Hello ladies and gentlemen, your pal Muldoon here with a brief look into the world of Still Photography and where it lies in the grand scheme of the filmmaking (and promotions) process. While I had the extreme pleasure of picking the brain of Justin Lubin a year back, the whole point of MEET THE CREW is to get a perspeective we all don't typically get. You can't truly love movies without at least wondering what goes into them and how many talented artisans helped craft a particualr film. Press time is typically geared towards Directors and Lead roles, which absolutely makes sense, but I feel like we see these types of interviews all over, with the same anecdotes receiving laughs on Kimmel might just pop up in an article on Variety or a local radio show... There's only so many times a handful of individuals can be asked the same questions about the same thing and it still feel like a "scoop" or "fresh." It's my hope to speak with the artists behind the scenes, the ones who's work you've seen and loved, but perhaps don't see on the covers of gossip magazines or doing a random sketch with James Corden on latenight. There's an entire industry of talented men and women who each day bust their butts to inspire awe for folks looking to escape into a larger than life story.
That's where Still Photographer Clay Enos enters our picture. As you will see below, the man has created images we've all seen, all appreciated, and can agree just "look damn cool." Remember that first image of Batman from BATMAN V SUPERMAN? Yep, that was him. Finding yourself intrigued with SUICIDE SQUAD images that have trinkled out? Yep, that's him as well. How about that recent WONDER WOMAN image featuring the four warrior women? Yep. The man is incredibly talented, has worked on some of the more high profile films out there today, and was simply a pleasure to chat with. So before we go any further, I'd like to thank Mr. Enos for taking time out of his schedule this past week (straight from the set of WONDER WOMAN) to give a little insight into his world, providing myself and all of us here with a perspective (his) that we simply didn't have before. The man is facsinating.
CLAY ENOS - STILL PHOTOGRAPHER
First and foremost, thank you for taking the time out of your day to chat with me here and provide us/me with a little perspective into your world! Seeing as how we don’t have much time, let’s just jump right on in. How did you get started with photography in general, and then how did that path lead you into the film world as a Still Photographer?
Well it all started with a degree in film and photography at Ithaca College, where I just fell in love with the still photography part of it and I think the non-fiction aspect of it. I wasn’t big into the constructed image or even the fiction-film part of it. So I made documentaries, and photographs that were steeped in reality where there might have been a little artifice involved. Then pushing forward ten years or so an opportunity presented itself to work on WATCHMEN, which ended up being the first time I had ever worked as a Still Photographer on set. I had been to the set of 300 and saw that there was a Still Photographer and it intrigued me as an opportunity… not necessarily as a career path, but as something to give a whirl. Sure enough, with the success of 300, Zack Snyder had the leverage to bring me on board. I guess I haven’t looked back, so I must say that first experience was so intense, so immersive, so all consuming… and I made a ton of mistakes where I thought “Boy, I would never do this again…” (Laughs) My friends wondered where I had disappeared to and I had sort of wondered “what the heck happened over the last six months.” Sure enough, once I got on my feet again, properly rested, then seeing the results with the two beautiful “Making Of” books and a giant book of portraits, I think I was hooked.
Even just cruising through Google images, which I’m sure isn’t necessarily how you would prefer your work be seen, you definitely have a large body of work, especially the WATCHMEN portraits. There’s an equal bit “superhero” to them as well as a grounded reality of “These are people, like everyone else.” (Laughs) That’s why you are getting the jobs you are! Taking a step back, in terms of when you join a project, when are you typically hired? Are you brought on days, weeks, or months before production begins? I’m sure it’s case by case, but I’m more curious about in general.
You know, all of filmmaking is sort of a bit of a freelance endeavor, but given my relationship now with the Cruel & Unusual team, there is a little bit more foresight than perhaps some other Still Photographers might have and increasingly, though this is slightly anecdotal, directors are kind of coming with Still Photographers that they like to work with, some times actors as well. At least I think, and I’ve heard that from one other Still Photographer… We don’t really know each other, because we always work alone, so it’s not like a Grip who has teams of other Grips that they work with or even organizations like the Directors Guild where Directors can chat and figure out how things are being done. Still Photographers work in a bit of a vacuum. That said, I’ve spoken to one and she said that increasingly the studio isn’t as in control of “who shoots what” as is the director or somebody higher up, perhaps producers. Certainly in my case, the studio, in this case Warner Brothers, has never put me on a film. It’s always come from Zack and the gang.
