Person-to-Person Insights from Senior Art Producer Michelle Mintz
I remember the day that I added Shawn to the list of photographers that I wanted to work with. I was at LeBook’s Connections in NYC when I saw some of the images and heard some of the stories from his around-the-world journey for the Cadillac ATS shoot. And while we tried to make it work on a couple of shoots, it wasn’t until this project – itself an around-the-world excursion - landed in my lap that it came to be.
Shawn and I would be working together. And what a project it was: 25 days, travel to six countries to capture 120 video + 120 still portraits and make three print ads in London.Three days from official award to wheels up.
From that moment, I put my faith in the hands of Shawn and his producer Gyorgi Sapojnikoff, and off the three of us went on a photographic adventure of a lifetime. A fantastic, exhausting, harrowing, beautiful, exhausting, manic, rewarding, exhausting, will-testing, and ultimately successful whirlwind of a shoot.
Six countries. Six countries that were not geographically close to each other. Chile, England, Singapore, Korea, Dubai and Turkey. Connecting from city to city like red lines across a globe. We were flying anywhere from 8-16 hours at a time, sometimes overnight with maybe a couple hours of sleep stolen on the long flights. After landing we’d head out to shoot straight away, we didn’t have time to acclimate or get our bearings. Basically, we ate whenever we could, because we couldn’t plan when we would have a chance to eat. And while Gyorgi was really good about making sure we stopped to eat during our long shoot days, sometimes my energy would crash (and Gyorgi would mercifully notice and get me snacks.)
Packing light was a challenge when our itinerary was basically everywhere. I’m glad we all packed parkas, because we needed them throughout the trip. Our first stop was in Santiago, Chile and it was the end of their winter so it was chilly. Early mornings were also very cold in London, Seoul and Istanbul. We experienced the other extreme in Singapore where it was like a sauna, hot, humid and smoky. For me, Singapore was torture, I longed for those mornings in my parka. At the botanical gardens shoot, it was so hot and humid, I had to sit down and drink a lot of water so I didn’t pass out. Dubai was extremely hot too, but it was a dry heat which was bearable. I also knew that I needed to be covered in Dubai as per their custom, so I brought a long sleeve shirt and scarf (which saved me from any last minute shopping and delays in our shoot schedule).
When I left on the trip quite a few people – including my husband - were very concerned that I was going to some unstable countries with pervasive anti-American views. As we took off, I was concerned more about the scope and challenge of our assignment than about the locations. Ultimately our fixers directed us in each city so we didn’t end up in dangerous areas or having to limit ourselves on where we went to find our talent. The fixers seemed to fix things before they became our concern and helped me uphold the been-there-done-that, global traveler attitude I’d departed with.
I will say that upon landing in Istanbul just hours after a terrorist attack in Ankara, I had my sense of safety shaken. It was the only time that I felt compelled to consider our wellbeing vs. our willingness to get the job done (including arriving 3 days after an 8.3 magnitude earthquake in Chile). Since I was the only agency representative on the shoot, I had the last word on continuing in a particular location if any of us were uncomfortable in a situation or if our security was at stake. Despite some tense hours, we were all in agreement that we wouldn’t change our plans, and we would take our portraits in Istanbul. Even in hindsight, I wouldn’t have changed anything.
Beyond the challenges of travel and location and logistics, I knew when I left on this shoot, that I wouldn’t have an Art Director. This was a huge responsibility for me to oversee this shoot, but it was motivating to know that the agency was confident that I could deliver and handle any challenges along the way. Since the creatives back home requested to see images along the way, we put a plan in place to show them selects each evening. That meant that not only was the street casting a huge part of our days – we needed 20 people in each city to say yes to give their time to be photographed. Not just 20 people, 20 people who were the right people, who fit the diverse profiles we needed, 20 people who were willing to stop on their way to work or home or school, 20 people who listened to us and felt like what we offered (our project mission and the cash in our pockets) was worth their time, and 9 out of 10 turned us down – but then we would also spend our evenings reviewing selects, editing and uploading. Uploading big files is not a task to take for granted, but we were surprisingly fortunate with the internet connection in most of the countries, so I always had a sufficient connection to upload files. The only issues were in Santiago and that may have been due to the earthquake aftermath…. or maybe it’s always like that. There were pretty much no evenings spent relaxing, having a drink and congratulating ourselves after a hard won day. In the mornings before heading out again, we’d review and incorporate agency feedback into our plan for that day.
When I returned to the office after the trip, I was able to review the selects and give my background and recommendations on the images and locations.
Recounting this trip, I’m exhausted and invigorated. I give you my words of wisdom to anyone planning a fantastic, exhausting, harrowing, beautiful, manic, rewarding, will-testing, and ultimately successful around-the-world shoot:
Do keep hydrated
Don’t try to do a carry on (trust me)
Do eat in the airport lounge and on each flight, you never know when your next meal might be
Do keep hydrated
Do carry energy bars (that next meal thing)
Don’t forget to stop and enjoy a moment – or two.
Do try to limit or cut out alcohol and caffeine, you’ll probably want both desperately, but it makes for better sleep when you can squeeze it in
Do keep hydrated
Do trust your instincts, your team and your fixers.
Don’t underestimate yourself
Do plan on downtime when you finish the project. You will be mentally and physically spent. Sometimes this isn’t possible right away, but I was lucky and didn’t need to be back in the office immediately. My (wonderful) fellow producer’s back in the office covered for me and I took a week at the beach to relax, decompress and sleep!
Going around the world was one of the hardest and most rewarding shoots, and I would do it again in a heartbeat!