Unreality Studios manifesto

Part 4 of A Photo-Illusionist’s Declaration by Jerry A. Sierra

My Kitchen Studio Space

Photographing the ape

My kitchen, and parts of the living room, doubles as studio space for Unreality Studio productions… with the kitchen space being the most often used (due to the morning light) … this is where the main sets are built and the backgrounds laid out and the lights installed in anticipation of the sunlight that filters through the windows and the hanging plants that create some of the background shadows I’m so fond of.

It takes a while to properly set up the table-top stage, which is why most of the set-up is often done the night before.

The ideal light will usually last from 30 to 40 morning minutes... with the shadows dragging across my shooting stage and onto the wall... away from my lens, another casualty to the whims of nature.

Once the light arrives, there’s little time for experimenting... sometimes the light fails and I’ve minutes to improvise a different shot, maybe close to what I had originally envisioned. Maybe different. The shadows seem to move slower than the light that makes them… perhaps implying encouragement from the cosmos. It’s nice to have God on my side for a change.

On rare occasions the shoots go according to plan and everything works as pre-visualized... the portraits of Dracula and Frankenstein are almost exactly as I’d planned them... Other times all plans go out the window due to “technical difficulties” or poor planning and I must improvise. This is where I turn into John Cassavettes and throw the script out the window… this is why it’s important to have top-rate talent that can improvise a more realistic story than whatever’s on paper.

Some of the actors at Sierra Unreality Studios are award winners, others are fall-down drunks. Over time I learned to use tape and paper-covered stands and invisible posts, and still, some will fall down before the director yells “action.” Sometimes this is what’s going on while the light escapes and I can almost hear God laughing.

When the perfect morning light is gone, I embrace more traditional studio lighting and might even play with the character’s own shadow... With studio lighting I’ve a little more time to arrange various actors into one image and incorporate background elements... but that window light is unique, and I never try to fake its effects.

My goal is to embrace the sense of character integrity that emerged when story tellers and filmmakers had less access to technology and more need to fuel the imagination... (my favorite Star Wars is still the very first one).

A bunch of apes

NEXT: Group Shots

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