film festival diary '97
Day 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 5 > 6 > 7 > 8
Day Eight


>>This was written a month after Lady Di's death. The Monday after the car crash, I walked into the layout room at NOW where I was met by John, the Production Manager, who pointed at me and started shouting that I was "One of THEM!" and that my type killed Lady Di. 

He was, I think, trying to be funny.

Everyone in the room was mortified, and someone took me aside and asked me if I was okay. "You know he was just joking, don't you?"

That's when it occured to me that no one thought there was a difference between paparazzi and what I do.

Up early again...this is painful. Okay, it's my fault -- I shouldn't stay up till 4:00 reading if I have to be out of the house by 9:00. I grab a cab and make it to the Alliance Releasing suite early. Ingrid's going to think I'm trying to show off. At a few minutes before 10:00 they take us up to an empty hotel room and leave us to set up. It takes me all of three minutes to load my cameras, so Ingrid and I gossip instead. The smartass Production Manager with the paparazzi crack was fired this week. He's been at the paper for almost the whole of its seventeen-year history.  Wow. So much for job security, even at a "left-wing" weekly.

A publicist sticks her head in the room to tell us that Figgis is running behind, then comes back a few minutes later to tell us that our time's been cut from a half-hour to twenty minutes. Ingrid and I look at each other and groan. It's been like this the whole festival. We'd really might as well fax the questions in and sit around manipulating studio hand-outs in Photoshop, the way this is going. 

Finally Figgis is brought in. A tall Englishman with a big mop of curly hair, striped morning coat trousers, argyle socks, ankle boots and an ascot under a black sweater and jacket. He immediately heads over to my camera case and eyes the Rolleis.

>>Rolleiflex E 3.5 -
my camera.
"David Bailey is a pal of mine," he tells me, "and he picks these  up whenever he sees them. He's got about thirty or forty by now." 

They are great cameras, I tell him. I'd love to get another, but the price has gone up 300% since I bought my first one. He gasps, and says he's been looking for one. I can't imagine he'd have a hard time affording a $1200 used camera, but this isn't why he's here, so I motion to Ingrid and she fires off the first question. 

Same room, nicer light than the rest of the week. I'll use the same spot, too - western wall, with the south-facing window on the subject's right.  Given the limited number of options I face in hotel room after hotel room, it's amazing the number of different looks you can get. I've been trying to duplicate this light in my studio for the last couple of years, but there's still something missing.  Ceiling too high? Maybe the beige carpet and walls contain the light more gracefully? 

If I could shoot in hotel rooms for the rest of my career, I'd be quite happy. There's something about the anonymity of space that appeals to me so much. For that matter, I could live in hotels; a series of modern, clean hotels, a suitcase of clothes, a trunk of books, and a case of cameras. No lights except the five-by-five openings in room after room, from Chicago to Karachi. That's a bleakly romantic image if I ever heard one. 

>>What makes a great subject?  Physical beauty has almost nothing to do with it.  A sense of presence is the key part, and either incredible dignity or incredible vanity or an incredible combination of the two.

A great subject has a real interest in how they will look in a photo, without any interest in controlling or dictating how that portrait will turn out.
Finally, Ingrid finishes and I drag a chair into the corner by the window. Figgis is a great subject, with this effortlessly elegant carriage, his hand langourously bent at the wrist in most of the shots, and this wary intensity in his eyes; believe it or not, that's one of the hardest things to elicit from a subject. Most people look so timid and introverted through the lens, and you never know just what combination of words and physical cues will bring them out. 

One Rollei misfires on the first three frames. Damn, I'm definitely going to have to find another repair shop for these things. I hate technical glitches with my cameras: they're the rudest hint of unseen disasters beneath the surface of professional cool. One day it's something you can hear or feel; the next time it could be a bad batch of film or bum chemistry, and you've lost a whole shoot.

>>I spent the following Christmas in London.

It was nice.

>>I made a bit more money later on when Gorris and Jarmusch became covers, but these were my total earnings for the week I've described. Most weeks I earn half of this, usually less.

I read somewhere that Annie Liebovitz bills US$28,000 a day. This is more than I've earned most years of my career.
Figgis is unfazed, however, and peppers me with technical questions while I work, and we talk about film stock and technical tricks with developing and printing. I like the man, but then I find the English an articulate, voluble people generally. I really should try and get across the Atlantic some day. 

I finish up and meet Ingrid in the hallway.  We congratulate each other on how well the interview and, indeed, the whole festival has gone for us as a team, and part on a good note. I love professional, dedicated people.  I don't know why they have to be so scarce. 

With that, my "big week" is over.


I have done six shoots for NOW at the festival: 

           6 X 217.00...................$1302.00
One shoot for Toronto Life Fashion, plus expenses:
I also sold a photo to Down Beat magazine:
TOTAL for the week............$1729.00
  MINUS film, paper, cabs, etc.,.......approx.$200.00
TOTAL EARNINGS 09/04 to 09/13...............$1529.00

 This is my busiest week of the year. 

 It's no way to get rich. 

 Photos and writing ©1997 Rick McGinnis.  All rights reserved.