anatomy of a photo shoot: one actor, one weekend, 17 characters

rock star mike rock chef bullfighter
link to gallery of 19 uncropped images from the shoot

Sometimes things are pulled together at the relatively last minute, like this shoot for the Educational Theatre Association. A shoot like this could take weeks of planning, propping and styling, but in this case it was a week long scramble to prep and was shot over a holiday weekend. Pulling something ambitious like this off in a short amount of time requires a talented cast. In this case the acting cast of 17 characters was just one person, comedian and actor Mike Rock.

Every year the ETA hosts the national Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, a place where high school-aged actors gather to “put on a show”. It’s a week of acting instruction and plays, a chance for like-minded students and theatre teachers to practice their craft and to compare notes.

This year the ETA (more specifically, their publishing arm, Dramatics Magazine) chose the theme of “occupations” and they were searching for a way to express that in their annual Festival program. They immediately thought of long-time Festival instructor Mike Rock, a talented comedian and actor based in Los Angeles. Mike had been attending the festival since he was a high school student in Wisconsin some years ago and now shares his knowledge as an instructor. He is well known and respected by the students and would make a great figurehead for the program.

macbethMike was chosen to portray 17 different characters (including himself), all expressing either a career choice (from rock star to plumber) or a character in a play that would be recognized by the students (Willy Loman to Momma Rose). With just one actor and a number of characters in mind, Mike was required to spend the better part of a day in makeup to pull off a few female characters.

So, while most of America was celebrating the Memorial Day weekend, myself and the Daylight Photo team, the crew from the magazine, Laurie the makeup artist and our lead actor were hard at work in the studio, moving from character to character.

Everyone was pleased with the shoot, it was a great deal of fun. We even managed to sneak in a grill out at the end of day two. There are many observations that could be made about working on a project like this. I’d like to share some of the thoughts that first come to mind, all worthy of a post of their own:

plumber1. It’s great to work with professionals. Everyone, every single person on the set, made a contribution. I really enjoy that about the creative process. It’s also the reason I gravitated toward commercial photography: the collaboration is a lot of fun. That old adage about “hiring great people and letting them do their job” really rings true in a situation like this.

2. Yes, I keep talking about problem solving on I can still clearly picture how Laurie handled wardrobe for one of the female characters. Without hesitation or explanation she picked up the two cabbage halves from the chef photo and used them to, shall we say, create one of the female figures.

3. I remember a time when the world didn’t move quite so fast, when scheduling was easier. When we met to begin photography on Saturday morning we’d all been working non-stop for many, many days and were all visibly tired, right from the get-go. But it’s amazing to watch someone like Mike, from the very first minute to the very last, putting careful thought and complete energy into each character. It’s infectious and keeps everyone wanting to achieve more. Every character built up the energy of the cast and crew.

4. Going into a shoot like this we all get mental images of what each character might be like. From the very beginning it’s easy to preconceive what we will consider our favorite character. Very often the ones we assume will be easy, turn difficult, and the ones considered a huge challenge become a favorite. As a result, I don’t spend as much time on preconceptions as I used to.

Hmmm, maybe that’s what years in this business have taught me. Surround yourself with good people and keep your eyes, ears and mind open throughout the process, that way the limitations begin to disappear.