Many often scratch their heads when they stay for the credits at the end of a movie and notice a "still photographer" credit listed. What is a still photographer and what is his or her function on a film? What does the still photographer capture on a set and why? This Examiner.com columnist had the pleasure of capturing the making of a film called Six Gun Savior on four different occasions over the span of roughly eight months. This writer will be writing a series of articles on the subject which will eventually lead up to the release of the supernatural western.
Six Gun Savior originated with producer, Frank Zanca who had eventually met director, Kirk Murray and the two of them decided to combine their ideas. The idea was further refined by Lorraine Ziff and the movie officially began production in the year 2011. A film can be made or broken by how professional a crew turns out to be. The producers of Six Gun Savior apparently had a knack for hiring a talented production crew as this writer discovered throughout his stay with the crew.
As great and inventive as a professional film crew can be, it is that technical side(nuts and bolts) of a finished film that an audience will take for granted. The first rule that filmmakers adhere to is to clearly tell the story that will be shown and any techniques that the filmmakers use in telling their story should be utilized to advance that cause. The icing on the cake is the on screen talent. It is this element that viewers will notice above all others. The producers of Six Gun Savior were able to secure the talents of veterans and freshmen alike for their production. Famed actors such as Martin Kove, Tim Russ and Eric Roberts were cast alongside of talented fresh faces such as Matthew Ziff, Maya Tremblay, Adam LeClair and Kaleo Griffith.
Six Gun Savior was filmed in a variety of locations including the famous standing movie set known as Melody Ranch. The well known backlot has been used in a variety of films such as Django Unchained and television shows such as Deadwood. If you are limited by a modest budget such as the crew of Six Gun Savior were, you will use every known trick in the motion picture book to complete the film. Director, Kirk Murray continually demonstrated his knowledge of the language of film each and every time I was documenting the action. An example of how to push a budget on a film is utilizing the digital camera's settings in order to simulate night, but with all the advantages of filming in the afternoon. It is always much simpler to remove than add light and it will always save costs if you do not need to set up klieg lights which entails a larger crew, insurance and other factors.
As an on set photographer, you are instructed to unobtrusively capture the progress of a film as it it being filmed. You need to be very aware of how many cameras are being used in any given scene and how said scene is being "blocked." The term is derived from live theater wherein a director will position the actors precisely where he wishes taking in to account camera angles in relation to the background. Rehearsals are a wonderful source of photo opportunities because it affords the still photography more opportunity to capture the action from a variety of angles without fear of ruining an actual take.
A historically important backlot like Melody Ranch also allows a photographer the rich chance to take principal actors and crew aside for quick portraiture photo shoots. This kind of photography may also be utilized for promotional purposes in selling a film and getting to know the best places to shoot for future photo shoots. The actors that were photographed over the course of the film shoot included Kaleo Griffith, Maya Tremblay, Matthew Ziff, Blaine Gray, Tim Russ, Luciana Carro, Lorraine Ziff, Michelle Rose and Martin Kove. As a photographer, you need to study their characters in order to capture those characters through your lens. The producers may also reference said portraits to further refine the look and personality of the characters.
Capturing the drama behind the drama of making a film is many times visually exciting. A film like Six Gun Savior needs the talent of a professional special make-up artist. On this film, those services were provided by the incredibly talented and competent artist known as Lisa Hansell. As she applied special prosthetic make-up onto the actors, it was a rich visual environment to capture and it demonstrated just how ingenious these make-up artists truly are with time and budget constraints sometimes hampering their efforts.
Details are important to capture. The attention to detail on Six Gun Savior was noteworthy and laudable. These details also need to be documented. The resulting images could also demonstrate how the filmmakers researched the era depicted in the film and this establishes the filmmakers as detail oriented with a keen eye for verisimilitude. It is always a wise idea to identify the prop master so you can shoot the various props as the need arises throughout an on set still photography assignment.
As filming progresses, the images captured by an on set still photographer begin to form a visual log or a diary of what has been accomplished constructing a film like Six Gun Savior. The camaraderie, ingenuity, determination, frustration and elation that the crew of Six Gun Savior experienced were captured by this photographer. As this is an introductory article I will take this opportunity to thank the incredible crew for allowing me to be part of the experience and in future articles leading up to the release I hope I am able to convey though words and those images just what an incredible ride it truly was!