photographed by Andy Batt
It’s a good day when the photo editor from the Washington Post Magazine calls to ask me to create a COVER IMAGE for the publication. Crossfit founder Greg Glassman lives in Portland, and the Post wanted a punchy vibrant image to accompany a story about Greg taking on “big soda”; his campaign wants to get soda out of the school system, and he’s not talking about soda machines. The biggest in the industry are setting health and nutrition policy and influencing actual classroom lessons; e.g., there’s an emphasis on physical fitness, but very little on sugar. To be clear, Greg’s fight isn’t with the existence of soda, or sugar—it’s about their overreach and lack of accountability in the rise of obesity, pre-diabetic and diabetic statistics.
My instinct was to pitch a “reverse Godzilla” idea—I’d have Greg standing in Soda City as a heroic giant, ignoring the attacks from Soda City—soda tanks and soda plane ineffectively trying to stop Greg from stomping all over their city. It was a ‘punchy’ metaphor—nothing subtle about it, but it felt fun and eye catching.
I remember watching Godzilla and King Kong movies on after-school TV. You sometimes rooted for the people—it was their city being attacked and their friends that were being stomped on, but kinda secretly, you always were rooting for the monster.
My goal was to flip the script—make our hero of gigantic proportions, facing impossible odds and yet winning. After all, Soda City is HUGE—they have more money, more lawyers, more resources—so you definitely need to be equally huge, in some way, in order to fight this fight.
My editor greenlit the idea right away (!) so off to the cash-&-carry we went, to buy hundreds and hundreds of cans and bottles of soda. My art director Ron, producer Therese and I spent about 3 days building our view cityscape, and first assistant Galvin killed it doing double duty building our pop fighters.
I decided an very ‘real’ look to our set—I wanted to be anti-CGI, to have some rough spots where the boxes had some wear and tear, imperfections in the materials and build techniques; very wabi sabi. Not sloppy, just hand made looking. Leaving in things like the fishing line on the pop fighters, or the flare on the boxes, the ‘dents’ in the 12 pack boxes from the cans—all of that stuff added some needed grit to the image.
On the day of the shoot, after everything had been nailed to the floor, lit, and ready, we go word that Greg had decided that he couldn’t break away from his office across the river, to come to the studio. We were, however, invited to come over to his place and get our shot. A very very fast scramble ensued! We quickly documented the camera placement, distances and angles, and lighting direction, packed a studios worth of gear in the Xterra and whipped across the river. We built a studio in Greg’s driveway, and recreated our lighting and camera setup on the fly, so that I could composite the portrait with our studio shot. Pack and back to the studio to shoot some new plates with a few lighting tweaks to make the shadows fall correctly, and then directly into an intense composite session to merge it all together.
I’m pleased with the result—it’s solid idea that comes together nicely, and there’s nothing obvious about the composite. It’s punchy, striking and eye catching. Mission accomplished.