Well that makes sense, since you do impact how millions of people are first introduced to the imagery of a film. I mean if you make Zack Snyder look good or make his films really look good… I have a feeling he’s going to want to keep bringing you back. I think that’s pretty fair. (Laughs)
Yeah, and I think it’s a working relationship in the way working with any kind of client is. I’m the Still Photographer ready to deliver whatever they want and maybe it’s because I don’t come with a giant ego or my own pre-conceived notions. I’m really there to try to execute that vision.
Again, that makes sense. I’m just curious, but that WONDER WOMAN image that was released about a week ago, was that your work?
Yes, sir. Yeah, that was a bit of a constructed image, but one that evokes what we want it to do. It evokes the Themysciran landscape, our badass Amazon women, and so I’m super happy with it. It’s always a thrill to kind of surprise people, people who weren’t expecting to see that image or expecting anything out of WONDER WOMAN and certainly it was fun to have it run in the GAME OF THRONES issue.
It’s definitely a powerful image that gives us all a great glimpse into that universe. That’s what you do, evoke emotions within the span of a micro-second. I can’t even wrap my head around the pressure involved with that. It’s your job to capture “that little moment.” For the most part, film cameras get 24 images a second, but you have to pick that precise moment to catch something that means something or says something.
That was the original allure of the medium. I love that in a single instance, so much can be evoked. It continues to be both a mystery to me and a curiosity… It’s what drives me. “What is it in that moment that I’m attracted to and that others are attracted to?” I’m glad you liked the WONDER WOMAN image and I’m glad it’s making the rounds.
It’s definitely making the rounds. So aside from doing it for years and years, after studying your craft, what are some common sense rules that hit you when you’re trying to capture a great image? In a nutshell, what are some basics you look for in order to “get the shot.” When do you point your lens to the ground and avoid snapping for quantity’s sake?
Well certainly on set. You have to give the actors’ their time to be away from the lens. So when they are sitting in their chairs or engaged with the director in a more “behind the monitors” space, then I absolutely let them… I won’t make photographs then. What I’m always looking for is the quality of light, a potential composition that can evoke either the narrative, the character, or have utility in that kind of marketing space to give voice to what the film is trying to tell. A nice example maybe is one of the first images of Batman that emerged, that profile shot with just his head and mask, that was almost a found image where it was between takes and Ben was focused on his role and he was in character and the background just presented a real simplicity, so that I could make that kind of… To me it’s the iconic Batman image that I stumbled upon just by being vigilant and looking for it, snapping a couple of shots, and having it work.
That seems pretty crazy, always being “on.” It seems like a lot of weight is put on the Still Photographer to simply find those moments that will eventually be shared with countless fans. You clearly have a relationship with Zack Snyder that perhaps an outsider just wouldn’t have right out the gate, so does that make your world on set easier? Like do you get to stop and freeze a production when you see the perfect opportunity or are you more of a ninja running between folks to get your shots without being a nuisance?
I would say that ninety-nine percent of the time it’s just vigilance and perseverance, and relationship is a big part of it. If you step back and think of photography as a conversation between me and the world, then I have to have a report with that world that makes everybody willing to cooperate in that photographic process. I do that with a casualness and a sincerity. Hopefully all of that is brought through in the photographs themselves. Specifically on the day, it’s about paying attention to what’s being filmed, finding my place within the film crew, understanding that I’m not making the movie, and the priority is to making the film and then every once in a while there’s a moment where my position off axis from the movie camera isn’t working and I need to say “Hey, can I grab a still? Can you hold this for a second?” I’ll talk to an Assistant Director and say “Can I come in and grab this once you’ve got it on film?” That’s a very rare thing and I more often than not have regrets for not having asked for that than I can point to photos that were in fact made right after the fact with filming. (Laughs) A good example would be the classic face off that we’ve seen tons of, of Batman and Supes staring at each other, with Batman in his mech suit and Superman in the rain. I think that’s almost the poster… You will see in my photo, that’s released in press kits and things, I’m off axis and Supes’s hand is on the mech suit, on Batman’s chest. That off axis position is where I am, because the movie is getting the “super equal weight face off.”
