Posts Tagged ‘rod menzies’

Monte Zucker

In my opinion, the late  Monte Zucker‘s name should never be far from the mind of any professional portrait photographer.  Monte’s photographic gravitas is like the reputations of  so many inspirational people whose fame and respect only grow larger when they are gone.

I have often talked and joked about Monte’s approach to posing people for portraits — he knew what he wanted.  But the pose,  while resulting in a classic portrait that looks completely natural, often feels really unnatural to the subject.  It’s counter-intuitive.

So Monte would sometimes take matters into his own hands.  He would put his camera down, approach the subject, grasp the neck and render a quick adjustment that resembled the work of an impatient chiropractor.

Joe Bruch

Of this technique, my friend and fellow Monte disciple, Master Photographer Joe Bruch recounts that after Monte administered the first ‘adjustment,’ the subject would most likely proactively assume the perfect pose should Monte begin to approach for the second time.  (I would have opted for the adjustment).

Rod Menzies

Anyway, when director and acting coach Rod Menzies contacted me and asked if I could to do a favor for his friend and acupuncturist, Edward Jwa of the Toluca Wholeness Center, I jumped at the chance.  Edward and his partner, Daniel Cho are well-respected in the Korean Community, but felt that a short video of their new Toluca Lake, California clinic produced in English could interest perspective Western clients who were perhaps unfamiliar with and might benefit from acupuncture and herbology.

At one point while making the video of Edward of Daniel as they were consulting in their office space, I felt Monte’s memory urging me to correct Daniel’s head position.  After unsuccessfully verbalizing the correction, I decided to come forward from behind the Canon camera. I quickly approached Daniel and made the necessary ‘Monte Adjustment,’ as shown in the video clip below.

Now, the astute observer may notice that magic was in-the-air immediately after the adjustment, because  my ‘chiropractic posing’ diploma mystically (and tastefully) appears, thereby appropriately augmenting the Toluca Wholeness Center’s waiting room wall:


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I love watching rehearsals — any kind of rehearsal.  Concerts, plays, public speaking events, sales presentations — you name it.  I’m the guy who would rather walk through the unmarked door next to a gift shop near the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland that leads to the utility corridors than go on the ride itself.

When my good friend and director Rod Menzies let me sit in on a coaching session with comedienne, Alice Johnson Boher, I was beside myself!

So yesterday, when I found myself at the Performing Arts Center at Yavapai College, I couldn’t help peeking at the stage.  I rarely lug the Canon camera around if I am not expecting to use it, but yesterday was an exception. So I entered the balcony and saw that there was a little activity on the stage.

An informal rehearsal in Prescott, AZ

The musical chorus director rushed to the stage to send individual groups to rehearsal rooms, leaving two students on the stage (I’ll get their names later for a post script). Since I was accompanied by my friend and fund-raiser for the college, I felt completely comfortable about going up on the stage to get a closer look.

There was a time in my life when the thought of approaching people going about their business would have never entered my mind.  But over the years, I have missed making far too many good images by being timid or worrying about whether or not a photographer would be welcome to over-think taking the shot now. And although I don’t practice the all-out techniques of the paparazzo, I will usually not hesitate to approach people in a scenario that interests me.

So I did not flinch to make this image:

“Let’s take it from the high note…”

This particular image above  would have been very difficult to make several years ago.  Although it does not look like it, there was very little light on stage.  With another camera, it would have been a grainy mess, especially if I had used a vintage digital  Nikon.

I used a Canon EOS 6D with the 40mm pancake lens (great for walking-around) at ISO 3200 (no flash), f3.2 at 1/30 second.

If I had it to do over, I would have done it at ISO 6400 at 1/60.  But I am still learning, after all!

They looked at me with the glory and fearlessness of youth and asked me, “are you coming on March 21st?  We’re doing “Children of Eden“!  You know — by Stephen Schwartz; he also wrote  “Godspel,” and “Wicked!””

Without hesitation, I said, “I’ll certainly try… break a leg!”

“Thank you!” smiling at me as they answered.

A Lapse of Invisibility

They were shortly joined by an accompanist, who upon observing me making the following image

looked up from the piano.  With a little hope in her voice, she asked me, “Are you the composer?”

(She must have been fooled by my Hollywood-actor-style, dress-down wardrobe with the trendy wool scarf and big camera).

I answered, thinking to myself ‘maybe I’m not as invisible as I thought I was,’ “No, I’m just a guy with a camera.”

And I’ve never looked as good as Stephen Schwartz!

Composer, Stephen Schwartz

Composer, Stephen Schwartz

“Oh, OK,” she said without any animus – and went back to rehearsing.

I love rehearsals!

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After a recent sojourn into the Mojave Desert to capture stories of healers, I guess that I was still overwhelmed even several weeks later by some of the testimonials. A typical snippet of what I had come back with would be Dianne’s story:

After showing my son, Damon some of these, he mused about doing a testimonial himself about some of his life experiences. Although he has a wealth of such experiences, there was no doubt in my mind that his stint in front of the camera was going to be something between tongue-and-check and irreverent. This presumably would be meant to confound all attempts by me to get to a deep level during an interview.

