Let me start by stating, I’m not a professional stills photographer…and this is my personal experience. I’ve been lucky enough to shoot BTS (Behind The Scenes) and do EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for two movies (Stars Fell on Alabama and Stars Fell Again).
The main purpose of a Unit Stills Photographer, or simply still photographer, is to capture the essence of the filming process and provide the studio with promotional photos/videos to help promote the film. Regarding the EPK aspect, the cast and crew interviews are also performed.
Again, this is my experience and it goes as follows:
- The night before the cast/crew receive a call sheet. This sheet includes call time for each person/department and the location of the shoot with specific parking instructions. If you’re not filming on a studio lot, you will be filming in a town/city and parking is critical. Filming is usually a 12 hour day, with breakfast/lunch served.
- Arriving on Set – Covid testing either daily or every other day and mask wearing is mandatory. The first few days are usually the most challenging, you don’t know anyone, and the set is new and there’s a lot of excitement in the air. As a stills photographer, it’s my job to not be seen or in the way. I do not move any equipment, nor do I interrupt the filming process. There’s a safety meeting before filming begins, as well as any rules that production has set forth.
- And Action – for those that haven’t been on a set or know the process, usually the shooting process is not done in chronological order, shooting schedules take a lot of preparation and origination. Each scene is shot from multiple angles and many, many takes. I like to include cameras and boom mic’s in my shots to show the whole scene and to capture the whole vibe.
- 12 Hour Days – long days and lots of movement. The entire day everyone is moving and working. Once the scene is setup the grips (A Grip is responsible for setting up, rigging, and striking lighting equipment on set. They are also responsible for keeping equipment organized, and sometimes equipment maintenance.) are on standby to make changes quickly and efficiently. PA’s (Production Assistant’s – They get the cast, crew and set ready for each day’s shoot. They help clearly communicate instructions from the director to the cast and crew.) are all around giving keeping the set clear from folks walking by, keeping everyone quiet.
- Dumping Footage – on the first film (Stars Fell on Alabama) when my day was over I edited my photos and then at the end of the movie, uploaded them to a sharing site. This film, I organize all the raw files and video into a folder and then the following day, give the sd card to the DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) They advise the DoP (Director of Photography) on contrast, brightness and the effects of under or over-exposure, as these constraints are different from shooting with film. They also advise the camera crew on shots in progress, reporting any soft focus, framing issues or unwanted reflections and shadows.
The still photographer is a unique position, as you’re next to the actors and film crew all day, watching and learning the filming process. As I write this, I have roughly 6 more days on set. I head back to Atlanta on Monday to complete my tasks, as I will be getting a shot list from the production company (Samuel Goldwyn Films) Monday. This is the first time I will have been given a set of shots to complete, so I’m excited to see what that entails. I will also be doing the Cast Interviews. This will be where the actors are sitting and answering questions about the film.