Abigail's Party - Behind the Scenes
We recently did a shoot for the MAC. I always love shoot theatre projects. They tend to be a little more loose with the brief, leaving you as a photographer to put your own stamp on it. This project was for the Mike Leigh penned play, "Abigail's Party".
As quoted from the MAC's description of the play,
"We cordially invite you to the party of the year. (The year is 1977).
Abigail’s Party is one of the most iconic stage plays of the 20th century, thanks partly to its legendary 1977 ‘Play for Today’ production on BBC1. From a time when the height of urban sophistication was cheese and pineapple on a stick, served nonchalantly on a Lazy Susan comes a tragi-comedy about social climbing, prejudice and fear of not doing ‘the done thing’.
The writer and director Mike Leigh called his play “both a celebration and a lamentation of how we are”, because this isn’t just a play about 1970s Britain, it’s a peek into the frustrations and struggles endured by everyone who has ever floundered and grasped their way through life, attempting to ensure everything about them and around them is ‘the done thing’."
Coooooool, a period piece, that takes place in the 70's. Andi Mac (no relation to the above MAC), called me up late in 2017 to start the ball rolling; getting a set devised and built, on budget, that would represent 1970's British suburbia. Andi found some wall paper that suited the bill; one of those older, ugly brown repeating pattern types that your smoking aunt used to have hanging in her living room. I really wanted to give the image some scale, some depth, so Andi ordered several rolls of the garish paper. Now all we had to do was build some walls to hang it on.
We tried to get some movable flats made that we could stick the paper on but we were running out of time. Instead we got four 4x8 sheets of 3/8 plywood for a smooth finish. My assistant Radek and I screwed the wood to the wall to give us a finished are of 8x16 feet; should be enough to pull off a living room set. My other assistant Chadand I arrived early on shoot day to prep the studio, pre light and hang the paper.
The lighting would consist of 4 Profoto heads running off two 1200 Acute packs, bouncing into two 4x8 white foams on c stands bouncing into set at a 45 degree or so angle.
Ringlight centred between two 4x8 white fills.
I played around with the ringlight on camera for a few frames to try to get a nice even blend between the fill and the ring but I abandoned it for a 1m Octalight.
Ya, just wasn't happy with the look from the ringlight in this situation, maybe then again it might have been that moustache.
We got all our "fabulous" props from Shane over at Stags Head Props, and once into position we were ready to really dive in and get the lighting real. I dumped the ringlightfor a 1m Octalight with no diffusion but a grid on the front. It would be coming in from camera right. Along with the Octa I put up a silver Softlight reflector with a grid to focus a bean of light onto the sideboard and 70's stereo against the back wall; I wanted to pull the grain out of the side board and show off the sculpted handles.
The set is loaded and ready.
I took the fill down to one light per 4x8 foam o give it a little more punch, subtle but there. At this point we brought "Beverly" on set. She is the principle actor who's daughter, "Abigail" is having her first teenage party next door.
The last addition to the lighting set up was a 650w Bambino fresnel with barndoors(and some cinefoil) on a boom, to create a gash of light on the back wall.
I shot the project on the Pentax 645z for the added dynamic range and medium format depth of field control wit the 45-85mm zoom. The brief included photography for outdoor signage, specifically 96, 48 billboards and Adshel. I used the 1m Octa as my main and moved it around the set depending on where the model was positioned and what format we were working on. So the wide landscape 96/48 images had the Octa off on camera right, roughly 45 off camera and at a 45 degree angle, giving us a loose Rembrandt styled light.
Above is an un retouched DNG of the final lighting set up for the landscape images.
Below is the retouched image, un cropped ready to be dropped in the layout.
There wasn't a whole lot needed to be re touched, just a lightening of the skin and upper body and a slight toning of the colours but for the most part it was bang on to what Andi and I were looking for.
The portrait version for the Adshel and printed pieces needed the Octa light shifted around to more on camera and with the fill from the floor gave a nice detailed beauty light. We moved some of the props around in the background just to fill the space a bit.
Soft gorgeous light from the 1m Octa light and grid.
I love the images and once again thoroughly enjoyed colaborating with Andi and PaleBlueDot.
A big round of clap for Radek and Chad for helping do everything we needed to get the shoot done on time.