Washington Post Magazine: Greg Glassman Cover

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.

-andy batt

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!