Location Scouting: Black & White

“Marty.   Ask him about residuals.”

While scouting for the movie Nebraska, the Production Designer says, “Since the movie will be shot in black and white, why don’t we take location photos in black and white?” Silence.  Murmurs.  Why yes, indeed a no brainer. And why didn’t I think of that earlier? So settings on our still cameras were switched to shoot black and white photography. But wait. That brought up another question.

“Can we view the locations in black and white like a viewfinder, say with an iPad?”

Now keep in mind, we were looking to see what the locations looked like live – versus snapping pictures and showing what a still of it looked like later. Some of us had a small digital screen on our cameras but the iPad and even the iPhone would be better as a viewfinder with a black and white App.

There were many apps available that converted black and white photos. Some did it instantly but those still viewed in color. I found an app called Live FX. Once the app was downloaded (the Lite version was free) we just set it at the black and white filter * and boom – live black and white viewfinder.

It was immediately curious and fun to see things in shades and tones. Tufts of green grass, lush fields of crops, and shade – crushed to black.

Rows of soybeans and a road to the sky.
Rows of soybeans and a road to the sky.

Lines and design on city buildings seemed to become more visible.

City Lincoln BW Jamie Vesay DSCF5425
Lincoln, Nebraska

  The sky became a whole new kind of beautiful.

Summer clouds over a country road.
Summer clouds over a country road.

Textures on buildings were scrutinized much closer. The red barn actually had to be a certain tone of red. Wood and peeled paint was cool. Color was actually added to a white building (not the one below). Let’s just say it looked better in black and white.

Barn building that tried storm windows.
Barn building with storm windows.

Eventually, the Locations Department committed to shooting all scout photos in black and white. Most of them were never shot in color.

I share this information with you just in case you ever find yourself scouting for a black and white project. It is indeed the way to go. If not, try shooting in black and white for your personal photography. I challenge you to shoot in black and white – not in color and convert later. It will train you to capture your vision live. Have fun.

The movie Nebraska was released in 2013 and is available as download and DVD. On the BluRay disc there is a Making Of extra that includes more talk of scouting and shooting in black and white. I am in the Locations section.

* The extra steps of scrubbing through the filters on Live FX was a tad cumbersome.  Since then, another app called Vintage B&W viewed instantly in black & white. I’m sure there may be others out there. 

PHOTOS and words Copyright Jamie Vesay USE requires permission.

Scouting, Filming “Nebraska”

Lone tree at sunset Jamie Vesay WM 912 DSCF4984

I just returned from a four month journey on the upcoming movie Nebraska.

Working with Director Alexander Payne was simply wonderful. Beyond his story-telling style, the guy was one of the kindest human beings I’ve had the pleasure to work with on any project. The early weeks of location scouting were particularly beautiful in both scenery and a genuine collaborative process.

In the coming months, I’ll follow up with set stories and more tales of the journey.


PHOTOS and words Copyright Jamie Vesay USE requires permission.

Where is the Fun?

Anybody remember when the JOB was FUN? It wasn’t very long after I stepped into the business of film production, when I realized – this job is fun. Meeting new people in different places, collaborations with professionals, wacky products, and the curious and fantastic locations – made most of it all big fun.

My career path has taken me from fake snow to blowing stuff up and eventually, to another level of production in producing TV commercials and photo shoots. While it seems there are more productions than ever, why then does it feel like there’s less fun happening? Even on projects that recently would default to automatic fun, the people involved today (crews, clients, shooters) seem to not be having any.

I’ve worked with clients that used to say, “This will be a fun one.”

I blame technology for some of it. Sure, digital has made certain things easier and others better. But when it comes to the ease of “creating a final image on a screen” – that’s only fun for one person.

The photograph above is from a fun day on a photo shoot for a commercial print ad. It happened before the infestation of the graphics editing software that begins with a P. In a bit of irony, the product and “hero talent” also began with the letter P: pharmaceuticals for pigs.

The creative hook was: Your pigs are valuable. Let’s put pigs in an armored car.

I scouted and found the pig farm, hired a capable pig wrangler, rented the armored car, and hired the real models. The Photographer shot the real pigs as they walked up the ramp into the real armored car. Challenging – but fun.

Today, sadly, this shot might be a collection of stock photos and an assembly of “layers” birthed on a monitor. Sure, it’s cool and it might end up being something semi-unique for the client. But doing it this way has summarily reduced the value (and use) of locations and location scouts – and in this case, even nixes the Photographer. Most importantly though, it deletes the on-set collaboration and fun.

It’s almost criminal.


Photos and words COPYRIGHT Jamie Vesay USE requires permission.