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