Behind The Scenes With Brian Doben
Award season is known to be one of the most glamorous times of the year. Hollywood’s biggest stars walk the red carpet and come together to celebrate the success of the people who make each nomination possible. During his latest project in collaboration with Walmart and The Academy, Photographer Brian Doben had the unique opportunity to shoot the powerhouses behind the scenes who help make the stars look good. From set designers to wardrobe stylists, Brian was able to capture the crucial moments where the set crews and glam teams shine.
The campaign included a number of commercials that premiered during the live airing of the Oscars and print ads that mirrored those six TV spots. Brian’s expertise working in conjunction with TV and film allowed him to successfully navigate the physical constraints and other challenges of capturing still photography on a production set where the schedule and environment are out of his control. “It’s always that kind of interesting dance of how do we find our time to create an image that is dynamic and stands on its own yet carries through and works simultaneously with the TV spots,” explains Brian on the process.
The final images for the ads intentionally match the commercial campaign, so it’s easy to assume that both of the shoots were happening simultaneously. In reality, most of those shots were done on Brian’s time, and there were only a few minutes that he was able to shoot in between the different sets for a true action shot. “I really try to respect people's time and space,” Brian notes, “so I saw that there was a moment when there was a lens change on one of the cameras and I was able to just take control of it for that shot - I think that image was taken in under a minute. It was pouring rain and it was fast.”
The result was a set of six images that transport the viewer straight to the set with all the energy of the production. Brian credits this to his practiced process of shooting. “My first camera was an 8x10 camera so I couldn’t afford to shoot too much, the film was very expensive to shoot. It would average about 10 dollars for a sheet of film between buying and processing it, so I would have to really think about my framing and the composition. It was extremely crucial for me because I couldn't do many images and that really was a great way for me to start. Although now everything is digital and you can shoot 10,000 frames, it's still stuck in me, to think about and to look at all the corners of the image and see, how do they relate to each other? What is it here that’s interesting, even if its just a garbage can, is that garbage can there right or is it wrong? When I really do think of my process now, I look at my 8x10 days and I use that because it's the same thing - what is my intention here?” Brian considers this process “creatively stretching”, where he comes on set ready to “absorb like a sponge” and connect with the subjects to get the best shot.
Although this isn’t Walmart’s first campaign as the official sponsor of the Oscars, the idea behind the campaign is a departure from the tv spots they produced in the last two years of their partnership. Making the decision to focus on the magic behind the scenes sits near to Brian’s heart. “From the beginning, I loved the concept because it goes really to the heart of my passion project, my at work project, celebrating people who love what they do so to honor the people behind the scene,” Brian commented on why this project was a great fit for him. “In my eyes, it shows that there’s a change in direction that's occurring which is to really appreciate the people that carry the weight of whatever it might be. It would have been much easier to show the stars of the production. They could have hired five or six movie stars and they could have done a very similar storyline and instead, they went with a much more daring and exciting point of view. They honored the person who’s getting the meals out for the crew or a stylist’s assistant - these are the people that make things happen actually and the viewer needs the reminder that without that core group, nothing gets accomplished. The stars wouldn't look good if their stylist didn’t style them to look good and the stylist couldn’t do it without their assistant. For me as well, I rely on my team who I’ve had for well over a decade and I really really love having them with me because they carry me through it.”