A few months ago, I received a phone call from our New York-based photographer Landon Nordeman about an upcoming shoot with South Carolina-based agency Erwin Penland. Their client was Denny’s Restaurants, and they were working on updating their menu images while integrating their new slogan, “America’s Diner is Always Open.” The concept was to photograph actual customers in Denny’s restaurants, and they knew Landon’s photojournalistic eye would help them capture the “real” moments they were looking for.
After learning more about the project and chatting about the budget, I helped Landon put together an estimate detailing his fees and the production expenses that we would need to successfully complete the project. At first glance, it all sounded pretty straightforward, but it soon became apparent that a producer would be a crucial part of the production to help handle the logistics. I gladly joined the team and began to put the shoot’s gears in motion.
The agency decided that the Ft. Lauderdale, FL area would offer the best weather and the most locations (they have about 30 Denny’s within 50 miles). With only a few days between the agency green-lighting the project and our first scheduled shoot day, we had to get the ball rolling, and fast. Our plan was to fly in and scout a few locations on a Monday afternoon, spend all day Tuesday looking at even more locations, and shoot on both Wednesday and Thursday. I booked airfare and a car rental for Landon and myself, and started researching affordable hotels. Fortunately, the art buyer had done a virtual scout of the restaurants using Google Maps street view, so she was able to narrow down the locations for us in order to pick a hotel in a convenient spot.
As we continued to firm up the specific locations to scout in person, I began to book the crew. Due to the last minute nature of the project, many assistants and techs were already booked, but I continued to make calls until I could ultimately confirm a first assistant, second assistant and digital tech. I also reserved a production RV, which in retrospect was one of the best decisions we made. Not only did it provide a space for the agency/client to relax and have access to WiFi, but it also offered a staging area for our equipment, a place for us to take breaks, and a spot for our digital tech to back up and review files with the agency. Since we were shooting inside the restaurants during regular business hours (America’s diner is always open) it was imperative that we didn’t take up too much space inside and allow the customers to have a regular dining experience without distractions.
With our crew finally booked along with the RV, I had just one more item to take care of before getting on the plane: catering. Denny’s has a great menu and they were extraordinarily accommodating in feeding our crew, but I think everyone ultimately enjoyed a break from pancakes over the four days we were down there. So, after placing an order with a local catering service, I jumped on the plane and met up with Landon at the airport.
Once we met up with our agency contacts at their hotel, we began scouting the various restaurants. Each one had something unique to offer, whether it was a great diner-style bar with stools, large windows, or certain waiters/waitresses that we knew would be great to work with. Over the course of two days, we meticulously scouted five Denny’s and took notes to plan where we wanted to shoot.
It was crucial that we captured all the meal rushes, and in order to thoroughly document these revolving crowds, our shoot days would be nearly 20 hours long. Our crew was up for the challenge (with a little help from a never-ending supply of coffee) and we worked tirelessly to capture as many “real moments” as possible.
One of the challenges of photographing actual customers was obtaining model releases. We had plenty of people respectfully decline to sign, but Landon’s charm helped many of them change their minds. It was my job to make sure that we obtain a release from everyone photographed (even restaurant staff), and perhaps more importantly, note the people who declined so we could remove their photos from the library.
Both shoot days went incredibly well as we did our best to capture customers of every demographic. The managers and staff of each Denny’s were friendly and eager to be photographed which was a tremendous help in getting our job done.
Overall, the entire production was a great success. The client was happy, which meant the agency and Landon were happy, which made me happy. As we all parted ways and I said goodbye to Landon, he said the one thing I always hope to hear at the end of a shoot: “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
A few months later the menu was finally printed and distributed to all Denny’s restaurants. Here’s the cover:
See more of Landon’s photography at landonnordeman.com.
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