*ooof*: Noteworthy Stills

Not sure if I have anything substantial to say but for once emergency and ordinary align and I can post an *ooof* in timely fashion on my regular day, a Tuesday. Well, that’s if I manage to get this *ooof* out in time after dithering all day over which picture from the Old Vic’s peek behind the scenes to pick for this analysis. [And no, I didn’t…]

I think I’ll settle for this:

RA Old Vic Jan Persson 2

Rehearsal for The Crucible Old Vic, London, 2014 Image by Johan Persson

Production stills are a strange kettle of fish. Stills – whether for film or for theatre – are photographic still images whose intention is the production of marketing material for the promotion of the production, as well as documenting of the historical process of making and staging a production. As such, production stills photography is documentary in nature. It records the evidence of what occurred in the rehearsal room, documents the progressive creation of a stage play, and provides snapshots into the creative process that the director or designers can consult for costume, lighting, stage or make-up design.

Stills photography is a genre of its own, produced by specialist photographers who have learnt over time to adapt their own photographic needs to the requirements of working on a film set or within a theatre. Their tools are normal high-end digital cameras with suitably wide range of ISO – shooting flash would be a big no-no as it would break the actors’ concentration and interfere with the lighting of the set as well as filming. The only specialist accessory that a stills photographer needs is a so-called “sound blimp”, a camera housing that eliminates the sound of the shutter click, and which makes stills photographers’ camera look like massive soft toys. – Apart from instinctively understanding when to release the shutter to get an attractive image that can lure the public into the theatre, stills photographers know how to move on the set without getting into the way of the camera (film), crew, ensemble or the director, and when to approach the actors to recreate a moment that would translate into a compelling image. They understand how to portray the creative process in such a way that it attracts audience and receives attention from the media.

The use of stills imagery for marketing is never far from the photographer’s mind. However noble the historical documenting of a production may be, stills are first and foremost shot for the theatre’s marketing purposes.  Particularly in countries and markets where theatre is not subsidised by the state, advertising for shows has become a crucial part of a play’s success. With the rise of Social Media, theatres nowadays throw everything they have into the marketing of their new production. Stills photography shot in the run up to opening night most often than not focusses on attracting the potential audiences’ attention and then keeping viewers interested in the developing production: Previously, theatre production stills used to consist of on-stage scenes, mostly in costume, showing pivotal moments in the plot in order to capture the essence of a play. In the day and age of celebrity cult, the focus on famous ensemble members has replaced that practice. You only need to count the number of shots of A___ alone within the Crucible set to see what I mean. The name and mien of the lead actor are exploited to the max. No one else gets as many shots as him. Granted, he is the protagonist of the play, but the plot thickens in his engagement with the other characters – which could be reflected in stills that show the interaction of Proctor with others. A possible reason for this kind of re-focus might be the theatre’s requirement of stills for their own Social Media communication, as well as the use of stills imagery for sending out to conventional media  for inclusion in their reporting and previewing of new plays. Often times, papers, magazines and online publications pick the mug shot of the famous face from the selection of stills that they are offered, over wider shot of the play in action. Big names sell. Well, as firm fans of RA we can corroborate the power of the portrait. And we confess: Yes, we want the close-up of the lead, rather than the ensemble tableau – it’s all about the A___.

However, I prefer an image that is more than a mere portrait of the famous actor. I like to see him at work, behind the scenes, in the rehearsal room where he is working on the character. As evocative as the close-ups of Armitage are – without context they are placeholders for anything and everything. An intense stare fits Proctor as much as it fits a concentrating Lucas North or an about-to-smirk Gisborne. I like to see background in the image – a reference to the space the photo was taken in, something to tell me this is not a posed still but a scene documented as it happened in the rehearsal room. I enjoy locating the pictured moment – in a plain rehearsal space, bare to the minimum to allow for the actors’ imagination to flourish, a blank canvas in which the collaborative vision of the director and the ensemble can take shape.  With my usual concentration on an image that focusses only on Armitage, the chosen picture embodies these requirements perfectly. There are the bare walls of the rehearsal room in the background. Some props have been pushed unused into the corner of a room. A___, at an angle, holds the script in his hands, focussing on an unseen cast member (or the director), playing his role. I find it interesting to draw my conclusions from what is disclosed about the rehearsal space: A large room, like a small gym. A lot of space for physical acting or scenes of movement. Illuminated from above. Maybe there is a large skylight in the ceiling – the consistently hot (bright) daylight that illuminates everyone suggests that. The lack of shadow on the actors’ faces allowing for clear observation of their facial expressions. (More questions than conclusions from the whole series of images: (most of) the actors rehearse in plain casual clothes, gym-style – enabling unrestricted movement. Is it a coincidence that the colours are all subdued greys, blacks and whites, or is this a reflection on the costumes for the play? *Are* these the costumes of the play? Do the headscarves of the female actors indicate that? Are they worn in rehearsal to assist getting into character?)

