In the first few days of spring, it can be a little trying when you wake up to temperatures that feel as cold as -19 °C. Winter has overstayed it’s welcome here in Toronto. It’s not all bad though, as this year’s record cold season made for some spectacular ice forming around Niagara Falls. These shots were captured during one of the February deep freezes.
Once again, I made the trip out west for some much needed rejuvenation over the holidays. This past year I was lucky enough to return to the coast on three occasions. These are the scenes that keep me going when toiling away in the concrete jungle.
I recently had a chance to work with a troupe of contortionists here in Toronto with Cirque du Soliel’s Kurios. Circus performers are among my favourite people to work with, and this time was no exception. They are unbelievably strong, incredibly flexible, and outright professionals. As they defied gravity and bent over backwards, it was hard not to be inspired by the beauty and precision of their movement. Thanks to photo assistant Drew Graham, and to Natalia Zurawska for hair and makeup.
The Guinness responsible use shot has picked up another award, this time in the Comm Arts 2014 Photo Annual. There’s a selection of great work in the issue, and I’m excited and honoured to be included!
I’m excited to announce that I’ve moved into a new studio space! Located in the heart of the studio district, this beautifully raw space is full of character and natural light. The century old building has been home to many photographers and artists since it’s origin as the Wrigley gum factory. With plenty of space to shoot, along with a comfy lounge area to throw ideas around and meet with clients, I couldn’t be more excited to see what 2014 will bring. Drop in anytime!
A talented acrobat, musician, and circus performer, Raphael Cruz never ceases to to put on a show. We caught up with him in Ottawa while he was in town performing with Les 7 Doigts de la Main, a circus troupe out of Montréal. Before that, Raph was in Los Angeles performing the lead roll in Cirque du Soleil's production Iris. It was there where he worked closely with Danny Elfman on developing the score for the show – one that he played on the piano while simultaneously flipping and twisting to the choreography of the show. Raph’s next stop is in Sochi, where he’s been for the past two months, assistant directing a large component of tomorrow’s opening ceremonies for the 2014 Olympic Games. Clearly Raph keeps in good company, and it’s not hard to see why when you have a chance to collaborate with him. He’s a true talent.
Here’s a look at some of the shots we got.
Olympic gymnastics coach, gifted poet, and self proclaimed luckiest guy around. Enter the world of Dave Arnold. I had the chance to connect with Dave as part of an ongoing project with writer Inna Gertsberg. We spent the day exploring country roads, reading poetry, shooting guns, talking about religion, and eating fish and chips. Our own little Jack Kerouac novel. Dave provided no shortage of amazing shots. Here’s a peak at some of what we got.
It was mid October, and there we were trying to make our shot look like a chilly scene from the Grey Cup game day - not an easy endeavour given the shoot day temperature was above 10°C. To make matters slightly more interesting, our hero prop for the shot was the one and only Grey Cup – not an item to be trifled with. Thankfully we had a few tricks up our sleeve get the shot. This campaign for Nissan came to us from Guilherme Bermejo and Nicholas Doerr over at TBWA Toronto. The main shot shows a football player kissing the Grey Cup after a chilly winning game, while his lips get stuck to the frozen metal trophy. The second shot shows players celebrating and pouring Gatorade on their coach, only what comes out of the cooler is a solid block of ice, knocking the coach unconscious.
We knew it would be the fine details that would really pull this campaign together. Beginning with the Grey Cup itself, we needed to have our talent’s lips stick to the cup, and we wanted the trophy to look frosty. Two things easily solved with a little double sided tape for the lips and some polymer special effects ice crystals for the frost. Without being sure if we could apply either of these to the actual Grey Cup, we had a backup plan to apply them to a stand-in cup we built ourselves, then transfer them to the real cup in post. In the end, we were permitted to use the actual trophy to shoot both elements, and sadly the stand-in cup never saw the limelight.
To bring us further into a cold world, we layered in some steam for the breath and the sweaty players. We then took a layer of snow and applied it to the field in post. Our final cold element appearing in the second shot was the block of ice that came from the cooler, which we had custom flash frozen out of Gatorade.
Finally, we needed to fill the grandstands with a crowd. We opted to shoot this at a CFL game in the same stadium the night before. This gave us a seamless blend with our hero shot, and kept our budget in check by eliminating the need for background talent to fill the seats.
Thanks to Gui, Nick, Rodger Eyre and the team at TBWA for such a great creative project. And thanks to Natalia Zurawska and Kirsten Reader for making the guys looks like sweaty athletes, and to the crew: Dwain Barrick, Abe Roberto, Ian Patterson, Sam Grant, and Spencer Robertson for another long day.
