Can you tell us a bit about Chris Large? How you got your start? School? Self-taught?
LARGE: I had a previous background in the movies as a sound engineer so I had a good understanding of how movie sets worked. Among other shows, I was the Canadian sound mixer on “Superman 1” and got nominated for an Oscar.
When I got out of movies, I was a Police Officer in the Tactical Support Section (SWAT) in Calgary if you can believe it, but doing photography as a sideline and hobby. A producer friend contacted me and asked me if I could fill in for one day on a tv series – his shooter was sick. He knew I was comfortable with the “on set etiquette” and figured I could bluff my way through the day and maybe get a couple of shots they could use. Go figure….I did get a couple of shots that they liked so they asked me do do some more. One thing led to another and I ended up finishing that series, the producers had another one and one more after that. I did them all on my days off and vacation time (couple of days a week) , I retired and went after it full time.
Now I was a movie shooter…
Can you explain what movies, tv & stills photography is?
LARGE: 99% of all major movie and television programs have a stills photographer on set – features require you to be on set every day, tv movies 1 out of 3 days, tv series 1 or 2 days per episode. The job requires you to shoot stills during rehearsals, during the actual “takes” and quick set-ups after takes or during breaks in the filming. The shots are then used for websites, newspaper ads, magazines, advertising, posters, dvd boxes, you name it.
How do you find your balance in life with the glamour and work you do?
LARGE: The job is no where as glamourous as what people expect. My day is considered short if its only 12 hours on set, then I spend another 2 hours doing a quick edit (to reject anything that I never want to see the light of day). I then rename and renumber the shots, put them on at least 2 back up hard drives, pick out 10 or 15 shots from the day that I like, tweak them in photoshop and email or ftp them to my photo editor at the studio so they get a feel for what the day has been like. I shoot in the rain, in the snow, the sun or night in whatever conditions the movies needs. One recent show had rain towers that dumped 1500 gallons a minute on us for 12 hours a day for 4 weeks solid. Hows that for glamour? The mud was so bad that there was a station of pressure washers to hose us off at the end of the day. Locations can be from the extreme of 5 star hotels to shooting on the top of a mountain for 5 weeks (Disney’s “Eight Below”).
Are there any blind angles, protocols or strategies on set that we’re not aware of?
LARGE: There is a huge set protocol, food chain, involved. One of the best pieces of advise I can give is to get on set on any level – for example as as a “PA” (production assistant) who is directing traffic, cleaning up the lunch room, running errands. You get to see the flow, the dynamics, the politics. You can be the best photographer in the world but if you don’t know the set etiquette you wont survive an hour. Keep your mouth very shut and your ears very open.
I deal with actors that can be the greatest people in the world but at the same time will go into a rage and demand that a person is fired for being in their eye line. (It has happened to me, but only once).
With over 15 years of experience in the industry, you must have accumulated an impressive amount of helpful suggestions for shooting on sets both in studio and on-location. Do you have a handful that you’d care to share with our audience?
LARGE: Be invisible – dont be one of the guys thats the center of attention. Be in the background watching, looking for the moment. Talk to the cast, let them know what you are doing, find out what they are comfortable with. Especially in the bigs, you want to get a rapport with them. If there are sensitive scenes talk to them and see what their comfort level is. Arrange in advance how you will cover nudity, love making etc. Whole big political concerns here – talk to the publicists, make sure everyone is on the same page. Find out if your actors are ok with shooting rehearsals and takes. Use a blimp, always (http://www.soundblimp.com/) This is the industry standard, not homemade pelican cases, or other such things. They are expensive but its what you need.
What challenges do you face when you have a brilliant shot that you’d like to publish to your portfolio or think it’s worthy of getting published in magazines? Who owns the copyrights?
LARGE: Be aware of copyright and approvals – actors have photo approvals and studios have huge, huge copyrights issues. It is almost almost always “work for hire” and they own the image. Unless you are Annie (Leibovitz), don’t even think about using an image for anything except your own portfolio, and that includes giving away prints etc. On non-union, non-SAG, non-ACFTRA, small shows then give all the prints you have ink for – huge PR for you should anyone make it to the bigs.
Any advise on how to stay on the good side of the crew and how to have the crew consider you as one of them?
