Isle Of Dogs Portraits

I’ve had some amazing opportunities presented to me over the last decade of my professional photography career, but without a doubt the best gig of my life happened last Wednesday. I reached out to my friend Sarah who is the director of national publicity for Fox Searchlight to see if she could get me into a press junket or something because I am working on my first portfolio in years and I wanted some newer celebrity portraiture. I thought she was kindly blowing me off when said “I’ll let you know if I can think of anything” but then a week or two later she texted me “Would you want to shoot the cast of the new Wes Anderson movie holding rescue puppies?” and suddenly I had the best job any photographer has ever had.

In the end we ended up doing two completely different photo shoots at the same time time. Best Friends Animal Society met us at the dog friendly Peninsula Hotel where we had two rooms set up. One for the puppies and one for the photo shoots. I don’t usually use lights, but I bought some cheap LED video lights because I knew we had a ton of setups and I basically had to build photo booths for the puppies.

The first shoot was dressing up puppies in Wes Anderson costumes. We knew this was going to be really tricky so we had some ringers. Fox Searchlight organized a group of six “Instagram famous” pups that we knew would be able to pose well with costumes on. The rescue pups would be much trickier. I spent the morning trying to get these adorable rescue puppies to sit still long enough to get a shot of them in these two little puppy photo booths I set up. Luckily I had the help of the Best Friends volunteers, my assistant Steph and Sarah’s boyfriend Snake (don’t ask). We found that the puppers wouldn’t eat their costumes if they were already eating treats so Steph and Mike kept the pups distracted with food while I kept shooting.

Later in the afternoon the rockstar dogs showed up. They were so happy to be in these costumes and they would just sit there posing for photos. It was so incredibly easy to get them to pose, especially after dealing with wild puppies all morning. We had Quincy Fox dressed up as Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mad Max Fluffyroad dressed as up as Max Fischer from Rushmore, Muppet’s Revenge as Steve Zissou from Life Aquatic, Menswear Dog as Richie Tenenbaum, and Walter Cronkite & Iverson the Labradoodle dressed up as Monsieur Gustave & Madame Céline from Grand Budapest Hotel. Plus Sarah’s dog Cricket Jean got to play Chas Tenenbaum and his kids with a couple tiny rescue pups. All of this was so goddamn adorable and they were so easy to shoot until we did a group shot. All the dogs have different commands to get them to sit still and suddenly it was chaos, but we managed to pull it off somehow.

While we were doing all the doggy dress up I was taking breaks to shoot the Isle of Dogs cast whenever they were ready. I had several shots planned by the windows of the hotel room, knowing that I wouldn’t need lights for those. Liev Schreiber and and Bob Balaban came in and we knocked their shoots out in under five minutes each. I might not be the greatest portrait photographer on earth, but I am very good at getting something usable, very, very quickly.

Jeff Goldblum showed up earlier than planned so I photographed him by one of the windows as well. I had another shot planned for him but shooting him was incredibly easy. He was every bit as Jeff Goldblum as one would expect and sang to the puppy the entire time. I actually got a video of him singing and I have been sending it to my friends all week because it’s so good. Go watch it.

After that I had to switch to my lighting set ups again. I actually shot my favorite Law & Order ADA Courtney B. Vance in one of the dog photo booth set ups. We just raised the lights and we were good to go. The only shot I didn’t have planned out was for the Isle of Dogs human star, Koyu Rankin. I decided I would just figure out when he showed up because he’s 10 and all 10 year old’s love puppies. I was right and I just shot him in this random chair in the room and the only reason it took more than three minutes is because he wanted to play with the puppies so I just kept shooting.

Finally we moved up to the hotel bar. It was the best lit room in the entire hotel and I knew it would be the perfect place to shoot Wes Anderson with his c0-writers Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura. Wes just wanted to do the group shot and I knew I could shoot all three of them without any lights on this couch right by the window. What I didn’t really consider was how hard it was going to be to get three people and three puppies to pose for a photo. I ended up getting some useable shots but this was the only one I wasn’t really happy about. I also used the same couch to shoot all the Instagram dogs together which I thought would make for a funny Easter egg for anyone who saw both shoots.

All I can say about shooting Tilda Swinton is that she is the most unreal looking person I’ve ever met. I saw her walking down the street a few years ago and she was like this glowing space alien. She is so stunning looking that she had no choice in life but to be famous. She plays a pug in Isle of Dogs and one of the Fox Searchlight crew has an adorable pug named Elvira so we had to shoot them together. The difference in skin (fur?) tone between Tilda & Elvira was so drastic, but it ended out working perfectly and I kinda want to make this photo into a greeting card or something.

When I first saw the bar on the roof of the Peninsula Hotel I saw it I knew I wanted to shoot Bill Murray sitting there with a puppy next to him drinking out of a bowl. Unfortunately all the bowls we had were way too big so he ended up with a shot glass of water. Bill Murray was one of the first big celebrity portraits of my career. I had shot plenty of celebrities before but it was mostly out at parties so when I shot him with Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek back in 2010 for their movie Get Low it was the first time I had ever really been star struck at a shoot. This time I was too stressed out about the shoot to be nervous but Bill Murray easily the greatest person who ever lived. I asked Sarah to clear the room because everyone was in the shot at the back of the bar, and she was trying her best, but Bill decided he would get shit done. He just started screaming at everyone to get out as if he was this petulant star like that famous Christian Bale rant, but he was completely joking about it. Still, it worked and I had an empty background to shoot him and the puppy. Every second of shooting him was entertaining and we got probably the greatest photo I have ever taken.

Anyway, this is a crazy long update, but it was my favorite shoot of all time so what are you gonna do. I just wanted to thank Sarah and everyone from Fox Searchlight for trusting me enough to do this thing. Thanks to Steph and Snake for help on the job and of course thanks to Best Friends for providing all the rescue pups. I have actually photographed a benefit for Best Friends before and I hope I can work with them again.

Now here’s the result of all the hard work:

Click here to see the Isle of Dogs cast portraits on Vulture.

Click here to see the puppies in Wes Anderson costumes on Buzz Feed.

And click here to see a bunch of outtakes from both shoots plus a handful of red carpet photos from the dog friendly Paw Prints screening of Isle of Dogs at IFC Center that happened right after the shoot.

Jeff Goldblum

Maxine As Max Fischer

Tilda Swinton

Cricket As Chaz Tenenbaum

Courtney B. Vance

Menswear Dog As Richie Tenenbaum

Bill Murray

Moonrise Kingdog

Bob Balaban Wes Anderson Dogs

Jason Schwartzman, Wes Anderson & Kunichi Nomura

 

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