Strictly speaking, this is an image that is a hybrid between a RL RA and a chaRActer. We observe RA practicing Proctor. And we are left wondering whether he is himself or Proctor. Not sure why that is such an interesting question to ponder – maybe because the observer is always quick to identify the actor with the role. We search for the qualities of the character in the actor – and vice versa, drawing our conclusions, wrongly, mostly. But maybe it is fair to conclude one thing from the production stills: That A___ and his colleagues are putting their heart blood into the production of The Crucible and that all those lucky enough to see this play on stage are in for a treat.

I’d love to know what scene was being rehearsed in this picture, wouldn’t you ? And all the preparations that RA has made for his turn as Proctor… When he wasn’t looking, a spy managed to get a look over his shoulder at his script. We can exclusively reveal the notes that RA works from…

Notes 1

Notes 2

Notes 3

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55 thoughts on “*ooof*: Noteworthy Stills

  1. Pingback: *ooof* goes home! A reminder | Me + Richard Armitage

    • It could just be me, of course – I see Guy in everything *ggg*. But whoa, I was reading through the play and just had these various Gizzy faces in my mind… I apoogize to Mr A – I am sure he doesn’t need Giz to find the appropriate face for any given scene.

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  2. Your spy makes James Bond look like an amateur. I am very impressed. I hope his mission includes inflltrating dress rehearsals.

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    • I have heard rumours of some other bizarre occurrances in the rehearsal room that happened to be documented on film… Might come out sooner or later… 😉

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  3. Thank you for sharing the difference between a photo shoot and stills from the play. Always learn something new when I read your *ooofs*.

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  4. Fantastisch, wie du die Kurve zu Gizzy hinbekommen hast 🙂 Mal wieder Interessantes gelernt über diese Art der Fotos. Fühlte mich in der Tat seit gestern auch ein kleines bisschen manipuliert (macht aber nix). Wäre interessant zu wissen, wo die übrigen Fotos gelandet sind (gähnend und Nase bohrend in der Ecke rumlümmelnd oder im ……. kratzend). DAS zeugt einem keiner 😀

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    • Manipuliert vom Old Vic oder von mir (re. angekündigtes *ooof*)? Bilder sind eben Werbung – und da wird mit allen Mitteln gekämpft. Was die Ausschussware betrifft: Im Giftschrank des Fotografen. Weia, da habe ich auch so einige Sahnestückchen liegen. (Selbstverständlich nicht von RA. Der ist ja NUR schön. In jeder Lage. Wahrscheinlich sogar auch auf dem Klo.)

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      • just found ooof and what do i read? schon auf dem Klo???, ne ich furchte da ist sogar er menschlich und nur ‘ewwwww’ 😉 gut zu wissen, dass er genau wie wir Sterblichen sowas bsuchen muss 😉

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        • Ich möchte mir das jetzt nicht näher vorstellen. *ggg* (Warum ich auch nie meine Klappe halten kann und immer alles so drastisch übertreibe… Das bringt mich noch in Teufels Latrine. Eh. Küche.)

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    • Manipuliert vom Old Vic! Von dir doch NIEMALS 🙂
      Habe aber gestern immermal wieder bei dir reingeklickt um nach dem neuen ooooof zu fahnden. Das Betteln hat sich gelohnt 🙂 Hattest hoffentlich keine all zu kurze Nacht deshalb .

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      • 😀 – ich tease ja auch ganz gerne :-D… Meine Nacht war in der Tat kurz – es war dann halb 2, als ich endlich ins Bett ging. Aber ich bin ja ohnehin eher nachtaktiv…

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  5. I bow to your cold blood and how do you manage to write such articulated posts about the *ooof*’s emergencies. My reaction in front of each new Crucible picture ranges from and “arf!uf!” to a more elaborated “why? why? why?”. 🙂

    Talking (a little bit) more seriously what I simply adore of this set of pictures is to see the “man at work”, his commitment and professionality can be literally touched.

