Saturday, June 21, 2008
Keeping All The Balls In The Air: Part One
"I'd like you to be my producer on a photo shoot this Thursday. It's for a Maxim feature. We're shooting seven to ten women. All swimwear."
"You want me to produce...?"
"Yeah, it'll be fun. You can be in charge of the spray bottle, too."
I've been through a lot the past few years. The changes in my life have been tectonic in scope. I've lost much. I've gained much. I've made many, many sacrifices, and I'm working very, very hard to make those sacrifices matter, to make my decisions count. During the difficult times I've had several people close to me insist that I give myself a break every now and then, have some fun, and don't get lost in despair. These days I tend too often to throw myself into new opportunities with desperate vigor, eager (arguably to a fault) to channel my energies into something with long-term potential, something more roundly fulfilling, yet practical, something that can indulge my talents, blah, blah, blah...
"How many women?"
"Seven to ten. It's for Maxim, so it's gotta be really sexy. Walter's shooting. You guys did a great job with Josie's stuff, and it'll be a great credit for you, so I thought you'd want to help out on this. You interested?"
Yes. High profile career opportunity, utilizing my talents in a fun and supportive manner, partial nudity expected. Yes.
"Yeah, I think so. Maybe..."
When my friend sold his caveman movie, the releasing studio insisted on amping it up with an R rating. Their solution: more nudity. Over a year past the film's primary shoot and several months after its premiere at Slamdance Film Festival, additional footage was requested. Extending one of the film's gags that included an all-female cave tribe, my friend -- the film's writer/director/star -- had to endure take after take sitting in a pond getting "cleansed" by the cave women, each of them wearing only a merkin and the occasional leathery headband. Poor guy.
With some fresh silly, titillating, gratuitous nudity in the can, the studio then came up with the idea of a "The Girls Of..." photo spread as part of their promotional push featuring the cave-women. Contact was made and Maxim Online approved the idea (caveat: the photo shoot would be produced and presented by the film studio and the material is, at the time of this writing, still pending approval from Maxim; there are no guarantees it will make publication). Now, I've seen Maxim magazine once or twice. Being a straight man I can appreciate some of its more... admirable... content, but it's not exactly my first choice off the magazine rack ( I'm more of a New Yorker kinda guy ). I wouldn't have to read the magazine though, just help coordinate some content. And, really, I would do it to support my friend.
I've art directed photo shoots before. Mostly individual artist or bands, and usually I had some time to plan. 7 to 10 models in a single shoot is a big undertaking and we had only one day to prepare. Walter, the photographer, ran around furiously gathering wardrobe and jewelry samples and I spent a bit of time that same day on the phone helping wrangle some details, even though I would be primarily an on-site producer. We were both somewhat familiar with the location - a private residence in the West Hollywood hills - but there was no opportunity to map out specific set-ups. We were gong to have to wing it. Geurilla shooting again.
It was calm and workman-like when I arrived the morning of the shoot. The coordinator, Ali - who was one of the assistants during the promotional phase, and one of the models for the day - was there, ready to go. She had already been on the phone rounding up the talent (some were hesitant or just plain flaky) and rearranging the schedule for the 14th time. The director was there, optimistic and mellow. Walter was a little late, but no problem, we had to move things back anyway. The hair/makeup artist was there, as was the videographer for the film company ready to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for the DVD extras. We all went through the days expectations. The pieces were all in place.
As time slots were shuffled around, we agreed Ali should prepare for her shoot so we could fit her in a.s.a.p. She is an impossibly cute young actress with a natural all-American quality that Old Hollywood would have killed to sign. She would have looked perfect on a billboard next to Mickey Rooney: god-given curves, peachy complexion, huge, flirty eyes, a kittenish grin, and naturally curly hair that would put Shirley Temple to shame. Ali modeled for us a bikini of a colorful plaid on a white background, like the tablecloth from a country fair. I looked at her and immediately thought: ice cream cone. She needs an ice cream cone, I said to the group. Perhaps a colorful sherbet. I was confident of my first executive decision of the day. What a pro...
We were running behind schedule. I had time to run to the store to get some ice cream and a few other supplies. Our first regularly scheduled model, Rebeca, arrived and needed time to get into hair and makeup, Walter was still setting up his equipment, our assistant wasn't there yet, so off I went. When I returned, the location was bustling.
