Photographing the arts: the poster / promotional shoot

Once Poster 2.jpg

The cast of Once

Stefanie Caccamo and Toby Francis, with Cameron Daddo, Brenden Dodds, Victoria Falconer, Conrad Hamill, Drew Livingston, Rupert Reid, Alec Steedman and Joanna Weinberg, photographed on location in The Rocks for Darlinghurst Theatre Company.

I’ve written before about the range of different ways a photographer can be involved in creating images for a production; and in my other essays on photographing the arts I’ve tended to focus on the actual production stills taken on stage, so it’s about time I looked at the poster / promotional image side of things.

There are a thousand different ways to go about creating a ‘teaser’ or promotional image for a show, so this is just an example of what we did in this particular case; but for me, the overall approach is usually the same: get to know the script, the characters and their relationships, find out about the design & directorial concepts for the production, come up with some visual ideas that underscore elements of what’s being created, and (if necessary) scout for locations that will work for what we want to achieve.

In this case, for the Darlinghurst Theatre Company production of Once, my feeling was that connection lay at the heart of the story - the relationship between Guy and Girl (as the characters are known), supported by the community of musicians they encounter through the course of their story.

The time period is modern, the story is set in Dublin, the design overall had the flavour of an Irish pub; but the story begins with the two characters meeting in the street where Guy is busking - so an exterior location with the flavour of a European city, that looked like the kind of place you’d find musicians playing, suited the story we wanted to suggest in the imagery.

At a meeting with the director, designers, producer and video team (who would also be filming promotional videos at the same time), we worked on some concepts, and talked about the possibility of working in Sydney’s oldest suburb, The Rocks. I had scouted the area ahead of time, first on Google Street View and then on foot, to see what options I thought might work; and one corner immediately leapt out at me, behind a small museum building that’s been preserved over the years.

Of course, there are things to consider before doing a location shoot like this - for one thing, weather is always a possible issue (so it’s best to have an indoor contingency plan ready, if cast are only available at a given time); but also, most locations in cities require a film permit from the local authority in order to set up a large-scale shoot like this.

Given we had a cast of 10, myself, two video crew, the producers, director and choreographer, we wouldn’t pass for an ‘ultra-low impact’ shoot; so our producer got to work contacting the right people, and I provided them with my certificate of insurance showing that I could cover up to $20mil in public liability in case of any accidents on set, or damage to local property. (This is normal when working on public land or in private / commercial buildings, so it’s good to have that certificate at the ready.)

The video team had been there for a while with the cast & crew, recording footage of them performing songs from the show to cut together for promotional ads; I’d scheduled the photographic part of the day for later in the afternoon, having scouted the area at a similar time of day and found the light banking off a building opposite to be quite flattering and diffuse for our subjects - which would make my life much easier on the shoot itself.

Once I’d got my side of things set up and ready to go, it was a matter of working with director Richard Carroll and choreographer Amy Campbell to get our cast into an arrangement that both worked for the image, and felt like what they were working towards with the show - a sense of a natural gathering of musicians playing together, rather than a bunch of actors posing for camera…and so we spent an hour or so capturing some variations on that look.

Naturally though, we didn't want to put all our eggs in one basket - having gathered the cast & crew for the shoot, and now having everything and everyone in place, it seemed a waste to only come out of it with a single promotional image - so we had a second location lined up to move to after our time in The Rocks, so we could capture something with a slightly different tone & mood of the two leads on their own, together in a dark alley in the city centre.

Just when we were getting ready to pack up and travel to the second location though, I looked over and saw Toby & Stef sitting together on the stairs just to the left of where we’d been shooting. As it was now later in the afternoon, the sun had moved around behind the building we were looking towards originally, and the steps were in shade now - but with enough light being reflected off the sky behind me that the two of them were still softly lit.

I took producer Amy Harris aside and had a quick word - rather than spending time moving locations, should we just do the second image right there on the stairs? The feel was what we were after - a clear contrast with our first image - and we already had a permit to use the space…should we just improvise on the spot, rather than heading somewhere else?

The location wasn’t absolutely perfect - for one thing, there was an Instagram fashion shoot (I’m guessing, but that’s what it looked like!) happening at the top of the stairs at the time, so I’d have to crop out their ankles - but I was pretty sure it could work…

So, we had what we needed, without having to transport the whole production into town. It’s hard to beat a location that gives you multiple options like that - if I’d stayed an hour longer when I was scouting the site I might have noticed how the light changed on the stairs, and saved us a bit of planning for the second shoot, but I don’t think it mattered too much in the bigger picture.

Then of course there were rehearsals and the production to photograph, in time for opening night - followed by some (well deserved) fantastic reviews…

The cast & crew of Once at Darlinghurst Theatre Company

The reviews -
★★★★★ - Fine Music, FM
★★★★1/2 - Limelight Magazine
★★★★1/2 - On the Town
★★★★1/2 - Reviews by Judith
★★★★ - ArtsHub
★★★★ - Audrey Journal
★★★★ - Time Out

Once is at Merrigong Theatre Company in Woollongong from 24-28 July, then returns to Darlinghurst Theatre Company from 30 July - 4 August.

Director Richard Carroll
Movement Director Amy Campbell
Musical Director Victoria Falconer
Set & Costume Designer Hugh O'Connor
Lighting Designer Peter Rubie
Cast: Joe Accaria, Stefanie Caccamo, Cameron Daddo, Brenden Dodds, Victoria Falconer, Toby Francis, Conrad Hamill, Drew Livingston, Abe Mitchell, Rupert Reid, Alec Steedman Joanna Weinberg, Gabriel Fancourt & Damon Wade.