Which makes sense. I mean there are two cameras we are talking about here, the film camera and then the stills camera, and out of the two, you are there to support the film, not have it the other way around. It sounds like you have a lot of respect for shooting crew and maybe that’s why you keep getting this great jobs. (Laughs) You get it with knowing how to be “out of the way,” but also knowing when you should really tap on a shoulder and say “Hey, this is a moment that you guys will want me to get, so just trust me here.”
Yeah, and really being careful of using that sparingly, because it is an awkward thing to ask and I’m super self-conscious about not being greedy. You know, honestly it’s a lot more fun to try and find it elsewhere. Yeah, it can be stressful and there is no real “down time,” if you are constantly looking for a photo that could evoke, but you know what? That’s my job! There’s fun in that. If I were in some far off land doing my own work or for any other client or non-profit, I would bring that same sensibility of just paying attention to the quality of light, what’s happening, and trying to find and image to evoke in that time and space. It’s no different on a movie set, except I’m better fed.
You hinted that if you weren’t on a movie set, you’d probably be doing the same thing and having fun with it. I absolutely consider you an incredible artist. You can’t just pick up a camera and do what you do.
That’s kind man, but honestly I would encourage everyone to engage photography as their artistic medium of choice. It’s wonderfully forgiving in terms of rendering the world, far more so than a pencil or a paintbrush. The next step is just to clear up what your intention is, and I think we can all engage the muses anew like we did when we were kids finger painting. We all are though, to some level, with iPhones in our pockets.
Absolutely. It seems like we all have access to a camera now, given they’re standard with most modern phones. Make a phone call, turn the device around, nab an image, then throw it in Photoshop and you’ve got something specific to you.
Heck, you don’t even need Photoshop, as you can use Snapseed. It’s a free app. (Laughs) That’s my “go-to” phone app.
Getting back to your roots a little bit, what photographers have made an impact on you, alive or deceased?
Gosh, there are just so many… I mean to be honest, the biggest influencers were my professors who were also photographers, so Janice Levy, Dan Guthrie… These were my professors in college that introduced me to that bigger world of photography and photo history. The portraits of Edward Curtis and his whole badass committed approach, to Richard Avedon and his remarkable body of work. Sally Mann and her intimate portraits of her family were huge to me and still resonate. Like anything, to pick a single or even a dozen photographers is to limit the scope of influence that came to me, right? At any given moment, the voices or the visions of those before me may pop into my head and I’ll recognize it.
Influencers is always an odd question, so I understand, and am happy you listed those. It’s almost like picking your favorite child if you’re a parent. So jumping around again as we don’t have too much time, you have an interesting perspective on a film shoot as you are on set, almost floating around in hopes of not getting in anyone’s way per se, but you have a viewpoint that I don’t think every department necessarily has. In your years, what have you seen a Director, Producer, or First AD do that really helps a crew to do their best? I take it you’ve seen some folks who have energized a tired crew at the twelfth hour, and have seen some really misstep and upset the individuals bringing their story to life.
(Laughs) Well I’ll stick with the positives. The cliché is “it starts at the top” and I think that’s true. I’ve had the complete pleasure of working with Zack Snyder, whose vision and effervescent spirit pervades. He inspires everyone to do their best work and I think that is going to be super exciting to see in the context of these English crews, which for me so far having been on the set of WONDER WOMAN now, are just exceptionally talented and deep in their commitment, many of whom are second and third generation filmmakers in their respective departments. I’m in the danger zone of commenting on current projects, but I’m super excited to watch the talents of Zack Snyder and his spirit pervade these crews. It could be something just remarkable for JUSTICE LEAGUE.
It looks like Snyder’s reign with these projects will is going to be huge… Who am I kidding, I think BATMAN V SUPERMAN has already passed 400 million opening weekend.
And that’s awesome of course, but the frustrating bit is in the eyes of the critics that it seems to be misunderstood. I almost feel like Zack has really rewritten what it is to make movies at this scale. Would people critique Odysseus, because "there wasn’t snark?" (Laugh)
Maybe I’m jaded, but from where I sit on both sides of the movie world, the one thing you can count on is to always take a review with a grain of salt… I just look at films like BLADE RUNNER or BRAZIL where at the time they weren’t necessarily appreciated as much as they are now... It all comes out in the wash, so who knows?