LARGE: I’ll print a hundred 8″x10″s per show to give away……not with the main cast, but the crew – everyone likes a shot of them working. Grips setting up a shot, elecs moving a light. This becomes a huge deal when you need something. If the grips know you are are a good guy, you’ve given them a print or two, if you actually return something you have borrowed, then their level of co operation goes up. When I need a 12 step ladder to get a shot and ask for it. It happens real fast because they know I’m one of them, not some artsy fartsy photographer that is above them, I use the ladder then return it to them, not just leave it in the way. If they give me a lot of gear during the week– ladders, grip stands, flags etc then I make sure that comes Friday night that there is a case of beer on their truck for them. Same with the elecs, props or whoever has helped me out. I know a photographer who is not liked by the crew. He can have one hand on a ladder, ask the key grip if he can use it and the grip will say no….we might need it for something. And there is nothing the shooter can do about it. He doesn’t get the shot….period.
You touch on an exceptional point – networking. How big of a role does networking play in getting you new jobs?
LARGE: I had a young PA on one of my early shows that was a nice guy, hung around, asked some questions, listened, helped when he could but was never a pain in the ass. We got along pretty good….and now he is a very hot director that I’ve done 3 or 4 shows with him and we are great friends on and off set. He has enough juice that he will request me to the studios – sometimes they agree and sometimes not, but the point is you never know what will happen 5 years from now so cultivate the people you work with.
You shoot a music video for free – some new group, some new director….the group is a hit, the cd cover has your shot and you are friends with the director.
Same thing with a student film, you don’t know where it will lead – actor requests you (as what has happened now with me – big name guy says I’d really really like to have Chris on board …I trust his eye) a student producer get the green light for a big show….on and on.
I shot “Open Range” for Disney with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. Two years later I get a call – Bobby Duvall is doing a show in Alberta – “Broken Trail”, a huge project for AMC and he has asked if you are available. I was, I did the show, it got a bunch of Emmy’s and now I’m in my third show for AMC.
Proper lighting is crucial to achieve a desired effect. Since lights on movie and tv sets are setup beforehand, how do you overcome poor lighting or make sure to use the lights to your advantage? Are you ever asked for your input on certain lighting techniques?
LARGE: I work around the lighting for any given scene. The DOP (director of photography) spends a lot of time lighting, adjusting and tweaking things. I get the advantage of using his lights but sometimes my angle isn’t the same and my image is compromised so on key scenes I will work with the Director and 1st Assistant Director to give me 30 seconds after the “take” for me to step in and get the shot I need from the angle I need. Very critical and tense moments here—we are 2 hours behind in the day, cast is tired, production costs are maybe $75,000 an hour. But if you approach it right – they give you the 30 seconds and maybe that one shot becomes key art.
You’ve shot for the largest Canadian feature film entitled “Passchendaele” – Can you tell us about some of the challenges you had to overcome and how you did it?
LARGE: Passhendaele holds one of my favorite pics displayed on the home page of my website (ChrisLarge.com). 3 AM, very cold, very wet, 11 hours into the day – I saw a shot, asked the actress to move over to a spot, cleared the background, shot 5 frames. I love the way the light works – especially on her eyes, I slowed the shutter to enhance the rain. I really like it.
Once the still photos have been downloaded to the Mac from the camera, do you go in and do post-production? Can you briefly share the steps of your workflow once you’ve downloaded your shots?
LARGE: After I have finished for the day, I head back home or to the hotel with a wallet full of CF cards. On a busy day I’ll have 30 or 40 Gigs to ingest, look at, edit, pick selects, back up, ftp and email. My work flow is as follows ( please note that everyone will have a different way to do things – mine is not the only way, just one that seems to work for me).
I ingest to my mac using “Photo Mechanic” This is by far the most important piece of software I have. It is fast to ingest and allows me to make quick full screen views of every image. I toggle through them all making selects, deletes, cast favs, behind the scenes etc by using the number keyboard to give them all a color. For example – 1 is purple and it is deletes, 2 red is behind the scenes, 3 orange is actor selects. I can view and sort photos as fast as I can forward and tag. Once tagged, the info is stored with the image and will show up any where down the line.
Usually 500 pics will take me 20 minutes or less. I can view any tagged group and refine the edit. I easily rename and renumber all the shots then can resize them for email or ftp them all through the same application. As I’m doing this I am copying everything over to 2 portable hard drives.
I send my best 10 shots to the photo editor, studio publicist, or who ever needs to see them. This give the people in LA or NewYork an idea of what’s going on. On HD goes with me on set, the other stays in the hotel. No such things as too many back ups. I shoot everything RAW and thats what I deliver. I do no post on anything because the studio has people that know more about photoshop that I could learn in 5 lifetimes. I deliver properly exposed, framed images that convey the emotion, the action, the feeling of a scene. If they decide after that it needs to be dropped 3 stops and the highlight blown out – thats what happens. I give them the most digital information for them to work with.