Earlier this year I had a chance to collaborate with Yusong Zhang and Dave Barber over at Grey. They came to me with a great concept, and it was hard to go wrong. Apparently Communication Arts thought so too, and accepted the ad into the 2013 Advertising Annual. Congrats to Yusong, Dave and Patrick Scissons for the award! I think it’s time for a celebratory pint of the good stuff.
The opera music echoes around the wood paneled walls of the billiard room. Over by the fireplace someone is tweaking the position of a century old rolling ashtray. I regain focus and return to our current task of lighting the suit of armour in the corner. Minutes away from our first shot, I leave the set and stroll past the bowling alley and down the hall of the largest mansion I’ve ever set foot in. I find our hero talent in the servant’s kitchen –er… holding area. We’re ready to shoot.
We scream through our shots in the billiard room, and move on to the dining room. Followed by the grand stairway. Then the sun room. And on, and on. What started out as a three shot campaign has somehow ballooned into seven shots and seven different setups. To top it all off, we have to delicately dance around all the priceless artifacts and décor in the hundred year old mansion that is our location.
15 long hours later, the last of our gear is packed into the truck. A minor emergency ensues when we realize the wheel of cheese prop has been locked inside the mansion. I am not leaving without the cheese. The crew surrounds the house, tracks down the security guard, and the cheese is recovered. Crisis averted.
Projects this good don’t come along very often: a shoot day in a fantastic location, a great concept, a crew and creative team that push the limit to make every shot the best it can be, and above all a client that is open to such a unique campaign. My only regret is not banging out a tune on the built-in pipe organ.
Thanks to Dan Bache, Geoff Morgan and the crew at Giants & Gentlemen for such a great project. A huge thanks to our crew for making this happen: Stephen Connor at Pinpoint Locations for finding the perfect location, Anita Cane and Kirsten Reader for making the guys look their best, and to the tireless assistants Abe Roberto, Ian Patterson, Mike MacMurchy, and Spencer Robertson for all their hard work.
Oh, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a bottle of the fine wine that is 19 Crimes.
Back in the summer I got a call from the creative folks over at Giants & Gentlemen to work on a campaign for the Canadian launch of 19 Crimes wine. In collaboration with art director Dan Bache and writer Geoff Morgan, it's no surprise that a gangster themed wine shoot quickly turned into one of the coolest projects I've ever worked on. Here's a sneak peak of some of the work. Lots more coming soon!
I recently had the chance to do a portrait of a real life Indiana Jones. Burton Lim is a batman. When he’s not crawling through mountains of bat dung deep in the caves of Vietnam, Borneo or [insert exotic location here], he can be found deep underneath the ROM here in Toronto. His research has led to many new species discoveries, and even more stories of adventure.
Took a trip out to the ol’ Badlands in Caledon, Ontario to test out a timelapse rig. Working with Dwain Barrick, we set up a couple of cameras to capture the sunrise. Nothing like a 3am wakeup call. Here’s a little snippet of what we got.
When someone asks you if you're interested in shooting one of the top oyster shuckers in the country, you are intrigued. If they ask whether you'd like to shoot a cross dressing, metal band front man, you stop what you're doing and listen closely. Then you find out this happens to be the same person, who also bears the titles political speech writer and concert pianist. Yes, all you need to know now is where and when.
Collaborating with writer Inna Gertsberg, we set out to discover the character that is Anthony. Having a schedule that is as eclectic as the man himself, we were fraught with sorting out last minute production details for the shoot. Four piano moving episodes and one dead truck battery later, we sat down with Anthony in the studio. With our research for the shot spanning from Iggy Pop to Rachmaninoff to Eddy Izzard, we knew we had an interesting day in store. As you can imagine, Anthony did not disappoint, giving us a generous and captivating session.
Thanks to assistant Elijah Yutuc for helping out on the day, and to Rich Rapkowski and Sharj Zulqernain who are now qualified to start a weekend piano moving business.
When I first met Anthony, I had the opportunity to listen to him play in the church where he practices piano. I Couldn't resist including a few of the snaps from that evening.
It's 5 am and we're speeding down a dark snowy road, deep in the backwoods of Maine. Another sip of sludge hotel coffee, and somehow my sleep deprived body doesn't have enough energy to recoil from the revolting taste. I'm lucky enough to be riding shotgun for this leg of the trip, which gives me a few sparing chances to catch some shut eye on the way to our location. Unfortunately the festering pre-shoot adrenaline has another agenda. Then it occurs to me: we are blindly following two people we just met into remote New England forest to shoot a massive, tree-eating logging machine, with no clue how to get back. Fargo meets Deliverence. Oh, and did I mention we're in Steven King's hometown? We're on day nine of a 16 day production that takes us to 11 locations, three provinces, two states, and far too many complimentary continental breakfasts. Our assignment is to shoot massive machines and the technicians that work on them. We just finished our leg through Montreal, which had to be some of the coldest conditions I've ever shot in. A plate of poutine and a pint later, and the cold was a distant memory. We managed to squeeze in a whopping two hours of sleep before being stung with a 3am wakeup call for our flight down to Bangor, Maine.
