Behind The Scenes

by Matt on July 16, 2006

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I was recently invited to participate in a group called “A Day In The Life Of…” The premise was simple: document through photos what you do during a 24 hour period of your life. The rusty, tinny gears in my head started cranking and I thought what a fun project this could be if I also blogged about a food shoot.  I could finally put an end to the belief that being out of the office on a photo shoot is pure delight, filled with assistants doing the grunt work while I sat in a director’s chairs with my name boldly emblazoned on the back,

barking orders and yelling things like “Get me an iced mocha now, damnit!”

Ha! As if! I always ask nicely.

A few Days Before:
The prop stylist feverishly shops like a madman based on numerous phone conversations, voicemails and emails. Images get emailed back and forth and words like finial, distressed, rococo, and inlay are flung around with such force that my head spins.

Also, I procure all the food for my shoot and cram it into my fridge so that my husband cannot find the milk for his coffee. This leaves him in a gloriously cantankerous mood while I drink wine and pass out.

The Day Of…

4:03am: I wake up early as I always do (I don’t own an alarm clock) and make coffee. I can’t get to the milk either and what was funny yesterday is now so completely annoying.  I check my email, read the news and drink black coffee.  When I’m done I tip toe into the bathroom to shower, being careful not to wake Adam and three sleeping dogs.

6:12am: After loading the car (5 trips, thankyouverymuch), I mentally prepare myself for traffic as I go from Long Beach to Pasadena. Luckily the 605 is clear and I’m smiling as Steve Inskeep and the other Morning Edition folks keep me entertained.

7:00am exactly: Hot damn! Am I punctual or what? I arrive for my 7am photo shoot and once out of the car I do a tiny happy dance. But I really just have to pee.

8:15am:  While the photographer sets up I meet with the prop stylist and her assistant to review 3 tables of plates, dishes, platters, chargers, vases, bowls, napkins, runners, curtains, flowers, serving utensils and props. It’s like the best garage sale you’ve ever seen. Suddenly I begin to cry knowing that it all must be returned.

9:06am: The food stylists arrive and the fun begins. Insider celebrity gossip is exchanged (this IS Los Angeles, after all) and then the shot list is reviewed.  As the art director I pretend not to notice the looks of disbelief over how much I am asking them to do in one single day.  I smile, twirl and curtsy my way out of the kitchen.

10:02am: I review 2 racks of clothing for the talent and pick out what will look good on the set.  I then disappear to the bathroom because I have just handled the male model’s wardrobe and realize that he is tall, thin and gorgeous while I am short, chubby and bald. I have a good cry.

11:00am: The set has been built and dressed and we’re ready for our first shot. We do a few product shots of olive oils and wines and then move on to the food.

It takes 4 people to rig 2 greasy jams to c-stands so that they may hang overhead. A disaster is averted when I catch one c-stand from falling and crashing into the rented bar. You break, you buy!

11:44am: I spend a few minutes in the kitchen with the food stylists looking things over and for the first time in my career I instruct my stylist to redo a recipe.  The first time ever! I then realize the last thing I want to do is piss off the people I rely on so greatly. She moves on, I sulk and then I’m over it. The 2nd attempt is gorgeous and exactly what I was looking for.

12:16pm:  The dishes start coming from the kitchen and arrive on the set. In a flurry of activity the set comes alive and for a second and I feel as if I am in a crowded bar in Spain. I’m in heaven as I swat flies –the studio garage door is open for the natural light.

12:45pm-4:07pm: We photograph the food from almost every possible angle, moving plates and props in and out. Elements are pulled out so that individual dishes can be photographed alone. Thank god for digital. Some art directors have sketches prepared and shooting is dictated by the layout. Me, well, not so much. I have earned the moniker Matt ’Shoot from the hip” Armendariz because I make it up as I go along and believe great moments happen with spontaneity. So far it’s suited me well.  And also because I cannot sketch.

The food holds well and requires a little bit of freshening up. Props that were not used start getting packed. The talent steps onto the set in their lovely threads and smiles for a few pictures and once completed we strike and dismantle our Spanish bar.

5:20pm: We move on to the next shot on an entirely different set. The theme of this image is grilling and the food stylists are preparing a steak, potatoes and grilled peaches. But someone (read: me) forgot to tell the crew that this would be outdoors (or at least set to look as if it was outdoors).  The entire crew scrambles and the photographer has a brilliant idea.

5:42pm: Three food stylists, one office assistant, one assistant photographer, two prop stylists and one observer run through the neighborhood, carefully (AND LEGALLY) trimming greens, branches and leaves for backdrop. One art director carefully keeps an eye out for cops.

Then we all eat ice cream.

6:02pm: With our last shot completed, we all stop to congratulate each other. We’re tired, giddy, worn out, punchy, exhausted yet filled with a sense of accomplishment. Another long day of work is behind us and we’re all thankful for the opportunity to work with each other. Everyone plays such a vital part in a production like this and we all pause for a silly group photo as per the art director’s insane demands.

6:17pm: Most everyone leaves while I stick around waiting for 125-megabyte digital images to be converted from a proprietary raw format into something I can use. I have more ice cream.

8:02pm: I load up my car and head back home, happy with the fact that most of the traffic will have subsided. I blast the latest Zero 7 album, singing as loudly as possible and making a huge ass of myself on the 605.

8:52pm: Home, sweet home. I give Adam, Cho, Moxie, Bindi and Birdie a big kiss before settling into a big giant glass of a leftover Tempranillo.  My body aches.

9:44pm: I am now fast asleep, dreaming of my short trip to Spain via Pasadena and feeling a huge sense of accomplishment as the faces of my crew dot in and out of my mind. I’m one hell of a lucky guy.

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The biggest thanks to Jon, Diana, Laurie, Denise & Crew for allowing me to be in their way while they were trying to work.