At the end of the movie I deliver the final shots on one hard drive, back up again to my RAID. Once I get confirmation from the studio that they have the images on their system I delete the portable HD and my lap top but it stays on my Raid for ever.
Cameras, lenses, and gear of choice? And why?
LARGE: I shoot Canon – 50d, 7d, 5dsMkII, 1DsMkIII, 1DMkIV, Hasselblad and even my Canon G11. My lenses include prime 24, 28, 35, 50, 85 and zooms 24-105L and 70-200L, 300 f2L I carry 2 Jacobson blimps, a couple of flashes, meters, pola filters for all lenses. I use a Macbook Pro and multiple portable hard drives. If I’m in rough conditions (think wind storms in Fiji) I carry my gear in a big pelican case on a 2 wheel dolly, other wise my favorite bag is Think Tank Airport Addicted – holds everything, doesn’t scream out camera gear and if very tough.
Why Alberta and why cater toward the film and television industry here? Why have you not opted to live or travel beyond to more densely populated filming locations such as Ontario, California or New York?
LARGE: I was born and raised in Alberta and like the variety of seasons and locations. There are almost enough shows here to keep me busy and I’m fortunate that networks and studios are willing to pay the tab to send me all over the world. I’m at the point now that I can be a bit selective of where or when I work.
On your website you have a significant amount of movie posters that you have shot for. Can you explain the process from having a finalized image to getting it into a movie poster? Do you have any final input on the result?
LARGE: Poster are a whole other discussion. They can be something from a grabbed unit shot or something set up, lit, arranged on a day off with all sorts of agency, studio, art people around. Pay rate is again a whole different deal. Because of licensing and usage rate, a poster could be worth $50,000 or maybe $1,000 – depends on the show and what’s involved.
Can you tell us a bit about the unions and what their significance is?
LARGE: Producers will kill you – work 23 hrs and then shoot some more. Hence the union.
Most movies or tv over the 2 or 3 million $ range are done under a union agreement. Look for a sorta cloverleaf logo during the the credits of many shows. This is IATSE, the union that covers and protects the technicians and camera crews. “IA” forces the producers and studios to not only pay decent wages but forces them to provide decent “turn a round” times – meaning they have to give you at least 10 hours between the time you stop shooting and the start of the next day. Other factors in play such as medical and retirement benefits. So the union is a major factor…but how do you get to work on a show?
I was lucky, there was no union shooter available for the show, so the producer applied for a permit. Union agreed and issued me a day to day permit. This is important because the union requires a certain number of “permit days” to allow you to actually get a card – to join the union. In my case at that time I needed 100 permit days before I could apply and hopefully be accepted.
It took me close to 5 years of permit days to get the number needed, then the union stills caucus needed to look at my work and approve. They did and I got my card. There is a reason for all of this. The union states that a producer must use a union stills photographer if one is available, the same as a union operator or focus puller. If the union insists on this, then the photographer or operator must be of a certain calibre. It’s protecting both sides.
Based on your 5 years of achieving enough permit days… How do you get your permit days now? How does someone get started?
LARGE: My advise is to shoot whatever you can that is even closely related to the biz. Student films, music videos, low low budget non union gigs that you do for free. You need to build a portfolio , not of sports, not weddings but shows, music, anything related. Plus get on set as an extra, as a PA as anything so you can absorb, can watch, can learn and most important keep your mouth shut, and see how the dynamics of set life play out. This leads you to the next step. I’m speaking here from the Canadian side – locals 669 and 667. In the States it’s local 600. Get on to their site, call them and find out the rules there.
Any other pearls of wisdom?
LARGE: The hours are long, I’m away from home for weeks, I spend way too much time in airports…….but I love the creative freedom I have, I’m on my own during a shoot – no one looking over my shoulder. I get paid reasonably well, I meet really interesting people and every day is going to be different with a whole new set of challenges and rewards. The locations can be breathtaking, travel is fantastic – I’ve shot all over Canada, Mexico, Europe and even 8 weeks in Fiji. The actors and crew can become your friends for life, the images can be awesome, the food on set is better than most restaurants, and the money is pretty good (if you can make it to the bigs). My mortgage was paid off long ago, I’ve been able to send my sons to university and I enjoy a comfortable (not extravagant) lifestyle. But again I am in the minority in the game – I’ve been lucky and most shooters aren’t as blessed as I am.
All in all its a pretty good gig.
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