Friday, October 31, 2008

Work Post: The Other Side Of The Coin

I have a lot of people ask me what I'm working on. I do a lot of different things. A lot of people don't know what I do, so I've decide to begin posting more info about work. Well, there are several reasons I'm posting more about work, not the least of which is that, if you've followed this blog up until now, you might think all I work on are nude photo shoots and bad action movies. Not so. I wrote about those because they are the aberrations, the side trips, the Vegas vacations of my work as an arteest. Yes, fun. No, not my bread and butter or focus.

There is a colleague named Andrew for whom I've worked the past five years ( yes, he's naked on his website ). He is an exceptionally talented Creative Director and Producer, and the brother of Bella. To me they are the Wonder Twins of the Chicago creative community. Bella has become a powerhouse in Chicago Comedy, and Andrew has become a powerhouse in the Chicago non-profit community and events industry.

Now, when I say non-profit I'm not talking about raising subscription rates at small theater (which I'm all for). I'm talking about more substantial endeavors. He was the creative force behind the Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid Millennium Park celebratory event "Chicago Believes, which raised $12 million for the city's bid effort; he created an exceptional event for IIT in the historic Crown Hall on the IIT campus ( which I art directed and for which my primary scenic element was honored by being installed permanently on campus... ahem...); and he's worked for over a year with the amazing global environmental group Conservation International, which brings me to my current project.

Conservation International is an environmental advocacy organization with amazing diversity and scope of mission. They work with major business leaders, politicians, governments and financial institutions around the world, in their quest to "safeguard valuable species, preserve the most important landscapes and seascapes, and support communities that care for and rely on Earth's natural resources." They aren't activists making bold, rash statements. They are scientists, business people, artists, educators, working with great thoughtfulness and innovation. Really a great group.

Andrew and I are working on our 3rd fundraising event for C.I. (his 6th) which will be presented in Seattle this coming week. The design of the staging plays off a new campaign of C.I. called "Lost There, Felt Here", and utilizes a concept of the empty space surrounded by lush greenery. I've enhanced the greenery motif further with the inclusion of green umbrellas – metaphors for protective canopies (i.e. rainforest) and a nod to Seattle weather and their "bumbershoots".

I'm painting the umbrellas myself and will have to haul them with me on the plane. I'm very excited to see them all in place and lit.

There are a lot of cool presenters and participants scheduled, but I'll tell you about them later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm Apparently "It"...

My friend Mo has "tagged" me. I'm now required, according to the rules, to post "seven random facts about (my) fascinating self on (my) blog".

Okay, sure. Why not. I don't usually do things like this, but, well, it's Mo, so:

1. My first birthday was January 15, 1967, the same day as SuperBowl I. Green Bay played (and lost to) Kansas City. I was born in Green Bay. It was a big deal, apparently... (Oh, and for you Green Bay fans: my name is Brett).

I have very few compulsions. Two of them manifest as follows:

2. Before I close a locked door behind me I must look at the keys in my hand. Car, house, closet, it doesn't matter what kind. And...

3. I have a constant fear that I smell bad.

4. I'm allergic to giraffes.

5. As a young boy, I witnessed a horrific accident in which a schoolmate was rendered unrecognizable as a human.

6. My first rock concert was Guess Who at the Illinois State Fair. (I was 5.)

7. I was once asked to participate in a pornographic photo shoot. I declined. (I was 18.)

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

UPDATE: Keeping All The Balls In The Air

Well, here they are:

The National Lampoon Girls

Out of over 2,100 photos we shot, used... eight (we didn't shoot Ali Larter or Shasha).

Ah, well, they look great. Walter did a fantastic job. I especially like Ali Cobrin's photo (wow) and Sarah looks gorgeous. I'm not entirely thrilled with the choices for the other women. The uncropped pic of Andrea is waaaay better (she looks over retouched too).

Perhaps I'll create an online album of some of my favs and post them. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Keeping All The Balls In The Air: Part Two

"I saw her butt."

"Sir, all of the models are wearing swimsuits."

"I saw her butt!"

Lucky you...

We had several visitors that day. At one point in the early afternoon I ran upstairs to the main prep area and it was filled with 6 models, 3 stylists, 1 coordinator, a producer/director friend and his pomeranian, a production assistant, 2 or 3 representatives of the film company, a producer of the film who had not been part of the production for quite some time but now seemed to be available to visit our photo shoot, and a pizza boy. I'm sure I'm leaving someone out. It was a scene straight out of central casting. If I had put this in a film people would be rolling their eyes ("Gee, look, a pizza original").

As I walked into all this activity, Johnny, our assistant, looked at me and said "you look SO stressed."

