Photography On Set At ‘Bitch Slap’ The Movie

Kevin Warn, the official photographer on the ‘Bitch Slap’ movie set, talks about the skills required of a movie production photographer.

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PHOTOGRILL: Tell us about your photography in general.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Well I am not a one trick pony when it comes to photography. I have my commercial side and my photojournalism side. I started my career shooting fashion when I had the opportunity to go to Japan to shoot for a client, and it has expended from there. I shoot a large variety of subjects including models, bands, movie sets, landscapes, travel, photojournalism, and sports. I have been published here in the US (Skin & Ink, Rebel Ink, Skinz, FHM, Maxim, Scars, Verbicide, Sirens of Cinema) as well as internationally (Tattoo Burst, Fitness Life, Hyakunichiso). My work is both assigned by publications and self assigned. There are several magazines that call me when they have an assignment and I have other clients who purchase photo sets for their magazines. I had the honor of shooting for the Orange County Register (a large newspaper) and now freelance for them. One of my favorite assignments, that has forever changed my life, was shooting the rural conditions in Zimbabwe and Zambia for Rock of Africa, an organization that brings love and supplies to the people there. I have exhibited in Los Angeles and Orange County and would love to exhibit on the East Coast and in other countries.

PHOTOGRILL: Why did you take the ‘Bitch Slap’ movie photos?

PHOTOGRAPHER: My good friend Carrie Tyson, who is a production manager in Hollywood, got me the job. She called and said, “I’m working on a movie called Bitch Slap and they need a still photographer, you available?” Of course I said yes, I mean how can you pass up a job with a name like that!

PHOTOGRILL: You’ve photographed film sets before, what was different about this one?

PHOTOGRAPHER: The difference I felt on this set was the passion everyone had for their job and how much everyone enjoyed being part of it. Everyday it was something new and it got funnier and funnier. From ridiculous outfits, outrageous dialogue, endless water fights in the desert and explosions; you just never knew what was coming next. Rick Jacobson (writer, producer and director) and Eric Gruendemann (writer and producer) are amazing guys and it was such a pleasure working with them.

PHOTOGRILL: What challenges were involved in this shoot?

PHOTOGRAPHER: One challenge was filming out in the desert. Besides being out in the sun all day we had to deal with massive windstorms. It is all fun and games until things start blowing away!

I met with Rick and Eric to go over what they were looking for in regards to the images which would be used for the website, posters, DVD, media, promotions, etc. One of the biggest challenges was that they wanted the images the next morning. So after shooting up to 12 hours a day I had to head back to the hotel and go through all the images and prepare them for delivery the next morning. Talk about late nights and early mornings. It was fun though because all the cast and crew stayed at the same hotel, so a lot of them would come hang out and check out the photos.

When shooting stills on a movie set you really have to keep your focus on what is going on. There are a lot of people moving around and setting things up. I wanted to be as close as possible to the action but also a fly on the wall at the same time. During filming I was usually right next to the main camera to get the angle they were seeing and then at times I would step back and get overall shots to tell more of a story. It is extremely important to watch the rehearsals and also photograph them. Knowing the actor’s moves and camera movements kept me in the action and not in the way.

PHOTOGRILL: Tell us the story of making the photo of the girl fight with fire & smoke.

PHOTOGRAPHER: The movie was filled with some awesome fight scenes thanks to the talented stunt double and coordinator Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill, star of Death Proof and the list goes on). This image was shot during the actual filming of the scene. The smoking background was created from an exploded trailer. For this shot I looked around for the best angle to capture both the girls fighting and the fire. After watching the rehearsal I knew where the action would be and what kind of moves they would be doing. With action shots I like a lot of movement to really portray what is going on. Erin Cummings’ facial expression, hair movement and clothes make the shot. I shot this on a Canon 5D, but my main camera is now a Canon 5D Mark II. I used a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens, shutter speed 1000, f6.3 aperture and ISO 200 to make sure I froze the action.

PHOTOGRILL: How important is it to communicate with people on set?