    For those of you who will be so lucky to see the play live, I suggest you, as well as the defibrillator, to book before hand the ambulance and a room in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. 🙂

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    • Oh, many thanks, Barsine *blushes*. Well, it helps that I can draw on a lot of own experiences. But here is the secret: Before the “articulated” post comes a lot of asjgaskdgaskjdg upon first contact with new imagery 😀
      I completely agree, btw – the look at the creative process that has usually been concluded by the time that we see a play on stage, makes production stills so attractive. A glimpse behind the scenes is always special. And of course it is nice to find our conclusions re. RA’s exemplary professionalism and commitment confirmed.
      Good point about pre-booking an ambulance *makes note on iPhone* 🙂

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  6. Exactly, Barsine! Not to mention the difficulty of typing with shaking hands. Even asdfghjkl came out garbled under my fingers when the pics hit us.
    The mix between the man and the character is mesmerising, as is his deep focus. As an added bonus, the pics evoke memories of The Hobbit bts material. Getting a small glimpse into the process of creating chaRActers that captivate us is a real treat, although it just increases our thirst for more… Not to mention the peek at his notes, courtesy of our industrious spy! So he’s fond of Sir Gizzy too, eh? 😀

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  7. My first thought when I saw the rehearsal pics (well, no, I’m a liar… my second one!) was that the photographer was very good because he was able to capture passion, intensity, expressions in a fantastic way. Also some RA pics among the most beautiful we ever saw. Now you explained why, and that it is a “profession” in its own. Well, Johan Persson is a master, I suppose. They chose to publish some stills that depict part of the plot, of course staying far away from its end. I would have liked a pic of Proctor and Elizabeth, just to see the difference between the two. But I hope we’ll have some more. I love the photo you chose, the fact Richard is working on a common book, with yellow highlighter marks. I can imagine him reading and thinking and building the character slowly before even arriving to the first rehearsal. The cast seems perfect, Richard looks perfect. I can’t wait. 😀

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    • I have to agree – the cast looks really well together, just visually speaking. Abigail – beautiful but with a hint of malice, Mary Warren – soft, naive, easy to manipulate. Pity we didn’t get to see some interaction of Proctor and wife.
      And yes – I’d love to see his notes, the little reminders he scribbles, the emphasis, and the exclamation marks, and the extra ideas for fleshing out the character in his mind… (I’d like to see the same from Yael Farber, too…)

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  8. Thanks Guylty – always fascinating. Intrigued to hear there’s such a thing as a sound blimp. I used to hire photographers to take shots of conference speakers and most of them were very intrusive, and made too much noise. Now I know I should have hired stills photographers!

    Micra, it seemed to me all these photos are of Act 1, and Elizabeth doesn’t appear in that. Hope there will be more 😉

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    • Ignoring the shutter click – if the photographers were intrusive, they really were not doing their job well :-(. The click of the camera is one thing, but being in the way, prancing around or distracting proceedings is much worse…
      You must be right about the scenes covered in the stills. I doubt we see more production stuff from the rehearsals (after all the play previews from day after tomorrow – ouch, my stomach already flutters in sympathy with RA) but I hope we will soon get to see glimpses of the production as it is *staged*, with costumes, stage design, pivotal moments acted out. I kind of expect that to come out on Saturday.

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      • Yes, some photographers were better than others but if you were in a far-flung place you didn’t always have a lot of choice 😦 I don’t remember a single one having a sound blimp though! Maybe they hadn’t been invented then… 😉

        Oh how I wish I had tickets for Saturday! (Me and about a billion others…)

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        • The sound blimps are really only used by stills photographers on sets. Regular press photographers do not need them. (They are an expensive piece of equipment – 1000 Euro and up… Not worth it for regular snappers…)
          Oh yes, Saturday… I wonder whether we will get immediate accounts (not sure yet whether I want to read it all before I see for myself, btw… what’s your thought on that?)

