Creating “the” Shot
Every once in a while the production of a single shot takes on greater importance than simply producing quality, marketable images that cover the shoot brief and content plan. As part of the Getty Images community of art directors, photographers, photojournalists and filmmakers, there are times when you strive to make more out of the process – or at a certain point, the process seems to come alive and take possession of the set and the work takes on a greater significance. The resulting product is, in its own way, an inspiring journey that encapsulates the entire cast and crew for the brief, glorious suspended time that takes places between the words “action” and “cut.”
Earlier in the year, I was assigned a shoot on the footage content plan “business meeting.” As our team had previously created various takes on this and similar business related concepts, we were hoping to take a creative risk to differentiate this shoot from our own collection as well as competitor’s imagery. I had a shot in my head for almost five years of a Caucasian business man surrounded by Chinese businessmen in a Chinese banquet restaurant and we all felt this could fit the needs at hand while also challenge us to raise the visuals above that of typical stock.
I wrote a simple narrative: international business meeting with translator takes place over dinner in an upscale Chinese restaurant that also included a small role for a hostess. The piece was to take on an ethereal, cinematic tone with a visual style borrowing heavily from the rich neon colors of Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” and “2046″ as well as the moody portraiture of Ben Gazarra’s character in Cassavettes’ “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.”
Collaborating with cinematographer Rick Lopez and Magenta Sky Films, we decided to use ultra dynamic lighting and coloring historically not the norm in stock shooting. We upgraded our location from a banquet style ballroom to an intimate, high-end restaurant to target a global business culture. The restaurant – with lush red banquets and dark polished wood – lent itself perfectly to a rich and colorful palate.
Casting was a painstaking process as it is incredibly difficult finding quality middle-aged Chinese actors in New York City (on a budget). With the cast set, we dedicated as much budget as possible to stylist Stephanie Bohn so that she could create an elegant look, weaving modern day business wealth with an affected, quirky eye toward detail (thick rimmed glasses, pinky rings). Hair and make-up artist Masha Gvozdov created a strong 50s look with slick hair and razor straight side parts for men and, for our hostess, a classic buffont and sultry eyes.
A night shoot (closing down the restaurant would have been too expensive), by early morning we had pushed through a good amount of the shot list with plenty of coverage of the business meeting including authentic renditions of greetings, business card exchanges, heated business discussion, laughter, team work, translation scenes, hand held technology scenes, toasting scenes, even an aside of romantic date gone wrong.
One of our last scenes was the “exit scene.” The business men/woman pay the bill and leave the restaurant leaving the hostess alone in the space. In the script she ends the scene by gazing into a fish tank, lit brilliant blue, which was located in the front of the space.
By this time, everyone was either overly exhausted (two extras had to be regularly woken up for takes) or, at the very least, light-headed and not necessarily focused properly (myself included). The talent/crew holding area began to look like an adult sleep-over.
We rehearsed the scene once and something about the actress, Diane Fong’s silence, beauty and presence, brought the crew back into a tight, positive energy. Someone mentioned that she should blow out a candle first – great idea, let’s do it! Collectively we decided to delay the dolly move away from her as she walked toward the tank, this would create a longer shot, again a-typical in the stock world but it would give the scene a real beat of unmistakable poise and drama. At the last second, I told Diane, during the scene, to clear an empty wine glass and hold it loosely stem down in her hand as she gazed at the fish tank. I have no idea why I suggested this. Maybe just to give her character something to do, to occupy her. Maybe my brain had finally shut down.
At this point there was literally a hush as the set quieted. The crew’s energy was fantastic. I called “action” and Diane slowly played out the scene. She cleared the wine glass and, as she got to the fish tank, something happened to her face as she stared at the fish swimming endlessly in circles. The actress had disappeared into character. She was surrounded by glass walls, trapped, exhausted and alone. A great, sweeping longing came over her. Our dolly slowly backed away, taking in the larger scene. Jamie DiVenere, director of creative services, footage, who was visiting the set grabbed my arm in excitement as the frame revealed the glowing wine glass shaking in her delicate fingers. To someone on the street, maybe just an interesting shot, but to the rest of us directly involved, it was stunning. There was something fulfilling – something beautiful and tender – in the moment that rarely comes out in commercial film making.
There were some shots that you can look at and just know you came up short. Other shots where you’re just happy to survive. Then there are those shots that, for some reason, mean something to you. This one, from Getty Images’ footage new one80 collection, is one of those.