photograph him.

There’s no directing Tommy. He’s got very specific ideas about what looks cool, and a style that is all his own. The only way is to flow with him and let him take you on an adventure. I shot one test at 2:41pm. He jumped, posed, yelled, spun, squatted, invented a new pose, re-styled his belt, did some Mick Jagger poses, gave me the Victory sign, thumbs up, stuck his tongue out, made explosion sounds, vogued, and jumped some more. He was done at 2:45. In 4 minutes and 77 pictures he gave me a crazy amount of energy. After that Tommy really wanted to do group shots with everyone. I got to do a “cool guy back-to-back” pose with Tommy!

Tommy flew out of the studio in a cloud of crazy energy, just the way he came in, leaving me dazed in his wake.”

We can’t wait to see The Disaster Artist in the theater– in the meantime, here’s a few of the images.

Tommy Wiseau poses with photographer Andy Batt

77 photographs in 21 seconds