Michael Grecco is not only an established commercial photographer, but has delved into the world of directing videos as well. Although photography and filmography are often separated with a solid line, he blurs the line between the two fields to bring his expertise in photography to make excellent films. We’re pleased to partner with Michael for this week’s guest blog post.
I first fell in love with photography as a kid in summer camp; the magic of watching a print develop totally captivated me. A few years later I started pouring over the Time Life Photography books from the local library, I actually snuck them out in a vain attempt to “own” a photograph. After spying the likes of Penn, Avedon and Bruce Davidson I became deeply committed to the art. All through school I stayed up many a night reading everything I could about great photographers and amazing photographs.
Thinking I knew it all, I went to film school. I would learn about moving images; this was a completely new experience and I was mesmerized by the classic films I studied of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michelangelo Antonioni. This is where I really derived my deep love of lighting and the use of shadow to create an emotion that helps convey a great story. Movies I had never imagined existed, inspired me to graduate with a degree in filmmaking.
So, as I have spent most of my career directing people for still shoots, I come to directing with a natural passion. This involves knowing how to coax a great performance or moment from someone when it is otherwise not quite there. It also means being able to deal with people while at the same time having a vision of what works and what doesn’t. But aside from the obvious film and still are completely different.
When DSLRs that shot high quality videos first came into existence, there were many that believed there was now an economy in shooting. That the act of “photography” was now going to merge and we would just roll the camera, have talent walk through a scene, create an exceptional video and “pull” a wonderful still from it at the same time. It’s a nice idea, but better in theory than in reality.
To really understand you have to look at the process of making a compelling still photograph and separately a compelling piece of motion. A great still and video both tell stories, but in completely different ways. For a still image, it means thinking about all the information in the image and by using props, locations, lighting and expression to give clues and information to deliver the details. I create a visual story in my mind and then figure how to execute the idea. That said all those pieces have to fit into the frame, in a composed and created moment. A simple example of this is out of my archive, it’s an environmental portrait of a furniture maker. The story is told with the props, pose and lighting; the shadow tells part of the story and all the elements exist in the same moment.
In a work of motion the story is told over time, usually unfolding bit by bit. Not only is the process different, the execution of the idea is also completely different.
When working on a still you nuance the scene, working the expression, tweaking the lighting, moving the camera and changing the pose slightly. In motion you do the same but each take has to play out over time so your subject is usually moving. You are now dealing with macro rather than micro moves, actions and not subtle changes in pose. Creating a great work of motion involves all takes and shots adding up to a singularly wonderful piece. This is also why the idea of pulling stills from a take is not always the most effective way, as all the elements are often not present in one particular shot.
For a recent video for Panasonic called Forever Young, I did not want to create a series of pretty stills; I wanted to make a video that had a story which unfolded. We took the idea of a rich older man and a beautiful younger woman and played with just that. To expand the story timeline, individuals like the bicycle rider using a Panasonic A500 was added, this gave a POV shot using Panasonic gear. We also drove over a crash cam – the camera amazingly survived!
The gas station location was planned from the beginning, but I had no idea what I was going to do there. As our precision driver was a large muscular man with a shaved head, we used the scene to get the top down in a humorous way. The showcase for Panasonic was the agility of the 4K GH4 to be used handheld, in gimbals from car to car, and on a drone; the aerials were a very important part of the images we required. So, the break at the gas station is away to explain why the top comes down;enabling us to get a shot of the couple driving the car from above. The story is told through a series of actions, giving little bits of information at a time, as opposed to how I story tell in a still; having all the elements revealed at once in a single frame. The whole video was shot over two days, I created an approximately 3-minute version for Panasonic; incorporating some behind the scenes footage at the end. I also cut it down to 90 seconds, to resemble the fast paced story telling of a commercial spot. I hope you like it!