'Mad Men' Photographer: 'When the First Cigarette Is Lit, Everything Kinda Changes'
By Ben Trivett Posted Aug 6th 2010 11:00PM
EXCLUSIVE: Ever wonder who takes a great cast and turns them into Don Draper and Joan Harris? Well we caught up with one of 'em -- Frank Ockenfels 3, an LA-based photographer responsible for more of the film posters and television stills then we can count. PopEater spoke with him about his great work with the cast of 'Mad Men,' arguably one of the best ensembles ever. Check out what he had to say, as well as more of the beautiful photos of the 'Mad Men' cast, after the jump.
From working with the cast since Season 2, Frank has developed a bond with the actors and creative directors. His images are a crucial element to the series, representing the first visual cues seen by the public. In short, his photos need to be as dynamic as the show itself.
What was it like, shooting the Season 4 promos?
This year, being the whole new start, the fresh start, it was the empty office. Before anyone had been into it -- I think they'd done one full week of shooting beforehand -- we went in and took Jon's or Donald Draper's office apart and it was the first time anyone had been in. So they had just finished building this beautiful set two weeks prior and we walked in and put a lighter carpet on the floor and basically recreated the shot. We had to take a couple of that walls out just to get that shot. That's how much commitment the crew has to the show to get that right.
What else goes into creating each one of these shots?
[laughs] On the day we do the publicity, which is kind of great also, it's great to know the characters because you can set them in a situation, shoot them, and walk away. We actually spent no longer then 15 to 20 minutes shooting each of those publicity pictures. And they're designed and thought out prior -- "Jon is sat down in a chair, there is a woman leaning over him bringing him a drink, there is a crowded bar behind him." We'll shoot that and then move right on to the next one. We don't do 26 variations of that. There is the moment that they are looking for and we'll work until we capture that.
Jon and the actors will change little details as we're shooting, but what they're changing isn't the background, or he's moving or switching left to right, but he's making simple changes like having a drink in his hand or a cigarette lit or bringing the cigarette to his mouth. A lot of planning does go into these though. We'll sit and discuss the types of photography of the era and and what type of photography would make the most sense. Last season was an Avedon-type group shot. This season was an Irving Penn-esque shot of the cast. It's like having another Christmas once a year, when I get to walk in with the full cast and play.
Mad Men Season 4 Photos
Elisabeth Moss, Jon Hamm, and Christina Hendricks as Peggy, Don, and Joan from Mad Men.
Frank Ockenfels 3, AMC
Are you shooting the characters or the actors?
Definitely the characters. It's funny because everyone walks in and you'll see them prior, like Jon will come in with his hair in front of his face or something and he's in a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. But when he walks out of the shoot, there is this elegance about him. Same with January or any one of the characters. It kind of throws you for a second seeing them out of character. Because when they're there, they're so used to being in costume and everything. It's like when the first cigarette is lit, everything kinda changes.
John Slattery will be sitting there joking around, he and Jon Hamm have this vaudevillian sense of humor and they're hysterical together. Then they'll go into who they are on the show, they'll just fall right into it. There is a gracefulness to it, down to their hand gestures. I think it's because they're such great actors and they've done so much that they have this ability to act from the top of their head down to their toes and out their fingers -- it's lucky for me. You'd think four seasons into a TV series -- and I've shot a lot of TV series -- these people are still the very same people I met the first year I came on. That's saying a lot because there is ego involved and celebrity involved and all that. They are all the exact same people I met the first day with the same grace and appreciation of what we're trying to achieve.
Which 'Mad Man' would you compare yourself to?
I'd have to be Robert Morse. I just walk around with my socks and smile at everybody and remind people of that reality of what's going on, but with a creative edge to it. I don't want to be the one up front. I'm definitely the one in the background. Be sure to check out more Mad Men at AMCtv.com as well as more of Frank's fabulous work on his his website.
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