I’m all for conversation and discussion, but I think this film and what Zack and Atlas are trying to do is bigger than what filmmaking has previously been tasked with, which was to entertain, tell a story, and move on. This is building a universe and honoring a seventy-five year old medium of comic books in the relatively new medium of comic book films. These are large challenges, so I think there is going to be a lag between the critical understanding and the fans who already get it.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think there’s any topping what he did with WATCHMEN. That novel was in a league of its own and the film as well. So back to WONDER WOMAN, what’s a typical day like for you there? You wake up, and then what?
Yeah, I get up and train at the gym with the… I’m lucky enough to have access to the WONDER WOMAN trainers, then breakfast, then get on to set to document the day. Perhaps what distinguishes my effort as the Unit Photographer is I’m also available for paying attention to a lot of the cross-promotional third party vendors. So every once in a while I’ll find myself photographing a floor as that might get used by Gentle Giants as a pedestal for a future figurine. I’m attentive to telling the narrative stories and traditional behind the scenes images as I am to making cool toys and collectibles and that stuff, with true photography. That’s how it goes all day long. Here in England we run a ten hour day with no lunch, just find time along the way to get lunch, and continue on until wrap.
The English workday isn’t too terrible then if you’re eating as you go if that means you get more sleep. Jumping over to SUICIDE SQUAD, can you describe your favorite day, moment, or memory from photographing that project? I realize you were on it for six or seven months, so it might be a little tricky.
Yeah, I’m not one for superlatives, but I’ll tell you right now that that the most fun cast I have ever been associated with, and the tattooing towards the end was second to none in terms of cast bonding and just laughter… (Laughs) A tattoo is a tattoo, right? It’s problematic for me to talk about things beyond what everyone already knows, but I would say given that everybody already knows there was some tattooing happening, and my pictures of it are out there to prove it, that was a remarkably fun memory that will linger for a long, long time.
As we wind down, let me ask you a question that’s near impossible to get a straight answer to. Why do you do what you do?
You know what? I’ve had the sort of seductions of money put in front of me back in the Dot Com boom and then when the Dot Com bust happened and those seductions shrank with the market, I was sort of gifted the realization that what matters in life is to do what you love and to pursue your passion. The money is an endless rat race with no real reward. If you can get up every day and be engaged in something you love and are curious about and challenge yourself to get better, honestly there is nothing better than that and I am deeply fortunate to be participating in that quest.
It’s funny, my last question was going to be “Hey! What’s your advice for future professional Photographers out there,” but I feel like you kind of just hit that one on the head. Would you agree? (Laughs)
Well I would nuance it as advice, that to take your passion and especially at first with the younger ones coming out of college or high school where they are just filled with passion, but the market place and the sheer reality or lack of experience will burden them and frustrate them, to take that passion and put it into patience and perseverance. Those two things will mark their time early on, like they will be recognized for their perseverance and if they can be patient enough for that to happen and the passion will return. They will just move it over and go again, full throttle, but right out of college especially, in my case I was arrogant enough to think “I will never assist for anybody until I can just do it on my own terms…” That was a fallacy and with hindsight I can tell you “take your passion, movie it over to patience and perseverance and hopefully someone will recognize you.”
Cool, well Clay I don’t think there’s a better way to wrap this interview up than that. Thank you very much, Mr. Enos, and best of luck with WONDER WOMAN. I have an itching suspicion that you’re going to be doing quite a few comic book movies back to back in the next few years.
The irony that my first film is WATCHMEN is never lost on me.
That’s the definitive mirror being held up to the entire Comic Book movie world as we know it.
I started with the most anti-superhero superhero movie and now I am fully immersed in a superhero movie. Have a lovely day and thank you for your time.
There we are, ladies and gents - a little insight into the "go-to" man in Snyder's DC Universe. A simple Google Image search with this man's name will awe and inspire, so take a second and did a little bit into what all he's captured, it's an incredible body of work that I can't even begin to describe. I appreciate Mr. Enos's time and found him to be quite humble, funny, and to put it simply: genuine. I hope nothing but the best for the man in the future and have no doubt I'll be seeing more and more of his work pop up in print or online for many years to come.
If you work in film or television and feel like shedding some light on what exactly your position entails, then please feel free to shoot me an email with the subject line "MTC - (Your Name) - (Your Position)." I'm not here to get scoops or dirt on anyone, simply here to educate and ask for advice to any of our filmmakers in the audience. This column lives off the passion of artists out there who simply want to chat about what they do!
If you folks are interested in finding out what other positions on a film are like, then check out any of the links below:
- Mike McCutchen