Every year The Envelope section of the Los Angeles Times gathers a collection of panelists to discuss the television industry. The panels include people from some of the most popular TV shows in the categories of comedy, drama, reality and show runners.
My assignment was to photograph the panels but find something to make them stand out and present themselves in a striking way. After brainstorming the assignment with Cindy Hively, The Envelope photo editor, I decided to work on a themed concept that would carry through each of the panel shots while making each one unique. Each concept was designed to echo the name of each of the panels.
I enlisted the help of my friends from the prop house History for Hire to help create the illusion of TV magic. Backdrops were also rented from Schmidli Backdrops and my concepts took form.
The panels were scheduled at The Times building in the evening on four consecutive days. I enlisted help from fellow staffers when available to set up and tear down. (The May Day march in downtown L.A. on Day Three forced me to rebuild one set at a different location.)
The show runners’ panel was first on the list. These people are in charge of spearheading a show’s creative look and feel and at the same time deal with network brass. David Benioff (“Game of Thrones”), Alex Gansa (“Homeland”), Terence Winter (“Boardwalk Empire”), Vince Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”) and Glen Mazzara (“The Walking Dead”) are the men of the hottest shows on TV today. I wanted them to carry that creative force and become the heart and soul of a show: The crew, a cameraman, a director, sound and lighting techs. I decided to shoot them on a white background for a generic look, which would allow the subject to be seen and separated from the environment.
The drama panel was second on the list. Actors Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), Andrew Lincoln (“The Walking Dead”), Connie Britton (“Nashville”), Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”), Kevin Bacon (“The Following”) required a backdrop that displayed a strong granite look. I wanted the drama group to be rock solid. I decided to have the actors interact with each other for the shot instead of looking at the camera to add life to the scene.
The comedy panel was next on the list and the most difficult. Some of Hollywood’s top comedic television performers — Mindy Kaling (“Mindy Kaling Project”), Don Cheadle (“House of Lies”), Jake Johnson (“The New Girl”), Jon Cryer (“Two and a Half Men”) and Matt LeBlanc (“Episodes”) — gathered for a free-ranging conversation about their shows, their characters and their industry. Because of the May Day rally, this panel took place at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. But in my mind, it was going to be a day at the beach. I created a beach scene in one of the ballrooms of the Loews, carting in 350 pounds of sand and a beach scene backdrop with props for the full effect, minus the ocean spray. I added the cinema light to carry the theme of the other panels. We then had to tear down and truck everything back downtown that night to prepare for the fourth and final panel at The Times building the next day.
The final shoot would be the reality TV panel : Mark Cuban (“Shark Tank”), Cat Deely (“So You Think You Can Dance”), Carson Daly (“The Voice”) and Jeff Probst (“Survivor”) would talk about the push and pull of dealing with contestants and keeping interest in their shows. Because we were dealing with the magic of television and the real world of contestants vying for attention on the shows, I decided to show the real world on one side of the frame and a fake background world on the other side. I chose a spot on the balcony of The Times building that showed City Hall, a real-world landmark for Los Angeles, and a painted golden sunset of the fake-world side. I added in the cinema light again to continue the theme and showed part of the fake-world setup with sand bags and light stands. Threw in a little interaction and animated reality show hosts and voila! TV magic.