In the past year, meeting Josh Eskridge has not only been a blessing but an extremely fulfilling creative and collaborative avenue. We’ve become close friends and our ideas keep getting better and better. From the documentary “Exposure” to “Searcher/Specter a A Portrait Set” and now to this project. I really can’t thank him enough for trusting me with his beautiful visionary projects.
In late May, Josh sent over a video from Elle Magazine with Kristen Stewart. I fell in love with the aesthetics and energy in the video. Black and white, harsh lighting and a calm voiceover, it really grabbed my attention. Inspired from the video, he wanted to bring a photo shoot to life on the topic of androgyny. I was instantly into it.
Using modern digital photography and double exposures Josh wanted to give the illusion that one person was actually two separate people, a male and a female interacting with each other. He immediately brought on board our friend Micah Severo Ruelas for hair and makeup and the model Morgan Hawley had been set from the start.
Although it would be a technically challenging shoot, doing shoots of this nature can only make you stronger. Breaking the mold and stepping out of his comfort zone, Josh would only be using hot lights and modeling lights and I had the full intention of avoiding everything I normally do when filming.
We discussed several options on locations and finally ended on the Culbertson Mansion. A 19th century historic estate filled with antiques, paintings and beautiful accommodations for guests. I had shot there for “GAGA - A Portrait Series” but, we felt it would fit the concept well enough and would create the perfect setting for dramatics. But, from the start there was a looming black cloud over this shoot and many times it looked as if it just wouldn’t happen. Thanks to Josh's persistence and effort, the shoot was finally etched in stone.
When the day finally came I felt unprepared, like I normally do going into any photo shoot. Nevertheless, I would be around friends and in a comfortable environment, also with the option to really explore outside the box and experiment. I’m sure Josh felt the same. Hair and makeup had started before I arrived and once loaded in, we promptly started planning the sets and setting up the gazillion lights I had brought in.
My initial thought was to drop everything and start filming whatever I could documentary style. But I stopped myself and instead meticulously planned my shots accordingly. After Josh and I came to somewhat of an agreement on the set locations inside the Culberston Mansion, I hopped over to hair and makeup and planned the first shot. Morgan had never been apart of something like this, so I had to give her a quick rundown on how to act and react and give her caution that I would come inches from her face with my camera lens without warning. Sometimes running full speed. For Micah this was another day in paradise.
My only intention was to do the majority of the shots handheld and give it a very raw attitude. The rest would come as we moved along. First shot, I grabbed my camera and moved back in forth in a box formation almost as if I was dancing, pulling a hard focus in and out. After about 10 seconds of doing that, I think Micah was like “oh, here we go again” and Morgan just laughed. Time to play.
After Micah finished up with the astonishing first look, we wandered out onto the grand staircase where the first set was ready to go. It was HOT. I started sweating a pool when I arrived and the fact that there was zero air conditioning the main foyer of the mansion, made it all that much worse. Thank goodness they had towels. In between Josh’s dynamic setups, I had the opportunity to grab Morgan for a few miscellaneous sequences; A long winded stedi-cam shot from the end of the hallway, several close ups and a few abstract scenes.
Morgan never seems to let me down! She has a confidence and fortitude that is unlike many models. Her down to earth temperament and likable personality can raise the moral in seconds. Off camera, buoyant but quiet. On camera, her presence can be heard for miles.
We blew through the first few sets and I had some great handheld material. Far more abstract then anything I’ve ever done. A lot of pulled focus and quick moving cuts. The shots were so different that I was pretty nervous to show any captures to the team. As soon as we reached the point at which we setup multiple cameras for double exposures, the shoot started moving at a snails pace. But, the lighting had to be perfect and the camera had to remain in the perfect composed position. It took work.
Three cameras on three tripods in various rooms in the mansion, if they moved the shot would be ruined. We had to pay extreme attention to make sure we didn’t touch or nudge any of the tripods as we worked and I filmed.
Normally, I would have documented the entire process, but I didn’t want it to turn into another “behind the scenes” short. But rather a short film that anyone could appreciate and enjoy without the technical jargon. Just beauty. I took my time and calculated the sequences. In, out, below, behind I was shooting from everywhere and we really played with the constant lighting. Directing light through a white plastic bag to using a straight edge to create a dramatic shadows, gear was scattered all over the place.
By the second look and I was getting worn out. The day had trucked along and I was recovering from a house warming/studio opening I had hosting the night before. The rooms hadn't cooled down and I still had no clue how I was going to cut this video up. Only thing I was confident in was the footage I was shooting and I suppose that was enough for the time being.
As we closed with the final set on the staircase, I real got wild. I accidentally ran my camera and slipped it down the side of the wall. A beautiful mistake. I liked the look so much I posed Morgan and re-enacted the slip. I slid my camera down the length of the wall, it bounced and moved all over. I asked Morgan to give a quick glance as I moved the camera downward. That would be the ending shot in the film. For some reason, right after that shot I instantly knew the direction I would proceed in post.
Roughly after 10pm we wrapped the shoot and I headed home to import the footage. I would step away for nearly two weeks then finally return to the footage.
When I did return to the footage I had a clear vision in mind. Old, classic, projector. I started editing in color, then eventually color graded the entire track into black & white. The inspiration flowed from there.
My original thought was to have some random French acapella track in the background. But didn’t know how or where to search. After some deep scouring I found the missing piece. I just happened to stumble on La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf. Perfection. The rawness and innocence of the song blended with the artistic taste of the footage was utopian. I started splicing to the track and everything flowed. But, it was still missing something. Taking a nod from Antonio Pantoja and our recent work, I decided to add in a gallery of sound effects and film burn. It was exactly what the short needed.
I’m glad we decided to push through that looming black cloud, a spectacle of beauty emerged from it. We are proud to present Mon Autre Moi. My Other Self.