Martin Scorsese Behind the Scenes

Celebrity photographer Michael Grecco describes his recent cover shoot with the Oscar-winning film director.

Martin-Scorsese-Behind-the-Scenes
Martin-Scorsese-Behind-the-Scenes

Michael Grecco brings a seasoned eye and impeccable technique to his celebrity portraiture. The L.A.-based photographer divulges his shooting secrets in an exciting new monograph from Watson Guptill, Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait (right). The book is essentially a series of master classes in how Grecco produced some of his most successful images, each accompanied by a detailed lighting diagram. So when we heard that the photographer had recently created a portrait of Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese for a story in OnDirecTV magazine (now called Access), we asked him to tell us how he did it, using his new book's winning format.
Here is a chapter of Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait prepared exclusively for American Photo visitors.
-- The Editors
When David Hill, the President of DirecTV, asked me if I would shoot Martin Scorsese for the cover of their magazine, OnDirecTV (now called Access), I was honored. I also knew it would be a tough assignment and that I was only going to be given 45 minutes. In that time I had to do a sequence of images for his ongoing column in the magazine, shoot enough still images to insert into the television commercial, and make a killer cover image. The good thing is that I knew what I wanted. I wanted the image to speak of Manhattan and the "mean streets" of New York, which so many of Scorsese's films are associated with.

To do that I wanted to shoot him on a roof that overlooked the city. The next problem was that he did not want to travel far from his office because of his busy schedule. His office in the Directors Guild building on 57th Street offered me the roof deck. I happened to have had a shoot in Manhattan two weeks before we were scheduled to shoot so I scouted that location. I liked the view but hated that the railing that blocked the view. To solve the problem I decided to put the director on a platform of apple boxes, which is standard equipment on a film (and still) set, so they made sense.

The other aspect of the environment I wanted to create was the smoke from the roof pipes that would have been there if we were shooting on a real roof. In order to do this I brought in a fog machine and wind machine to control the direction the smoke would travel in. I also wanted him in a long overcoat, the kind of coat you don't see in Los Angeles, the kind of coat that's very New York. His office instructed me not to bring clothes, that he would wear what he had on. Working with Tyler Pappas, my former photo editor from GQ and the producer for this shoot, I made the case anyway to bring a wardrobe stylist on board and bring some overcoats. Tyler agreed and we had someone pick up some supplemental clothing for the shoot.
I lit the shot with a Dyna-Lite M2000wi pack using a Chimera Medium Strip softbox with a fabric "egg-crate" grid in the box. I used the grid to keep the light from the softbox from spilling on the railing and background wall that I hated to begin with. I set the power on the strobe to overpower the ambient light and the environment to have more dramatic impact. I also placed it far to the side to create shadow and depth in the image and still light Scorsese's face. After looking at the image on the capture company's (Image Mechanics) 30-inch monitor on site, I realized that the left side of the image needed a little more light, so I added another Dyna-Lite pack with a 20º grid spot on the head. This was used to hit his coat and open up all the dark parts of the image. While this was being set up we were also setting up a gray seamless paper and lights inside to do his portraits for his column in the magazine.

Michael Grecco's lighting scheme for his portrait of Oscar-winning film director Martin Scorsese, shot on the rooftop of New York City's Directors Guild of America.

When Scorsese arrived, I banged out about 120 images on the gray seamless and another 150 outside. The cool thing was I could tell him exactly what I wanted and he delivered it like the best actor, knowing exactly what the director, me in this case, wanted. We did it all, grooming, gray seamless, a wardrobe change and the shots outside, in just 40 minutes -- and in the middle of it all it started to rain!
Watch Grecco's stop-motion video of the shoot: www.michaelgrecco.com/scorsese.

image
image
Michael Grecco
image
image
Michael Grecco
image
image
Michael Grecco
image
image
image
image
image
image
Michael Grecco