After braving the cold in Montreal, a little snow in the backwoods of Maine seems like child's play. Then we decide to do a follow shot of the monstrous logging machine. We'll be moving on foot through a tangled mess of downed trees and four feet of snow. When we're not dodging flying trees while trying to light and shoot the machine, we're punching through waist deep snow. It's slow going. Before long, the ever resourceful photo assistant, Aaron Hoskins, manages to track down a pair of snowshoes to keep him afloat.
Wrapping up our shoot days in Maine, we head off for the obligatory east coast lobster feast. Word on the street is that the best lobster in town is on the permanently moored boat-restaurant down in the port. Yes, a suspicious old boat that's been converted into a restaurant. Against our better judgment, we trust local advice and climb aboard. In true American fashion, we each got a plate with two lobsters for cheaper than the price of one. Makes perfect sense. So, with full bellies and our New England shoot days under our belt, it's off to Portland's aptly named Jetport to head home and regroup in Toronto.
Two weeks later, we're back on the move, this time to Edmonton. One of the challenges with shooting large machines on location is often the environment they work in. Over the course of this shoot, we've had to brave different obstacles at every location. If it's not the flying debris and strong winds we had in Massachusetts, it's the abnormally high static electricity threatening to fry the camera we were trying to rig to a crane in Oakville. In Edmonton, it is the seemingly innocuous clay soil. While setting up and shooting one of the first shots, I'm standing behind the camera for a few minutes getting things sorted. As soon as I try to move, lo and behold my feet are completely locked in the mud. I don't know whether to laugh or panic. After a few deep breaths, some calm and collected jiggling of my feet, minutes later I break free. But not without six inches of mud stuck to the bottom of my boots. Welcome to Edmonton. It's not long before all our gear is also covered in thick, greasy clay. Fantastic.
Our final shoot day of the whole project takes us to a worksite full of nothing but massive pipes. I'm not sure whether I should be more afraid of the deadly piles of pipes we have to set up beside while shooting, or the salty workers who have no patience for us taking over their work area. With the efficiency of a team on our tenth shoot day, we blast off our three shots and officially wrap what is one of the longest shoots I've ever done.
Shooting on location is always an adventure, and this project did not disappoint. Thanks to Art, Michael and the team at Atlanta Visual Communications for the inspiring creative collaboration. Thanks also to Steve Wallace at Barnes Communications, and of course to Bob Dryburgh, Charlene Kelly and the entire team over at Strongco.
With the close of a fantastic year, I went on my annual pilgrimage to the mountains in BC. Swimming through waste deep lines, getting powder shots to the face, yes, the snow was five meters deep. The only thing that approaches the beauty of the white alpine world is the cold pint that is the Après. There is no more inspiring way to ring in the new year than to soak up some time in the mountains. I have a feeling 2013 is going to be a good year.
What do you do when you have three days notice to pull off a location car shoot? Well, after sheer panic and some frantic scheduling, the adrenalin kicks in and there's no more time to waste. The call came in from the folks at TBWA and the self proclaimed, ultra laid back team of Dan Bache and Matt Williamson. Seemed like a bit of a misnomer considering the lightning pace of this project. This particular shot was highlighting Nissan's sponsorship of SickKids hospital in Toronto. The concept involved a young patient holding her hand out the window of a moving car, playing with the wind on her way home from the hospital. A simple visual that pretty much anyone who's been in a car can identify with.
First and foremost, we made the decision to shoot on location. Sounds like a no brainer, but often times cars will be shot in studio, then dropped into a location background in post. By shooting everything on location, right away we have a more realistic feel to the shot, showing subtle environmental reflections throughout the body panels of the car.
I had pitched the agency on shooting into the sun, to create a warm and positive feeling. As luck would have it, with our shoot only days away, the forecast was looking terrible. With two of our three pre-production days spent location scouting, lo and behold on the day before the shoot there were blue skies. We jumped at the opportunity to head out and shoot a few sunny backgrounds. Consider it an insurance policy in case the weather didn't cooperate on the shoot day.
In order to make the car appear moving, we needed to have a background that shows motion blur. While it's possible to blur a shot in post, there's no substitute for the real thing. So we hop in the car with yours truly hanging out the trunk shooting long, blurred shots of an empty road. Nothing like an exhilarating shot out the back of a car to add some excitement to the madness of our three day pre-production.
