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Spotlight: How Art Streiber Shot 116 Hollywood Stars In 5 Minutes

By David Schonauer   Wednesday June 27, 2012

Hollywood was becoming a boomtown in 1912. It was the year that D.W. Griffith released The Musketeers of Pig Alley, which has been called the first gangster movie. Canadian writer and actor Mack Sennett formed the Keystone Film Company and was soon making his Keystone Kop films. Photoplay, the first magazine for the movie fans, was launched. Producer Jesse Lasky formed the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company in partnership with his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfish (later to be known as Samuel Goldwyn) and a virtually unknown stage director named Cecil B. DeMille. And it was in May, 1912, that Hungarian-born producer Adolph Zukor founded an independent film studio named The Famous Players Film Company.

Lasky and Zukor both released their films through another startup company, the Paramount Pictures Corporation, which was at the time the first true nation-wide distributor of movies. Zukor soon engineered a merger between his Famous Players, Lasky’s Feature Play Company, and Paramount, and a new company emerged that would grow to dominate the film business.

This year, Paramount Pictures is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and, as it did when it turned 75 years old and 90 years old, the company decided to mark the occasion by staging a photo shoot featuring many of the actors, directors, and producers who have played a part in its history. A very large number.

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   The entire image, stitched together from three separate panels. "But everyone was in the room at that moment," says Streiber     __________________________________________________________________________________________________

“When they said they wanted a photograph of 116 people, I really couldn’t wrap my head around it,” says Los Angeles photographer Art Streiber, Paramount's choice to create the image. Streiber, who is represented by the Stockland Martel agency, has become one of Hollywood’s most trusted hands—his work has appeared in many television and film promotions, as well as in magazines like Vanity Fair and the Hollywood Reporter. Streiber is known for pulling off difficult jobs through painstaking preparation and creative problem solving. But, as he says now, this shot presented a daunting challenge.

“Prior to this,” notes Streiber, “the most people I ever shot at once was 36.”

 

From Concept to “Epic” Set Design

Paramount’s initial plan was to essentially duplicate a group photograph that Annie Leibovitz took to mark the studio’s 90th anniversary. That picture had been staged at the studio’s famous entry gates. But, as Streiber learned after a quick tour, the site had undergone dramatic landscaping changes since 2002. “There was no way I could get all my lighting equipment in there,” he says. Streiber also noted that Leibovitz had shot her picture in July, while his shoot was scheduled for mid-January. “She had daylight and warmth on her side,” he says.

“Plus,” he adds, “Annie was shooting only 90 people.”

Streiber and the studio decided instead to move the shoot indoors. Streiber brought in noted set designer Rick Floyd, who sketched out several ideas loosely based on the iconic Paramount mountain logo. The studio then spent three weeks in late December constructing the final set inside its biggest soundstage, Stage 18. 

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                         The image as it appears in the July issue of Vanity Fair. Go here for an expanded view.

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After the location and set design were established, Streiber turned his attention to how he would light the photograph. “Paramount had built this enormous stage, so I thought, ‘Let’s just light it like a theater stage, with direct and overhead light,” he says. Next, he had to decide whether to shoot the entire group in one exposure. Streiber opted instead to create the image in three panels that would later be stitched together in post-production by Angie Hayes at Happy Pixel Project, who Streiber calls “the most talented retoucher in the United States.”

Streiber and his crew then spent two days setting up and testing the lighting. Another two days were spent staging a dress rehearsal with 100 stand-ins. The only moments of nervousness Streiber felt—at least the only moments he owns to—came when the real celebrities began sauntering into the soundstage late in the afternoon last January 13. (“Of course, it was a Friday,” he says.) There were Nicholson, Streep, Clooney, MacLaine, and Streisand…Dustin and De Niro…Spielberg and Scorsese…Chris Rock and Adam Sandler. And the legends: Kirk Douglas…Ernest Borgnine…Jerry Lewis…Mickey Rooney. “At one point,” recalls Streiber, “Leo DiCaprio walked in, looked at the set, and said, ‘This is epic!’ And I thought, ‘If Leo DiCaprio thinks something is epic, holy crap.’” 

 

The Continuum of Hollywood Photography

Streiber says he made only one mistake in his preparation for the shoot: “I assumed that because the people I was going to shoot were actors, they would know how to stand, so I wouldn’t have to direct them. But about a third of the way in, it became apparent that I needed to ask people to put

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their hands on their hips and to move their legs.” The lesson: “Actors are used to being directed.”

In the end, every photo shoot, even the biggest and most complex, becomes a collection of metadata. These are some particulars from Streiber’s

session in the Paramount sound stage:

Camera: Hasselblad with a Phase One IQ 160 digital back. Lens: 150mm. Aperture: f/12. The first exposure went off a few seconds after 6:20pm, and the last one went off at 6:25pm. “That sounds fast,” Streiber says, “but even five minutes feels like an eternity for people standing on a stage and smiling.”

After Streiber was finished, it took nearly an hour for the glittering stars to leave the set. “These people admire each other and really don’t often get to see each other, so they stood around talking,” recalls the photographer. “You had Spielberg, Scorsese, and Harrison Ford chatting about their newest iPhone apps or whatever.” The last to depart were De Niro and John Travolta.

The finished picture appears in the July issue of Vanity Fair, and you can find a behind-the-scenes video of the event at Yahoo! Movies. “For me, it was just an honor to be able to do this,” says Streiber. “I took the job very seriously because it was a chance to be part of the continuum of Hollywood history.”

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