And there I had it – the call to ask me whether I’d want to work with Frederic Beigbeder. The famous writer, media personality, TV presenter (the last one please close the door!) was coming over to host a lecture in the city of Varna and, understandably, a number of interviews would be given in-between.
When I discussed the details with Thea, who was our direct contact with the man, the harsh reality came up fast as expected – I’d have between 30 and 45minutes at most (depending on how the interview before the photoshoot went). I’d basically be free to do whatever I wanted, as long as we stuck to the timeframe and the location. It was a beach bar in the heart of the city, on the verge of the sea – one of the hottest places around and that’s basically all I could dig up as preproduction information.
At this point I could sum up this assignment up pretty well:
-I was to shoot Beigbeder in a place I knew little about, have less than an hour to do whatever I want, as long as it results in usable images and then be back the very next day, having driven a 1000km total.
I was basically like…
And then, as usual, I started thinking it through (better late than never!).
Most of my work requires time to be properly set up and time to be properly executed. It’s about achieving a result, which has been previously thought-through and defined down to the little details.
Then built on the actual set.
And then be shot until.it.works.out.
Working with my team could speed things up a lot (not to mention how much better it is to have professionals on your side for different parts of the production). But due to the very nature of this assignment, having a large team was obviously not an option.
So I’d have to take my second best guess.
BE. PREPARED. (not that one shouldn’t always be!)
Obviously, I hadn’t met Beigbeder before. So the general approach towards the photoshoot and ideas I’d gathered were to come from impressions from his books, quotations and public stories.
In a way I feel they’d be appropriate for him, of course.
So (in-between the unsung horror of two different business photosessions few days before it), I managed to come up with at least 4 or 5 different concepts, spent more than 30 hours of building CGI backgrounds (again, due to the location requirements I felt those were needed for at least two of the images I wanted to create) and adjusted my lighting set-ups in a way to make them look homogeneous with the environments.
Or, to put it simple – I wanted to know exactly what each of the images would look like before I’ve even picked my camera up, before I even left the city for the shoot. I wanted to build each of the set ups in my head, play it through a number of times, see how it’d fail under different circumstances (since the location was, as I said, more of a mystery to me with only generic guidelines available).
These are some very early cgi setups
Еach of the items was to be shot in accordance with the final renders. That was my way of feeling prepared.
Lighting gear took a little to optimize, and due to these specific parameters I opted for a light-weight mobile kit, powered by batteries and two continuous sources just in case the opportunity to use them indoors arose.
And off I drove on early morning before July morning. Just before I stepped in my car, another car lost control and crashed in the pub down the street, missing me just barely. “Such an optimistic start”, I thought. And then I pressed the gas pedal .
Almost six hours and the whole country later we were in the place. Heat was as unspeakable as expected. I called Thea to say we’d arrived and we’ll be setting up the gear. She told me that Beigbeder wasn’t to wear the suit I’d asked for a few days before due to the heat. When we actually walked into the bar itself, I saw that the space we’d have wouldn’t allow to make precision lighting without significantly rethinking the setup. So rethinking began, since I didn’t want to give up so easily and since there’d be no suit, then there might be no clothes at all, I thought!
We were almost finished, all the lights set, when the man showed up with Thea and the guys from Colibri Publishers.
He asked for a quick swim before all else, which he enjoyed and we got to chat a little. I listened to him chat with the other guys on the set. And then he swam, and then he came back and the interview started.
And as I listened the conversation unfold, I got this feeling that almost none of these predefined, structured ideas that I’d built for all of these hours of thinking were suiting his mood now, nor the place, nor the general attitude a person could feel from hearing him speak live. They were images I’d crafted in my head for a person I knew only through the things I’ve read, but as he spoke with the interviewer they started to just feel “not right”.
And I was to make a call and make it fast – should I simply leave everything I’d prepared for and go with the flow or should I push harder for the initial plan, knowing that even if I’m lucky, I’d get two successful images at most. Beigbeder’s general attitude was so down-to-Earth and yet the things he was talking about ringed true to me throughout the whole interview, that I knew that had I pushed him to go for the suit and stick to the original concepts, he would probably agree, but
..did I really feel it was right?
I left them all.
There was a necktie in my photography backpack, which I purchased for a special wedding last year.
I asked him to bite it.
There was a random typewriter right next to our table in the bar. (Why is there a typewriter on a beach bar, which screams “sun, sand, sea, alcohol”?). I guess if I was a writer I’d know?
I was cautious, but Mira reassured me it was a good thing to do. It seemed like a good thing to do. So we picked it up and I asked him to go back to the beach.
Then lie down on it, despite the hundreds of people around and pretend there was nobody here – just him, his thoughts and the ocean eternal. He did it as if he was doing it every day before breakfast. Or supper. Or whatever.
Obviously, the whole thing became the beach’s local attraction.
I tried really.hard.to.make.it.look.casual, as if that’s what happens on every other shoot.
Not that I really had to, since Frederic was so all in and welcoming the ideas, that I could’ve as well just shut up (which would have been a really nice idea, looking back to it).
А part of being professional is, I believe, not.to.screw.up! No matter what time it is. No matter the place. Once you’ve said “I will”, you’d better make sure that you do. Such an attitude could lead, I believe, to a better world for everyone else. But what if not screwing up sometimes means to just go with the flow, rather than try to direct it to where you think it’s necessary?
Might it be a part of the “growing up” – the ever elusive thing, which is almost impossible to synthesize in a few words, but, when it happens, no one needs words either way, because it’s felt down to the smallest particle of being human.
Beigbeder has, not even knowing, given me an unexpected food for thought, which transcends far beyond this particular assignment and into the vast frontier of knowing oneself.
And I will remember.
With special thanks to everyone involved.