Several other women had arrived, the makeup artist and her assistant had three chairs filled, and the director was suddenly impatient, asking "who's ready? Who's ready? We gotta get this going." Nervous about time, he and Walter had already begun to shoot Ali while I was gone. With her busy modeling there was no one to organize the personnel. It was a little chaotic. I quickly assembled the ice cream cone (rainbow sherbet), took it to the location, handed it to Ali, and ran back upstairs, ready to go.
I introduced myself to Rebeca and explained a little about what we were expecting. She is a stunning, petite woman from Spain with perfect proportions, pale skin, black hair, and a piercing, dark gaze. She has a sophisticated, femme-fatale quality that we enhanced with a blood red velvet bikini (hers) and silver jewelry. I was excited to start the day with someone of such distinction and the choice to go with a sophisticated look was cemented by me and Rebeca's stylist (she was the only model to bring her own).
Sophisticated. Stylish. Refined. Every time I used those words while we were choosing wardobe, makeup and location for Rebeca, her eyes flashed a little - just for a moment - as if she was unsure about this description. Did she not agree? Was there some glitch in translation (she had only recently learned English)? I couldn't place her hesitancy. I thought it was strange but said nothing of it and moved on. Her first set-up was on a beautiful white modern chaise, plate glass windows behind her overlooking Coldwater Canyon, Hollywood and Los Angeles stretched out beyond. It was gorgeous. We were ready to feel her out, carefully directing her past any inhibitions into the sexiest poses possible. Rebeca was a natural. We quickly realized this stunning young woman had no inhibitions. Our direction to her was minimal: "move your hand", etc. She writhed around on the chaise in ways that almost made me blush. It was effortless. The photographer snapped away furiously.
Very soon, Rebeca's poses evolved into something quite a bit steamier. Her hips and face morphed from sexy into sex. We all quickly knew that this girl wouldn't need any topless pics to enhance the sexuality as we had planned for many of the set-ups. Even thought she was still dressed in her bikini, it was impossible not to get the impression that her seduction was complete, and some lucky partner was already on top of her, or behind her, or inside of her. Yikes. These were gold. Sexy, border-line pornographic gold.
I left Rebeca to change into a second outfit, introduced myself to the other models and prepared the next set-up. The director came up to check in. "Did you catch any of Rebeca's set?" I asked.
"Yeah. She's gorgeous, isn't she?"
"My God...What a pro. Knew just what to do. Very sexy"
He laughed a little, then said "That's probably because she's a porn actress. Does really raunchy stuff too. Pretty much anything."
"There's going to be a few of them today. They were in the movie. Who's ready for the next shoot? Let's keep this moving."
When I was designing and painting for theater in New York several years ago - working on Shakespeare, Ibsen, new plays, with international directors and cast members - a joke about me circulated throughout the technical staff, always getting back to me. "You're going to be designing strip shows in Vegas someday. Just wait." This was a lark. Less intended as a true prediction than an absurd one: a joke of opposites. Since the beginning of my professional career I had a reputation for doing the meaty work, the difficult and complex theater that required both an artistic eye and a practical sensibility. The technical directors, stagehands, painters, etc. were just trying to keep me real and have a laugh with me.
This prediction, the "Vegas strip show" vision, was one I've kept with me. While I was working on operas, or upstart theater in Chicago, or struggling to find the next perfect project, I would pull this little quip out from the back of my mind, just to keep myself real: don't take it all too seriously. It's all entertainment. This day, suddenly surrounded by porn stars, models and straight actresses in bikinis, everyone looking at me for direction and input, it flew into the forefront of my thoughts furiously... and straight out of my head. I had a job to do. A lot of trust had been placed in my lap to manage this difficult shoot, and I still had the opportunity to give my two cents on art direction.
"I can tell you've done this before" several of the models said to me as we chose their looks. I'd smile at them confidently and say "A couple of times." Despite the tricky schedule the day was shaping up very well. And let's face it: there's some benefit to being a straight man who knows how to accessorize a half-naked woman.
"Brett, this is Darryl Hanah. She's one of our models today."
The day had only begun. Vegas, here I come...