Sure enough, when we show up on our shoot day, the rain is pouring down. Given we were on a very tight budget, we had a small crew, and very little provisions to deal with rain. While it was great to have the sunny backgrounds to fall back on, we had one major hurdle to deal with: rain drops on the car. A tarp over the car was out of the question due to reflections and colour casts. We decided to fly a large sheet of clear plastic to protect the vehicle from the rain, while still giving us a realistic sky reflection in the car. Well, not only is a large sheet of plastic good for blocking rain, it's even better at picking up wind and almost blowing over our entire set. It was all hands on deck from that point forward.
There we were, in the pouring rain, with a battery light acting as our sun, trying to make it look like a beautiful sunny day. It was an endless task wiping down stray raindrops from the car. Dan sent a snapshot of our soggy production to Creative Director Allen Oke. It's all part of the act, I reassured Dan.
After getting our shot with the talent, there appeared to be a break in the clouds. Could it be? If we removed the plastic rain cover, there was no time to reset it, not to mention we had no more dry towels left to wipe up any more rain. A few moments of quick contemplation, and we decided to strike the plastic. With the crew moving in hyper speed, we banged off all the frames we needed, giving us some clean body shots to build our final image. The gamble paid off.
With just one day to work on post, we needed to move fast. After some serious screen time, a session of revisions with Dan at the pub, and one very late night, we had our final image. All in all, not too shabby for having shot in the pouring rain.
Thanks to Dan Bache and Matt Williamson for another great project. And to the hardworking, soaking wet crew of Aaron Hoskins, Nick Wong and Daniel Garcia, we couldn't have pulled it off without you guys.
After a jam-packed run from January to August, I took the plunge and escaped out west for a few weeks. Spent some time to reset in Big Sur on the coast of California. One of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and exactly what I needed. Far from the restrictions of studios, lights or layouts, I had a chance to follow my eye and shoot what inspires me. Here are a few snaps from the trip.
The car lurches suddenly to the left. Again. We're speeding down the highway to Montreal with 1200 pounds of gear and people packed into the vehicle. While this is a normal amount of gear for this size of production, it just happens to be in, and on, my tiny Honda Fit hatch back. You see, this is a creative shoot, and saving a bit of cash on a rental van seemed like a good idea at the time. So with grip and props strapped precariously to the roof, and a retaining wall of lighting, wardrobe and luggage stacked carefully around the passengers, we trundle forwards. By this time tomorrow, we'll be shooting Cirque du Soleil acrobats.
Sipping the last few gulps of road trip coffee, we pull up to our hotel. Jumping out of the car into the chilly mid-march evening air, we pause to discuss how to deal with all the gear. A raindrop splashes beside me, no big deal, but somehow it seems too cold to be raining. Then another splash, followed by stifled laughter from above. Yes, we are being spit bombed by a bunch of giggling jackasses a few floors up. Welcome to March break in Montreal, where 18 year olds come from far and wide to try some legal drinking on for size.
A few matrix-like spit dodging maneuvers and we're checking in at the front desk. With our awkward French salutations out of the way, the front desk lady is explaining in broken English how they have made a mistake with our reservation. There's only room for two, and we are three, including myself and the crew. Chalk up another point for March break in Montreal. All part of the adventure though, so I leave my crew to stay at the hotel, and I head off with the hope of staying with the cast at the Cirque du Soleil residence.
A few phone calls later, and I'm good to go with a place to sleep and some unexpected time to spend with the cast before the shoot. After a warm welcome, a few drinks, and a broken conversation confirming call times with the Russian contortionists, it's not long before the performers are breaking out the wardrobe for a few late night tests. We head down to the main room in the residence where Kelsey jumps up on Preston's shoulders, standing two high - they're trying on the long coat for the giant man character in the shot. It's our first look at the wardrobe in context, and right away, it's clear that tomorrow's shoot is going to look amazing.
The morning of the shoot arrives, and we repack the car and squeeze off to location. We're shooting in an amazing old bar in the Plateau district of Montreal. Arriving early, we stage all our gear at the main entrance, ready to go as soon as the door opens. With 17 cast and crew soon arriving, we can only hope that the bar owner comes through on his promise to have his manager arrive at 10am on a Sunday morning to let us in. A few nervous minutes go by, needlessly rearranging stacks of props and gear, and the manager shows. We're in.
What follows is one of the biggest, most complicated, and most rewarding shoots I've ever done. We push the cast and crew to the limits. Not a person in the room is being paid. Everyone is here on good faith and to be a part of an amazing creative collaboration. The day screams past in a blur, everyone is excited to see our creation come to life. With post shoot buzz running high after we wrap, we head off to celebrate over late night dinner and drinks.
Now if only we can figure out how we packed all that gear in the car for our return trip!
Check back for a behind the scenes look at how we got the shot. Thanks to the spit dodging crew of Nick Wong and Dan Tobias for, among other things, dodging spit.