"I'm just focused" I lied. The early, unexpected rush had me scrambling to keep up at first. And the roster I was given was a little misleading. We ended up having not 7 to 10, but thirteen models that day. There was A LOT to take care of in a short time. But, as soon as Johnny said that to me I took a deep breath and relaxed. It really was time to focus. A stressed out producer does no one any good.

"Brett, there's a neighbor at the door" said Ali.

"What does he want?" I asked but I was already at the door. I was greeted by a skinny, nervous man who was sweating as much from stress as from the summer heat.

"Any other day, I'd be fine with this, I really would" he began.

"What's wrong?"

"Really, any other day this would be fine, but..."

The house we were shooting in was in the West Hollywood hills, perched on the side of a canyon. During the afternoon, we did indeed see people out on their decks or walking through their yards. And, yes, we saw a party in progress on a patio across the way. We all laughed at this for a moment -- "they're getting a nice little show" -- then thought nothing of it. The women were all wearing swimsuits, and occasionally were asked to take off their tops. The nature of Maxim, though, is a general circulation publication. Though topless, the women had had to cover their bits. To help this we had generously styled them with beaded jewelry, necklaces and such.

"I'm hosting a fundraiser at my house, just across the canyon. I've got a house full of priests and nuns. And there are nude women out here. I saw her butt."

"Sir, all of the models are wearing swimsuits."

"I saw her butt!"

"I assure you there is no full nudity in our shoot. All the models have bikini bottoms on. Besides, we're done with all the exterior shoots."

"Like I said, any other day this would be fine..."

We went around and around with this for a minute. I was being as polite as possible but he was not comforted. He insisted that his guests, the whole bunch of priests and nuns, had seen a fully naked bottom (gasp) writhing around on the terrace garden. I didn't blame the guy. I was doing my job running a shoot, he was doing his protecting his guests.

He went away unsatisfied with my response. Inside the house we all had a good laugh about the situation. I don't think they did in his house. After he left we looked across the canyon. On his patio where there once were party-goers mingling and sitting about in chairs there was now a line of broad shouldered men, their backs to the canyon shielding the view from the party-goers inside.

His guests did indeed see a butt writhing around on the terrace garden, though not fully naked. They had witnessed the voluptuous bottom of Ms. Darryl Hanah, an adult film actress (two Rs, one N), who, when in front of the camera became so charged with fuck-me-now sexuality that I'm certain more sensitive observer could not imagine she was not wearing clothes, much like our first model, Rebeca. I was a little surprised by the intensity of her look too. Ms. Hanah had such a laid back quality when she arrived. She was so easy-going and warm as she waited patiently for her slot, only to become filled with a hard, ravenous eroticism on the set. That's what she's paid for, and she knows her job. Her husband Jack -- also an adult film actor -- was there with her, and they settled in easily for several hours. When Darryl was finished the two hung around for awhile, at one point smoking a joint and watching the party of priests and nuns out on the deck.

"The Girls of National Lampoon's Homo Erectus" included straight actresses and adult film actresses. A few of them were in the initial shoot of the film and a few were only from the additional nude scenes. From the "straight" world were the 3 beautiful Zima sisters, Jilina Scott, a woman whose recent credits include a spot in the reality show "The Search for the Next Elvira", and a couple of other up-and-comers. From the adult side were Rebeca, Marie Luv, Faye and, as I mentioned, Darryl Hanah. There was also the lovely Andrea Lowell, a 2006 Playboy Playmate.

All of the models -- the novices and the professionals -- did impressive work. Many of the adult actresses brought their A game and looked like high fashion models. (As one person said to me "they're so happy that someone is asking them to put clothes ON that they eat it up.") And the straight actresses, though most were hesitant, had a great time exploring their sexy sides and became very playful and sensual. I'm very proud to say that we had more good photos than bad (kudos Wlater). It was all really a success in my book. Let's see what Maxim thinks.

It was a loooong day. We had to get the photos to Maxim on Friday so Walter, the director, Ali and I did an initial review of all 2100+ photos before heading home at about 1:30am. It took much of the next day to complete a second review and get all the submission info together. We weren't able to get the photos off until Saturday, but it all worked out well and I was just told that Maxim is very pleased with their initial review.

So much of my work is tangible: drawing, painting, etc. I've worked often as an art director and spent half my life as a designer, where my ideas are produced by others. Even then the final product is a tangible, tactile reproduction of my drawings and concepts. I've brought them to life on paper first. But a project like this is different. I have to provide ideas only, suggestions, thoughts, and then completely rely on others to produce the real work. It's an interesting change of pace. At least I'm confident in my eye, and I really thrive in collaborative environments, so when the opportunity comes to stretch the limits of my blah, blah, blah... Oh, and I really enjoy accessorizing half-naked women.


Keep your eyes open for the feature on "The Girls of National Lampoon's Homo Erectus". Then you too will be able to say "I saw her butt!"

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...