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Stills for Movies

From: Creative Inspirations: Douglas Kirkland, Photographer

Video: Stills for Movies

(Music playing.) Douglas Kirkland: I'm sometimes asked how I got started in photography of movies, shooting movies. And it's an interesting thing because I always was fascinated by movies, but didn't expect I would ever work around them. It was always the distant Hollywood and that was always a very exciting idea to be on a film set. Now, I got started working with different people at Look Magazine and I shot many films.

Stills for Movies

(Music playing.) Douglas Kirkland: I'm sometimes asked how I got started in photography of movies, shooting movies. And it's an interesting thing because I always was fascinated by movies, but didn't expect I would ever work around them. It was always the distant Hollywood and that was always a very exciting idea to be on a film set. Now, I got started working with different people at Look Magazine and I shot many films.

I've worked, by the way, on we figure more than 160 movies. That's a lot of movies. Now, how do I work on a movie? Well, to begin with, I don't shoot stills through the film as a still photographer. I work on what they called special photography, or I'm working for a publication. I've done books on movies such as James Cameron's Titanic and other films and I've worked on a lot of movies. But in any case, I usually start by reading the script and understanding the story and determining what the most important shots would be in the film.

Some of those are done as a film, but very often, they are done separately, apart from the set. I've done them in very small spaces sometimes, like a room not much bigger than a large elevator when I had to, because that's where the best light was or something. But generally, they are done during filming and I must connect with the stars and get along with the crew. Recently, we were in Australia for seven weeks working on a great film with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman called Australia.

Out there in the outback in a desert-like area in the North West of Australia, in the Kimberley area, pretty exciting stuff. We're living as a group and you become like a family and that's all part of what it's like out there. I've enjoyed doing this. As I say, some movies I've loved; others, I liked much less. The interesting thing is you can be sort of a hero if a film ends up being successful, or you can be sort of want to hide your face if it hasn't done too well.

You're either benefited or you are in trouble as a result of the success of a film or the failure of it. But what am I doing when I'm working on a movie? I'm an observer of the movie and I come in with a photojournalist's outlook generally, which I supplement with some portraiture. In a few words, that's the key to how I work on a film set. I come in with open eyes and you have to get all the-- connect with all of the crew, and the director and certainly with the principals, the stars, and all of the makeup people, and part of it is the PR job.

You have to be part of the group. They have to be comfortable with you, because if they aren't, if that world is not, you're finished. So when I arrive at a film set to start working, the first thing I do is try to meet usually the first assistant director, if I haven't already met him, the director, and then go through everybody because those are the people that will allow you to get your pictures or not. Now I have one story I want to tell you. This happened a couple of times with this particular director.

My fast friend, Baz Luhrmann, wonderful director. He did many films like Romeo and Juliet, he did Moulin Rouge, which I worked on, and most recently, he has done Australia. The wonderful thing about Baz is he just does something that really helps somebody like myself. He knows my work and fortunately, he respects it and mutual respect is very important. You have to respect the people working there and fortunately, if they respect you, you have a great opportunity to make good pictures.

So Baz has done this on both Moulin Rouge and Australia. He got on the microphone the day I arrived and announced to everybody that Douglas Kirkland had come here and how lucky they were. He was was going to do work that would be very beneficial to the movie. Once you have somebody do that for you, you're in good shape. So, that's kind of the world I live in and that's how I work. But again, it's always connections with the people, connections with everybody. I don't care if a guy is digging a hole.

I want to be friends with him and see how he does it better, because he probably has some interesting things to show you.

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