Like many of you, I'm a huge fan of Breaking Bad. So, when I saw the moody desert character portraits AMC released to promote the final season, I was excited and a little curious. They were shot by Frank Ockenfels III, a commercial photographer who has shot everything from big time movie posters (Harry Potter, Men In Black 3) to a wide variety of TV advertisements. He has one of the most fascinating jobs around and he let us pick his brain about what it's like to shoot billboard-sized photos of very famous people. Check out Frank's portfolio here, and be sure to follow him on Instagram.
How did you get started shooting for TV and movie posters?
It’s funny because I kind of fell into it. I started in music where I didn’t have massive productions. I’d show up with myself and one assistant. Maybe two. The idea was how much could you possibly get done in a day. You have a lot of photographs to cover.
One day, a woman named Kimberly Rock from Grey Entertainment saw my work and thought I might be perfect to change the way they do television advertisements. She hired me, and what I came to understand later, was that if it didn’t work, she’d lose her job. We went out and did Murder in the Heartland. We shot Tim Roth and Fairuza Balk and Brian Dennehy and Randy Quaid down in Texas. They used to shoot everything against gray seamless, and I said, “Well, let’s go out and see what kind of natural light we can find.” I tried to make it more real, a lot closer to what the filmmakers were making.
Seems like they were pretty happy with your work. Did it snowball from there?
The second round came when a company in LA called BLT started pushing me quite a bit toward doing movie posters and Harry Potter world. I did three rounds of that over the years.
That whole industry seems so foreign to many people. The photography is obviously important, but relationships seem to play a huge role in what you do.
The act of doing celebrity photography half the time has nothing to do with if you’re the right person for the job. A lot of times these companies and agencies are handed the person the celebrity is closest to or who they feel comfortable around. I have been on both ends of that spectrum. I’ve been handed to a group of people for whom I was not their first choice, but the Celebrity would say, “I want Frank to do it because I’m comfortable with him doing it. I know that he’ll be on my side.”
How did you get hooked up with AMC?
A guy named Brad Hochberg, who owns a company named Refinery, which is a design agency and ad company for the television industry, suggested me to do the Mad Men stuff. I’ve done the key art and the gallery work for Mad Men every year. Because of that relationship I ended up doing every show they had. They brought me into The Killing, then Hell on Wheels, and last year, I was introduced to their other biggest titles, Breaking Bad, and the Walking Dead.
Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead (AMC)
How do you make the creative leaps required to shoot such varied subject matter? Just making the leap from Mad Men to The Walking Dead seems daunting.
It’s what I love to do. I’ve based my career around the concept of never having just one idea. The two comments about my website are “It’s amazing how diverse your website is,” or “What is it you actually do?” It’s great.The people who love the diversity are the ones who understand how I work. A lot of these shows, like The Walking Dead, they don’t want the same thing. They want to see how far things can go. The actors don’t want to do the same thing every year, either. If they show up every year and you put them in front of a grey seamless, they’re going to look at you and say, “Why can’t we just use the pictures from last year?”