While there is often a lag time between a project and the public release of the images by a client, Mobile, Ala.-based film and television photographer Dan Anderson might have set a new record.
Back in 2019, he was the unit still photographer during filming of the raunchy teen comedy “Supercool,” a movie about two high school boys who are frustrated by being uncool and find their wildest dreams suddenly come true when one of them makes a wish at 11:11. The film was finally released this month along with Dan’s movie poster and promotional images.
Dan has been shooting still photos on film sets for almost ten years. He is one of the go-to people for unit still photography in southern Alabama and has been a member of the International Cinematographers Guild since 2017.
We have a tight-knit group of local crew members who work on films here so I’ve often gotten work thanks to my colleagues referring me to productions that come through.
The main job of a unit still photographer is to take stills of film scenes as they’re being shot, which will then be used for promotional purposes. Additionally, it’s important to capture behind-the-scenes moments of the cast and crew, such as the director working with actors.
For that part, I get to just lean into my photojournalism background and document as it happens.
Filming for “Supercool” lasted six weeks, during which Dan was on set three or more days a week. Much of the film takes place at night, meaning the whole film crew, including Dan, worked from sundown to sun up. Dan was generally working independently, without an assistant or direct feedback.
There are a lot of moving parts on a film set and part of my job is figuring out how to get the images I need while not getting in the way of the crew and distracting the actors.
While this often isn’t a problem, certain scenes that have a lot of camera movement required Dan to communicate with the camera operators, boom operator, and actors to be able to do his job without interfering.
Sometimes this means not being able to get still images from a scene. If it’s really important I can talk to the 1st Assistant Director and actors and have them perform the scene just for me, but it slows things down on set so I only try to play that card when it is really important.
The second component of this project was the gallery shoot, during which Dan took the portraits that would be used for the film’s one-sheet poster and other promotional material. Dan and a production assistant set up a portrait studio, and one of the producers or assistant directors would help wrangle the actors as needed. There were also crew from props, hair, makeup, and wardrobe present to finalize the actors’ looks.
I try and get as much time with them as possible to get a variety of poses and different eye lines. Sometimes, though, an actor will get to me and I’ll only have a few minutes to get photos. Either way, I need to be fully ready when they arrive, know what I want, and communicate clearly to the actor.
Unit still photography required Dan to make independent, moment-to-moment decisions to figure out how best to capture the scene as it unfolded. The gallery shoot, by contrast, allowed Dan the opportunity to work with the producers ahead of time and bring his own ideas to the table.
The brainstorming process for the gallery shoot started even before filming. Dan read through the script and made a list of characters he knew were important to photograph, along with notes on styling and pairings with other characters.
Of course, you can’t get a good idea of how an actor looks as a character till they have had a chance to perform as that character on set. I would watch for something in the lead actors that would make for a good still.
The image of the three lead actors, one of whom is holding out his hand for a fist bump and the other stopping him, was all Dan.
I saw the actors do this in a few scenes while we were shooting. I liked it and when it came time for the gallery shoot I had the actors do it for some of the shots knowing it would make for a good image.
In terms of technology, “Supercool” was Dan’s last film using a sound blimp, which is a hard shell that houses the camera and lens so as to muffle the shutter and zoom noise. It was specifically designed for film sets so camera sounds weren’t picked up by the boom operator. In Dan’s final week of shooting, he switched over to a mirrorless system camera, which, by design, has a nearly inaudible shutter sound.
It’s really allowed me to get a lot of different shots that I would not have been able to get before.
In the three years since filming, Dan has inevitably grown as a photographer. When asked if he would have done anything differently when he looks back on his photos now, Dan replied:
Of course. In a general sense I try to use each shoot as a learning experience, I am always asking myself after I am done with an assignment if I could have approached the subject better or just differently.
See more of Dan’s photos on his Instagram.
Film Released by: Vertical Entertainment
Production Company: Yellow Film & TV