Friday, June 10, 2011

One Coffee, One Shot... A Day of Dancers Among Us Ends with a Splash

I was exhausted.

I had started shooting Dancers Among Us with ZDF German Television at 9:00am with Marcella Guarino and the $10,000 helicopter, then met Jermaine Terry for the Andy Warhol and Lincoln Center adventures. All three situations had been extremely challenging, with the heat stifling, and I was about to attempt the most difficult shot yet.

Years ago I was so excited to get my first cell phone that I couldn't wait to play with it. I was on the subway while doing so, holding a coffee. The train stopped suddenly and I spilled my coffee all over the woman next to me. I wanted to recreate that moment now- a dancer stumbling, gracefully of course, on the subway, spilling her coffee on an innocent bystander.

The dancer would be Allison Jones, whose unique physicality inspired this idea. The innocent bystander would be Geoff Legg, whose wonderful photographs often grace the pages of these posts. Geoff changed into a white t-shirt, we bought a huge iced coffee from Dunkin' Donuts, and we all climbed aboard the B train heading downtown.

We had one chance to get the shot... ONE CHANCE! A single frame! After that Geoff would be stained with coffee, the ground would be wet, and the passengers would be freaked out.

With the ZDF sound and camera men recording the madness, we tried to solidify a pose. The train rumbled on, speeding quickly toward Brooklyn.

Allison was trying to use the bar above Geoff for stability, but her leg was getting blocked- I wanted her line to be unobstructed. Her handbag was in the way as well. We came up with a new plan and kept practicing.

We rehearsed for THIRTY MINUTES! Allison was getting tired. The passengers were getting concerned. We were deep into Brooklyn. It was time to roll the dice.

I asked Allison to practice one last time, just to set it in stone. All of a sudden my camera STOPPED FOCUSING. It just stopped. There was nothing I could do.

We waited ten infuriating minutes. Nikon was being temperamental, focusing about half the time. People were starting to get off the train. The subway would be empty soon. Now was the time.

I asked Geoff to appear asleep. I hoped Allison's position would be right, her eyes would be open, her expression would be natural, and the coffee would be arching in a steady stream, splashing Geoff in the face at the exact moment I released the shutter. Oh, and I hoped Nikon would decide to focus.

"Here we go everyone. Remember to get your leg up, Allison. Hit him hard with the coffee and look surprised. Geoff, you ready? One.. Two... Three... Go!"

Splash! Coffee everywhere. Mayhem ensued. The train pulled into the station. Our moment had passed. I took a breath and looked at the photo.

Allison nailed it! Everything I wanted, and more. One take. In focus. Unbelievable!

I wasn't even exhausted anymore. I was exhilarated. It had been the most exciting and productive day of my entire career.

And it wasn't over.

When we returned to Manhattan, Allison had an idea. "I could do something really cool with that phone booth." Five minutes later, I had this image.

Then Jennifer Jones, who had been waiting patiently all day to shoot an homage to Marilyn Monroe on her 85th birthday, hit this shot on the first try!

Thank you to everyone I mentioned in this week's Dancers Among Us blog posts- dancers Marcella Guarino, Jermaine Terry, Allison Jones, and Jennifer Jones for their amazing talents, Travis Francis for two fantastic videos, Geoff Legg for shooting and taking one for the team, and ZDF German Television for making me bigger than Brad Pitt in Europe! What an incredible day.