Knowing that he, like most photographers that I know would prefer to stay on the other side of the camera, I attempted to encourage him by adorning him with my favorite sets of Love beads and filling his hands with a sacred musical wood block, complete with mallet that I had retrieved years ago from the Yucatan.

“Camera is rolling, sound is speeding, and … ACTION!”

(Pause and silence).

Damon: “I don’t know … I’m not feelin’ it!”

Boy, have I heard that before! It has become my current obsession to figure out how to get someone in front of the camera beyond that spot and to dig deeply into those feelings to bring out something real. I try to remember the times spent with directors Rod Menzies and Shayde Christian to see if I can remember how they did it. I am not sure exactly what to do in every situation, but I instinctively feel that the performance in front of the camera springs from that twilight area very close to our fears and passions, like some artistic serpent coiled and ready to strike forth. As the photographers delving into video, we attempt to invite the serpent to strike, without invoking its ire.

As Damon continued to silently express his feelings, I saw in the camera moments of supreme facial realities that would rival any actor. These moments confirmed my feelings about that twilight area from which art springs from the deep subconscious. But the words, probably immovably blocked in some cerebral lobe would have to wait for another day to amaze me.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. Overcoming my own fear of being in front of the camera, I burst, “let me give it a try!” I took up the ceremonial musical wood block, left him standing there in the forest with the Love beads, and gave it a try.

Not to bore the reader with my impromptu script, I will suffice it to say that my sister, upon seeing the performance wrote, “what a bunch of [explicative deleted] mumbo-jumbo!”

"You've gotta be sincere?"

I don’t know, I thought it was pretty sincere, if not in a mumbo-jumbo sort of way.

Well, OK. So, Damon did try to make me laugh; I’ll show part of it:

Maybe this whole story is just an excuse to pay homage to the late performer, Jesse Pearson, who created one of my favorite characters, the man with the gold lamé jumpsuit, Conrad Birdie. Maybe I need look no farther than his performance for the answers I seek: “You’ve gotta be sincere — honestly sincere!”

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St. Alice of Chattahoochee
It will have been almost five years now since I received an email from my friend and acting coach Rod Menzies with a general invitation to come see Alice Johnson Boher in a solo performance called “St. Alice of Chattahoochee.”  I joke around that I don’t get out much. And the joke is, it’s mostly true. I didn’t know what to expect – but I decided to go, even though the traffic in LA doesn’t exactly motivate one to go out at any time unless it is a matter of life and death.

Well, I could have died laughing that night. I don’t think I have ever quite seen (or heard of) a comedienne like Alice Johnson. Rod directed this one-woman show that was at-once touching, embarrassing (in a good way), raucous, physical and poignant .  It was the first time since Phantom of the Opera that I had contemplated coming back for the next performance. I left the theater thinking to myself, “what a lucky guy Rod is to be able to work with people like Alice Johnson.”

Alice Johnson Boher and Rod Menzies

On Points and Arcs
Rod and I see each other only occasionally since I have moved to Arizona. But my foray into HDSLR video production seems to draw us back together. I do the video mostly on behalf of charitable organizations in Arizona. But if we are both in LA at the same time, we like to have breakfast at Nick’s Coffee Shop & Deli on Pico near La Cienega on a weekday morning to catch up.

It was at that last breakfast that I was telling Rod how moved I was to watch him coach Elisa Donovan the day before her read of her upcoming solo-performance called “Sweet Dreams,” which is based on the death of her father.  Like any outsider, I am woefully unaware and unappreciative of the work and skills that are required for a successful performance.  This is not practically true – but it feels that way sometimes.  I watched silently as Rod listened to Elisa’s read.  He had a calm but focused attention that was registering on not only every word, but on the “arc,” of the story.  She paused … he would ask about one word.  She would immediately understand the obvious and subtle implications for the performance, mark-up the script and continue reading.  It was a delight to watch. The next day I was lucky to be asked to film the read.

Elisa Donovan

So at breakfast I told him that I would love to be able to film such a session.  He got a strange look on his face and said, “Well, Alice is coming over in about an hour.  I’ll call her and see how she would feel about it.  I am sure she won’t mind.  That’s the kind of person she is.”

“You don’t mean “Saint” Alice, do you?” (I could feel the grip of destiny on my shoulder).

“Yes, didn’t you see her first play?  Well,  she’s working on another one and I am going to meet with her to discuss it.”

I reminded Rod, “Of course I saw it– twice!”

I just shut my mouth and was glad that I had a Westcott Spiderlite TD5 in the car.  I set up at Rod’s place.

Alice arrived and I became a fly-on-the-wall for the next 90 minutes – camera ‘rolling.’  I am hoping that Rod will have some snippets of this session on his web site soon, and I can hardly wait to see what Alice comes up with next.

Growing up in Hollywood should have numbed me by now — but I am still such a fan of people like Alice and Rod!

Post Script:

Here is a “snippet” from Alice & Rod’s session. Enjoy being the fly-on-the-wall!

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