As more photographers move into motion and promote their skills as directors, they can sometimes find themselves pulled in two directions on assignments, when the client wants them to deliver great stills as well as high-quality video. According to veteran photographer-directors PDN spoke to, the first step in managing a combined production is to separate the shoots for stills from the shoot for the video—by carrying them out at different times or in slightly separate locations. To ensure a smooth workflow, photographer-directors also have to adjust their lighting, the planning of their shots, and their directions to their crews.
In part three of this three-part series, Josh Rothstein describes his fashion-focused shoot for Cadillac and Esquire that produced stills and short documentary films about four creative, stylish men. Read part one of this series, about Danielle Levitt’s shoot for I-D magazine, here. Check out part two of this series, about Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch’s commercial assignment for Elmer’s, here.
Josh Rothstein began his career as a filmmaker in the Nineties, working on long-form documentaries. But when work was scarce, he parlayed an interest in photography into freelance photo work. Eventually, it was as much a career as his filmmaking. And as the demand for multimedia content increased, Rothstein began combining his photography and directing skills on assignments. He has filmed and photographed Hugh Jackman for one of the philanthropies the actor supports, shot photos and video of Usain Bolt for Puma, and recently completed a campaign called “Men of Style Encapsulated,” an online and print feature for Esquire that was sponsored by Cadillac.
Cadillac supported the project in its capacity as the exclusive automotive sponsor of New York Fashion Week: Men’s. “Men of Style Encapsulated” features four creative men: artist Curtis Kulig, DJ/producer Brenmar, photographer Sean Sullivan, and chef JJ Johnson. The assignment called for a fashion shoot with each subject, wearing Esquire editor-approved duds, and a two-minute, day-in-the-life documentary. In the videos, the men scurried around New York City in a Cadillac, and also discussed their craft, life and how the city plays a role in their creative process.
From concept to premiere, “Men of Style Encapsulated” was a ten-month endeavor, according to Hearst Men’s Group Art Director, George Garrastegui, Jr. And much had already gone on behind the scenes before Rothstein was brought on. Though the videos were primarily documentary, Garrastegui says he and his team wanted them to reflect Cadillac’s “Dare Greatly” campaign, which features pioneers in different fields, such as Steve Wozniak and Richard Linklater, in order to position Cadillac as an innovative brand. The “Dare Greatly” spots employ luxury car ad techniques such as lens flare, gritty but picturesque city streets, and the majesty of slow motion. But the ads focus on the celebrity innovators as much as—if not more than—the car.
“Men of Style Encapsulated” called for a similar approach. Former Hearst executive creative director Alison DeBenedictis had worked previously with Rothstein on projects for Guess and Diesel. She hired him knowing he could manage both the still and video components of “Men of Style Encapsulated,” and strike a balance between the documentary, fashion and car advertising styles that she wanted for the project.
Rothstein shot one video per day, with an hour set aside for stills. “It isn’t a lot of time,” he admits, “but it’s enough if you’re incredibly dialed into your production.” Pre-production was comprehensive, and Rothstein and his production partner, Jesse Scolaro, spent much time developing each subject’s story. Rothstein conducted pre-interviews with the subjects over the phone, and then met them in-person at their fittings, long before stepping on set.
“We wanted to pull a story from our subjects that’s true to who they are,” he says. “It’s also just developing a rapport with your subject—it accomplishes a lot of things.”
The pre-interviews were essentially used as scripts for “Men of Style Encapsulated,” and they informed Rothstein’s meticulous location scouts and shot list. But the director notes that details from the actual on-camera interviews served as a guide for what to focus on while shooting b-roll later that same day.
In order to complete so much shooting in one day, and gather footage in both documentary and advertising styles, Rothstein hired two cinematographers: Noah Yuan-Vogel, a run-and-gun pro responsible for most of the documentary footage, and Jon Carr, who handled the detailed beauty shots. They used Sony NEX-FS700s and Rothstein instructed them to shoot as much as possible, whether b-roll of New York City from the window of their cab en route to set, or slow-motion footage of a Cadillac as it was being parked during Rothstein’s photoshoot. (Though there were no storyboards, Cadillac provided style guides showing the best ways to film each car.)
The tight schedule demanded transparency and trust between director, crew and client. During the photo shoot, for example, a digital tech managed a laptop that allowed Rothstein and the folks from Esquire and Cadillac to examine and sign off on the photos on the spot.
“You don’t have time to be overly precious and guarded about every single frame because it’s everyone’s baby,” Rothstein says. “Even with the video, I had portable handheld monitors, and I’m making sure George [Garrastegui of Esquire] can see it, so if there are any problems we can address them immediately—there’s no margin for error.”
As for serving as both director and photographer, wearing both hats no longer frazzles Rothstein. But it can be jarring to subjects. On the first day, Rothstein noticed artist Curtis Kulig looking uncomfortable in front of his Canon 5D Mark II after an otherwise fruitful and relaxed day shooting documentary footage.
“There’s a bit of hand-holding that needs to happen,” Rothstein says. “I would shoot, run over, make a couple jokes [to] keep it loose, and also let them know that [the sudden switch from director to photographer] is a little awkward. That’s a big part of that process: Managing your subject when they’re real people going between these two mediums; being aware that it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world; and staying present for someone when things are so frenetic. And that allows you to feel more comfortable as well, as a director and photographer.”