Monday, June 18, 2007

Everything I Know About Photo Shoots I Learned From "America's Next Top Model"... Until Now

"The model looks like a wreck," my boss warned as I passed her in the hall on my way to my very first photo shoot, a perk that came with my job as a summer intern at an advertising agency here in New York. I was invited along so I could observe what happens at a photo shoot and what the agency's role is in making sure the ad meets the client's (a major U.S. skincare brand) objectives.

I should add that, as a devoted viewer of a number of cheesy reality TV shows, I went into the shoot believing that I had a pretty good idea of how this day would go down. I would find my own Jay Manuel, who would introduce me to the glamorous world of commercial shoots and serve as a firm but loving guide to teach me how to be FIERCE. Okay, so I wouldn't be the one modeling, but I was there to represent the agency, and I wanted to do my job well.

Amy Winehouse was playing as assistants of all kind (production, photography, makeup, hair, wardrobe) scurried around when I walked into the huge studio. The background was brightly lit, and I noticed a large table of beautifully prepared breakfast foods. Against one wall was the makeup/hair/wardrobe area, which is where I spotted the model.

It wasn't hard to tell that she was a model. Her tall, lean physique (she was quite muscular as well, which is what the client wanted for this ad) and amazing skin and bone structure (I'm talking KILLER cheekbones) basically gave it away, but my boss was right, she looked like crap. First, her hair was awful. It was basically damage to the point of looking fried, short and frizzy and broken off at weird lengths. And while her skin was essentially flawless (there was not one freckle, mole or scar on her entire body), she looked tired and a little hung over.

I dug into the breakfast buffet and situated myself on a couch with a good view of the styling area, anxiously awaiting the action (and inevitable drama) to begin. My boss had returned with her cup of coffee.

"You'd better relax, nothing's going to happen for a while. Most of the day we just wait around."

Waiting? Isn't there a J. Alexander hiding in the wings, hoping to talk trash about everyone else in between takes? I was here to learn, so I walked over and began watching the makeup artist work. In about a half hour, the model's skin was literally glowing, it was all I could do to not touch it. After makeup, the model tried on about 8 different outfits, posing as she would in the ad, as the art director took Polaroids and the tailer tucked and pinned the dresses and skirts to the right length.

Then the hairstylist tackled the issue of her dead hair. In the course of an hour and a half, he straightened what little hair the model had and added 8 sets of extensions. Then he pulled it back into a ponytail and sewed in another massive extension to cover the rest. Her hair was thick, full and gorgeous now, running halfway down her back. By this point, it was about 11:30 and no photos had been taken. Once the photographer proclaimed the lighting to be sufficient, the agency approved the outfit and the makeup artist slathered foundation and highlighter all over the model's legs and arms, we were ready to begin.

But then lunch arrived, so we took a break. Shooting finally commenced at 1:30, but after a half hour of initial shots, the model's hair was deemed to be too heavy and distracting. It took the hairstylist an hour to trim the extensions and take the sewn one out, and then style her hair into a new look. At 2:30 we began again, and shot until 5.

One interesting thing is that the model was everything TV tells me a model isn't- quiet, unassuming, gracious, eager to please. She was about as far from a diva as you can get, asking what the photographer/art director wanted for each shot and patiently keeping the pose until asked to change. She never made a suggestion or initiated anything on her own. And the crew seemed to love that. My boss told me that this brand never uses top girls or celebrities, and have fired models in the past for being too dramatic or demanding. The ANTM judges were right that unless you're Kate Moss, you actually won't get jobs if you're a drama queen.

The shots came out beautifully, and I ended up learning a lot about what roles each person performs to make an advertisement both beautiful and compelling, and I have a lot m0re respect for everyone involved and the whole process. I didn't really believe that America's Next Top Model was a truly representative show, but it's interesting to know how much more boring the real thing is. Sad, but that always seems to be the case with TV.


Emma said...

Brilliant blog

Meg said...

That is interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

oh man, so lucky! i'm dying to get an internship with an advertising company next summer (though i'll be abroad all year... paperwork should be interesting).

this is such a tangent, don't worry about answering it, but i was wondering - how are you liking it? what kind of internship were you looking for/did you get?

Meg said...

Anon- I can't say exactly where I'm working, but you can look forward to a post in the next couple of weeks about how to snag a great summer internship. The process is difficult, though not impossible, when you're abroad, but if you do a lot of you r work ahead, it won't be so bad.