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          • Two minds… I don’t, but I know I won’t be able to resist poring over every word, let alone photo. And if there is even a sniff of a bad review I’m going to go into a decline…

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            • 😀 – yeah, I suspect I won’t be able to resist, either. Photos are ok, but I don’t really want to have the performance picked to pieces in all detail before I have seen it.
              Bad reviews? Can’t imagine that. Armitage is the guarantee for quality stage work 😀

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  9. Very interesting Guylty! I had no idea there was such a thing as a stills photographer much less sound blimps. You continue to enlighten me.

    I feel like I have an insatiable need for RA photos. Even when we get several at a time, I want to see more, more, more!

    I am so envious of all who are going to The Crucible. I am looking forward to living vicariously through you 🙂

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    • Glad to add to your specialist knowledge of photography ;-). Oh, and I know the feeling. You think that more than one photo is enough, but oh no, it seems to make the whole thing even more addictive.
      For the Crucible Experience: Cheack and follow the blog TheCrucibleExperience.wordpress.com, Tree – we’re hoping that those who go or who have any story to share about the run of The Crucible will submit or link on the blog, creating a hub.

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  10. Congratulations for the new blog “Crucible Experience”. It’s a wonderful idea.
    The first time I saw this photo of RA I remember the one when he is in New Zealand in front of Peter Jackson with a book opened above his right hand. Wearing a brown polo, same (sexy) left biceps, same beard, same short hair, his right hand sustaining the book with his (OMG) splitted fingers just like this and same concentrated look. It makes me feel strange. The two “RA” look like twins.
    A special thinking : everytime I appreciate your various “oooof”. Will we have an exam at the end of the year as we are now your particular “photographer” students ? You know, you choose a photo of RA and we have to comment it with our “own” oooof and then you decide who will obtained the G.O.D. (Guylty Ooof Diploma). LOL.

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    • I have vague recollections of that picture from TH as well…
      LOL – “GOD” :-D. Don’t tease/tempt me, Katia. I am a qualified (secondary) teacher and one of my greatest dreams is teaching photography for a living. Setting exams comes naturally to me 😀

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  11. Ahh, here you are!!!
    Induced by the publication of the rehearsal pictures yesterday, I had a talk with an experienced actress today, who is now working in public relations in the same theatre where I am. She told me that almost all actors had always been apprehensive about the publishing of rehearsal photos (internet etc), as this is usually such a pivotally intimate and sensitive space and time for them. They would be utterly vulnerable and thus would readily feel exposed. Whereas the pics from „The Crucible“ appear to be different, as they are processed and look quite like real theatre photographs. Of course, production stills, or more so, artistic stills that serve the purpose of promotion superbly and facilitate room for the actors to stay in their privacy behind their roles. But this actually, is a fine line!!!!
    Guylty, thanks for your ideas and informations. As I’ve said before (!), those pics are brilliant (def NEVER enough!!) and our celebrity gets a lot of (well-deserved) attention for his seriousness 🙂
    Having said that, I dread this serious expression in his face a tiny little bit. Sitting so close…. To be honest…. You know….

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    • Interesting! Thanks for the perspective from an actor herself. What she says sounds absolutely logical – I would’ve imagined that rehearsal pictures are raw and intimate. We don’t know exactly when the Crucible rehearsal images were made, but supposedly it was a good bit into the whole rehearsal process, so maybe the actors did not feel quite as exposed and intruded upon anymore because they had been able to work on their characters and the interpretation of the play.
      I agree the photos look quite polished. I looked at Johan Persson’s website and saw that he used to be a professional performer before he turned to photography. He was a ballet dancer. (He has plenty of very impressive and aesthetic ballet images in his portfolio. Worth looking at.) So he is well-acquainted with the creative process of rehearsals and probably knows how to interact in such an intimate situation. Well done to him.
      As for the intense mien – yeah, not a comedy, definitely. Another season of scowling? No wonder I was reminded of Gizzy last night…

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  12. What a fascinating look behind the scenes you have given us Guylty, and I love your choice of image – all that droolworthy detail (don’t get me started) the splayed fingers cradling his copy of the play, the concentration on his face. RA at work holds me spellbound, that moment where actor and character mesh. It reminds me of one of the initial photos we saw of him on The Hobbit set, where it was hard to tell who was at the forefront, Richard or Thorin.
    Love his notes with Gizzy!

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  13. Pingback: Happy Armitage-Day with a List of Photo Shoots | GUYLTY PLEASURE

  14. Pingback: [Scheduled] *ooof*: Light in the Dark | Guylty Pleasure

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