Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Photo Worthy

A partial view of Angie's dining room.

This past week I assisted Country Living magazine as they shot a future editorial on the home of my friend, Angie.

Four years ago I sent a disc full of images to CL to consider Angie's home for a story but I never heard back from them. Then last year, a scout for CL came through KC and I took her to the house again. After seeing the images this time, the new editorial staff decided they wanted to shoot the home for a summer issue. We got the news at the last minute and because of my former connections they emailed me and asked if I had any recommendations for a stylist assistant. Without thinking I said, "What about me?" A few emails later and I found myself booked for five days helping them to get this house on glossy pages.

A lot goes into shooting a home for a magazine. Most onlookers are simply amazed at the production involved in creating a beautiful story. The short list:

1. Publishing Data: The deadline, the month, what season, what look or theme, how many pages, how many set ups?
2. Man Power: The homeowner, style editor, stylist, stylist assistant, photographer, photographer assistant, gofer and writer. Then back at the magazine: photo editor, executive editor, editor in chief and publisher. (and that's all I know about!)
3. Schedule: The flights, the hotel, the rental cars, the equipment, the shipments.
4. Location: What rooms to shoot, what angle, what light, what props; what does the homeowner have, what do they need? Will we shoot food? Flowers? What furniture works, what doesn't? Then maybe a family portrait with kids and/or pets and one if the biggest factors: weather. All in all, weeks of planning, planning and more planning; also known as pre-production.

A bit of the living room.

Day 1: I met the Brooklyn stylist at her hotel as we looked at snapshots of the house and reviewed the list of what was needed to get ready for the shoot. I spent the day driving her around KC trying to find the best flowers we had to offer. Little did either of us know that the recent Iceland volcano halted most flower deliveries from Holland so the perfect bouquet of peonies was just not to be found. 14 stops later we tried every florist in town, ran through the antique mall for some misc. props, Pottery Barn for a sisal rug, Curious Sofa for a van full of other goodies and lunch at the famous Arthur Bryant's. The home owner's house is nearly perfect and jammed with plenty of props but there is a strong possibility this house will warrant a cover shot so everything had to be just right. This is when extra everything is in order: pillows, quilts, pictures, lamps, vases- you name it, because once the camera is in place, you just never know what will work and what will not.

After the first day Angie was amazed at the mayhem of it all. Furniture being moved, daylight being studied, colors being discussed as if it would make or break the issue and the endless opinions of everyone!

Pearl among the boxes.

Day 2: I picked up rental tables to work from out of Angie's garage, swung by the store for tools and merchandise, unloaded and organized all we had collected, painted a side table a different color and unboxed extra textile shipments from New York. While the rest of the crew was doing the walk-through and determining the shot list, I spent the afternoon gutting the homeowners screened-in porch. Not only was it ready for a makeover (suggested by the homeowner herself) but it needed the after-winter wash down. Dozens of dead plants, dirty pots, hanging baskets and objects were moved to the yard then I removed all cushions, unscrewed nine storm windows and washed and washed the place to a shiny new beginning. There is nothing like working from a blank slate!

Part of the new porch ready for the family portrait.

I suggested Blanc Burger for lunch at Mission Farms (who wouldn't love truffle fries?) then we all returned to the home to continue. As I was still working on the porch the photographer and style director were preparing and tweaking, confirming and studying the bedroom for the cover. There were many email images sent back and forth to the mother-ship in New York for confirmation, suggestions and fine tuning and still more lists were being made on this end of what we would need in the a.m. to begin.

At the end of the day the stylist went in one direction and I in another. I needed one more coat of paint on the table and a stop by the store for more props: a bench, floral pillows, feather topper, steamer and sewing machine. We shared a few late-night text messages confirming and reminding each other of even more details, then off to bed.

The famous bedroom before the makeover.

Day 3: I began the day jump-starting the car of Angie's husband as he was trying to leave for work. Then boom- our team was off and running. I unloaded the van and began steaming sheets and pillowcases, unpacking the overnight deliveries of flowers, more quilts and rugs from New York and tracking orders not yet here. Then the rain started and really put a sloppy mess and dreary light on the day but we couldn't let that slow us down. As all of us trekked back and forth from garage to bedroom carrying alternative choices for each shot: we redid, redressed, refluffed and rearranged the bedroom cover shop at least a dozen times. Different color quilts, sheets, pillows, lamps, props and vases. Different camera angles (was there room for the title of the magazine and all the cover copy?) Somewhere in the middle of all of that the laundry room was shot and the entire family arrived (grandchildren and all) for a wonderful group shot on the newly styled porch. A quick lunch and more rooms were being dismantled, rugs rolled up and flowers, flowers and more flowers being cut and arranged using every type of pitcher and object in the house. Things were not going as quickly as we wanted and all of us became punch-crazy by 5:30 wanting so desperately for this day to end. The style director even postponed her flight home so we could continue. Finally at 6:50 they wrapped the bedroom shot and all of us worked like little munchkins getting the room back to Angie's original design. Working from iPhone images we shot earlier, we recreated the room the way the she actually lives in it without a publications point of view.

I ended the day limping and walking like I had run a marathon! Oh these old bones- I just can't do too many days like this. Where is my strapping Jethro when I need him? Because of flights back home we begin at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. We're all hoping for a much quicker, confident day of shooting. Now where is my Tylenol?

Day 4: Up at 4 a.m. because the adrenalin was pumping I guess. This was our final day of shooting. A pot of coffee and off I went to the house again for an early call. Today was much more relaxed, the rain had stopped and the stylist and photographer moved around the house arranging and shooting like a fine oiled machine. This is how I remember it! After every set up, shots were downloaded and confirmed via computer screen before we moved to the next shot and then I went back to strike the set and replace objects where they originally belonged.

The photographer checking the images.

The writer also arrived today and for hours followed Angie into every room, hearing of how this house came together from the renovation 9 years ago, to her style, her collections and finally to the soul of the home she created.

Every hour I headed to the garage to fold and pack, organize and clean. I made a new last minute curtain, cut photo worthy watermelons, folded sheets perfectly back into their plastic and started my list of returns. My iPhone service quit on me for the day and I felt completely inadequate at handling any emergencies (boy how the crew was depending on those things) but I managed to make three trips returning merchandise not used or rented, loading the van with 14 boxes shipping back to New York, cleaned and cut buckets of flowers to distribute amongst ourselves (one of the great perks of photo shoots) and walk-through the house one last time to get the a final thumbs up all was good for the home owner.

The lovely prop flowers.

Now the craziest part of all is many of us never saw most of the final shots! With so many people, props and equipment, the B team seldom sees what goes on inside the camera. Which I guess is a good thing as when the magazine comes out, it will be a real surprise for all.

Rumor has it this may make the July issue. I'll remind you to pick up a copy. For now, to bed. I have a shop to take care of tomorrow!
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