When an awesome advertising agency asks you to bid on a job for an international pharmaceutical company with household brand recognition you jump at the chance. Even if they need the estimate nearly immediately and the shoot is set to take place in two weeks you tell yourself, I'm young for a reason!! I'll sleep when I'm dead!! and put the pedal to the metal to get things done.
Such was the case with Pfizer's #FOGO (Fear Of Getting Old) campaign, which I shot at the beginning of June in creative collaboration with their kick-butt agency, HUGE. After being awarded the job (with some estimate help from Frank Meo of The Photo Closer) it was off to the races. The agency tasked me with casting and photographing 7 people for street style portraits in a variety of backgrounds for their FOGO portraits, which would be paired with humorous tag lines.
I was immediately intrigued - the campaign focuses on developing public conversation about aging by confronting elements of the unknown that scare people most about getting older. Everyone is worried about not having a sex life, not being able to use the stairs, or perpetually loosing their keys; the campaign calls out those scenarios with humorous tag lines and quirky portraits of being seeming confused, perplexed and lightly concerned. I liked the idea of a campaign that speaks to worries that everyone shares, that creates a safe (digital) space to connect with people feeling the same way. I was hooked.
With the goal of finding people ages 35-75 from all walks of life, I did a social media and street casting to put together a list of ~50 options, which the agency paired down before sending to the client. We got feedback, added a few more people to the mix, and ended up with a group who looked unique and each had distinct personalities. Since we would be shooting simple portraits, it was imperative to have talent who could bring a huge dose of personality to the photos and campaign. One model I knew personally, but everyone else was a friend of a friend, a stranger from the street, or an introduction as someone who would be passionate about the goal of the campaign. With our models set, it was production time.
As far as large advertising shoots go, this one was a lean, mean, photo-generating machine. The goal was to get as many variations from each model as possible, with a few outfit changes and a variety of backgrounds. We had one day to shoot at a single location. After scouting, I selected a hilly, wooded park with a few open grassy areas in the center of NW Washington, DC as our home base. From there we would be able to get backgrounds that felt rural, suburban, like a laid-back city and an urban metropolis within a few blocks. After more than one in-person visit to permitting offices, I got location permits from both the City of DC and the National Parks Service.
So we'd have a home base, I rented a production RV to be parked on the street next to the park. With both the agency and client on set, it was particularly imperative to have a comfortable, cool place where people could hop on the WiFi and work between shots.
To make sure everything went smoothly the day of the shoot, I hired two photo assistants and a digital tech. Even though I knew we'd be shooting natural light, having more hands made sure stress was kept to a minimum. I was glad - the photo assistants worked a series of reflectors and scrims to manipulate the natural light that came with the perfect sunny day we were given. With a hair and makeup artist and stylist on set to make sure everyone looked well-rested and fresh, the talent felt pampered and confident when they stepped in front of the camera.
Though we started the day off shooting tethered to a laptop on set, shooting RAW and JPGs simultaneously caused the sync to slow noticeably. I typically shoot efficiently to get the most natural, energetic expressions from my subjects and give my clients more diverse images. As we waited between each shot for the frame to load on the computer, I watched the energy drain from my subjects face and knew we had to do something. After a quick pow wow with my digital tech and the agency creative team, we unplugged and decided to go forward shooting handheld. The tight production schedule demanded we keep moving and the agency's goal was to make many as many different images as possible, which shooting handheld allowed us to do. The energy on set soared. I shared the back-of-camera preview with the creative team and client as we shot, making changes and trying new angles as part of our collaboration.
It worked - we shot well over 10,000 options of 6 subjects and finished early enough for the client and NYC agency team to catch an earlier train home. The agency and client made their selects before departing, and I started the retouching process that same evening.
The Finished Product
Six weeks later, a block long stretch of 42nd St next to Grand Central Station in NYC is wrapped in the images we took that day, there's an article in the New York Times about the campaign (HERE) and the digital campaign is live on GetOld.com, Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms. Campaign images from the website and my own shots of the billboards in Manhattan are in the gallery below.
I had a blast on this project - big thanks to the Huge and Pfizer teams, my crew, and the adventurous spirit of the talent! I can't wait to see how the work is rolled out over the next two years and to tackle something like this again soon.