PHOTOGRAPHER: The nice thing about being on a set is that everyone has worked so hard on set design, wardrobe, makeup, lighting, etc that they all want great photos to show off their work. Everyone was extremely helpful in letting me get the shots I needed. The three main stars, Erin Cummings (Hel), Julia Voth (Trixie) and America Olivo (Camero), knew how to work the camera which made my life that much easier. I think it is important to be able to communicate your vision, especially if it seems ridiculous. I always enjoyed hearing the great comments once you show them the photograph and they say, “I would have never thought about that.” One day after we wrapped, I looked over at Erin Cummings and saw she was completely covered in blood and knew I needed to get a shot of her screaming into the camera. I guided her in front of the flames and told her to scream at me as loud as she could and the resulting image graced the cover of Scars magazine.

PHOTOGRILL: Generally how much equipment did you carry, what & why?

2 Canon 5Ds (one for backup)
Canon 24-70mm f2.8
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS
160 gigs worth of SanDisk compact flash
6 batteries
Base camp I had:
17in Mac Book Pro
1TB WD external hard drive
Blank DVD media
I try to keep my gear to a minimum when shooting, as it gets heavy and in the way. I like working on the fly and to be able to capture the moments when they happen. The great thing about working on movie sets is the light is usually set up for you and you don’t need to bring in your own strobes. With that being said, I did have my complete studio lighting on deck just in case. I try to keep my photos looking as consistent as possible to what the movie actually looks like.

PHOTOGRILL: How do you plan out such an assignment?

PHOTOGRAPHER: My mind is constantly thinking while I am on set. I know there are certain things the production is looking for when it comes to posters, website, media, DVD, etc. So while I am shooting, I am thinking, will this tell a story in one frame? When is the peak action time? When will the actor reveal something about the movie? What are key points that drive the plot? All of this is going through my head at the same time. When taking photojournalism style shots I look for people doing funny or interesting things, showing a whole setup of a scene and capturing the personalities of the people around me.

PHOTOGRILL: What tactics do you use in your photography generally?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Always be prepared. You never know what is going to happen. Every job I do, I am always overly prepared. I rely heavily on my background in photojournalism, as I am a big fan of the emotional, story telling shots, so my camera is always at the ready. It always helps to pay attention and be able to predict what is going to happen next.

PHOTOGRILL: What new skills or change of mindset has allowed you to make more of your opportunities?

PHOTOGRAPHER: In the beginning I lacked the confidence in myself. I think every artist struggles with this especially when starting out. As soon as I realized people liked and wanted my work, I gained a lot of confidence, which lead to many doors opening for me. Everyone is his or her worst critique. I would struggle with thinking my work wasn’t as good as others, until I put myself out there and started swimming. There is a big difference between a big head and confidence.

PHOTOGRILL: What skills do you find indispensable generally?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I have been blessed with the wonderful skill of being able to see and know what is going on around me at all times. I may be focused in one direction but I am aware of my surroundings and what is going on. The ability to predict what is going to happen next has really set my work apart from others. When shooting photojournalism you have to predict what the next move is for someone, when the next big emotional moment will happen, etc and this has helped me hone my skills.

I remember one assignment I shot for the Orange County Register, which was a call that they found a body on the side of a road in a little canyon. When I arrived on the scene I spoke with an officer to get all the details and asked about the people that were already on the scene. I was able to identify the family members so when I saw the mom get out of the car with tears in her eyes, heading over towards the body, I knew those were going to be my big emotional shots. These are shots that will always be burned into my memory. Photographing weddings has also sharpened these skills. You have to know when the moment is going to happen and be prepared for it.

PHOTOGRILL: What self development would you recommend to a serious young photographer?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Shoot, shoot and then shoot some more. You can never learn and practice enough. I still learn something new every time I go out shooting. I think that is part of the fun. My biggest advice is to not sell your self cheap. Many photographers are too concerned with getting their name out so they have cheapened their photography to the point where people are expecting things cheap or free. You can’t make a living from cheap and free; that is called a hobby.

PHOTOGRILL: Some of your favorite memories from being on the set?

PHOTOGRAPHER: A couple of my favorite highlights were taking blackmail photos of cast and crew members snorting fake cocaine. Or the time I was taking Michael Hurst, who plays Cage, back to the hotel and he was only wearing a thong with a tiger head on the front and a robe. He was completely covered in blood because of the scene we just shot and we got pulled over by police. I mean what else would you expect when you drive past a cop car and you have what seems to be a naked man covered in blood in your front seat.

I met some of the funniest people and heard some of the funniest comments to this day. I know there is some behind the scene footage on the website and also on the DVD.

Find more of Kevin Warn’s photography at Kevin’s Site,  His Blog, His Twitter and On Facebook

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