Magazine Article


On Location

©Michael Grecco / USA Network Grecco's "Frankenstein" photo (upper) with the retouched version lower. Retouching by Brian Dilg. ©Michael Grecco / USA Network This screen capture from the USA Network's website shows two of Grecco's photographs from the project, including the main cast members. A number of other images from the shoot also appear on the site in the form of animated screen savers, downloadable images, and other interactive sound and imagery. USA Network's in-house online division produced the website's content. ©Michael Grecco / USA Network

Project 2


Overview: In the Summer of 2004, Loins Gate Entertainment produced "Frankenstein," a TV movie for USA Network, inspired by the classic Mary Shelley book. The TV movie aired on the USA Network in mid-October, and Grecco's images were used in print ads, email marketing, and throughout the movie's interactive website ( Grecco shot the job in New Orleans, and a day was dedicated for the shoot during the time the movie was in production.

1. Get the Job and Hire the Right Team

Michael Grecco was contacted by Elisabeth Sinsabaugh, Executive Director of Photography at NBC Universal, with whom Grecco has worked for more than 10 years. "This was a 'Television Gallery," a routine thing in the industry that consists of taking photos of a production's cast based on a shot list for use in many different marketing efforts," says Grecco.

When asked why Michael Grecco was selected, Sinsabaugh noted, "We wanted to shoot digitally and we knew Michael had been working this way for some time. I knew that these photos needed to reflect a quality of light that was very dark, dramatic and eerie - without sacrificing shadow detail. Also, there were a lot of technical and logistical issues inherent on this kind of shoot that I knew Michael could overcome while still being capable of focusing on what we needed."

With regard to digital photography, Sinsabaugh added, "We made a commitment four years ago to shoot all our episodic coverage [photography done on-set while filming] digitally. Early this year we decided that the technology was far enough along to commit to shooting our galleries digital as well…Workflow is a big factor for us because we have so many assignments and people all around the world shooting for us; We've put together digital guidelines and delivery requirements that photographers must follow."

©Michael Grecco / USA Network The image at the top is from Leaf's Capture V8 software, and shows the Frankenstein workflow screen setup when tethered during the project. The file was then retouched and incorporated into the ad shown above, which ran in a number of publications prior to the movie's television debut. ©Michael Grecco / USA Network ©Michael Grecco / USA Network The top image is from Leaf's Capture V8 software, and shows the Frankenstein workflow screen setup when tethered during the project. The file was then retouched and incorporated into the ad shown above, which ran in a number of publications prior to the movie's television debut. Key Art by Art Machine. ©Michael Grecco / USA Network

Landing jobs like this comes from a multi-faceted approach. Grecco notes, "One of the ways I keep in touch with art directors and others in the industry is by sending out printed and email promos containing images from recent projects and other news about the studio. I have also invested a lot in the creation of my printed and online portfolios." For this job, Grecco's cast included: a producer, to oversee the whole project; a location scout, to find a suitable space in New Orleans for the shoot; a digital technician, to operate the computer system and make sure images were being captured and backed up properly; three photo assistants; six hair/makeup and stylists and about 15 of the grip/electric crew from the movie. On the client side was the director of photography and the network publicist, who is responsible for making sure the actors are prepared and ready when needed on set.

2. Choose the Right Location and Equipment

Grecco arrived in New Orleans the day before the scheduled shoot and visited three potential spaces with the director of photography and a location scout. He explains: "We chose to rent a huge five-story mansion for the next day. The location had already been used during the filming of the movie and everyone was happy with the choice. I was sent shots from the client ahead of time and we all viewed a few "dailies" on video the evening before the shoot to get a feel for the overall mood and specific character traits of each actor."

A Dual 2Ghz Power Mac G5 and 23'' Apple Cinema Display were used to shoot tethered during the shoot, and lighting equipment included Dyna-Lite power packs, softboxes, and multiple flash heads with grid spots. Two Comet battery-powered strobe units with four battery packs were also on-hand. "Most of the power was supplied by two gas-powered generators, brought in by the movie's production crew. Apart from a lightning storm that forced all electricity to be shut off for a few hours, one of the generator pumps blew up during the shoot, which underscores the need for backup equipment in all areas, from cameras to computers to lighting," says Grecco. UPS battery backups with built-in surge suppressors were also brought in for all the equipment. Grecco's staff often brings a fully charged UPS to a shoot, which can power a laptop for an extra 3 to 4 hours if needed. Grecco continues, "Since we had a long list of shots to do, I decided in advance to have the next one or two sets prepared while I was shooting in other areas of the house."

3. Calibrate, Clean and Light it Right

Calibration and sensor cleaning were similar to the Jesse McCartney project. Grecco's lighting was a critical component of the shoot, and his approach was as follows: "I shot with a combination of Dyna-Lite softboxes (some aiming up from the ground for added mood) and multiple grid spots to create the spot-lit and dark mood. PocketWizards were used at all times so that we could cut down on the number of wires, and the Valeo worked flawlessly in this regard. Once the overall lighting was set for an image, I'd check it on-screen with the client and determine what adjustments needed to be made."

4. Shoot, Backup and Edit

During the shoot, the director of photography was at the camera with Grecco, and after a certain number of exposures, they reviewed the images on-screen. Stratton explains the storage and backup routine: "The initial data during the shoot is written directly to the G5 via a FireWire cable from the camera, and we set up synchronization software (Synchronize! Pro X) that runs every few minutes; It copies all new data onto an external 200GB LaCie FireWire drive. Recently we had one of the drives create garbled data, so we now check the third data set throughout the day. We do this simply by looking at the images in Photoshop's File Browser on a laptop, but we also open every 100th image as an additional check."

This screen capture from Adobe Photoshop's File Browser shows a folder of TIFF files after being processed with Dr. Brown's Image Processor. In the top left, the same RAW file was prepped twice, to give the client two exposure options. To do this, open each RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), make adjustments, then click on "Update" in the top right by depressing the Option/Alt key. Then run Dr. Brown's Image Processor on the files directly from the File Browser. Then repeat the process again with different adjustments to the same RAW files in ACR. ©Michael Grecco / USA Network

He adds, "We did not edit as this client wanted the full take. The only shots which got axed were singles that had blinks or really bad expressions and that was done on-the-fly as the shoot progressed. These edits were done with Leaf Contact Sheet in the Capture software while the pictures were being taken."

5. Process & Deliver

Stratton continues by describing how the team was able to process and deliver more than 1,500 126MB RGB files to the client within 24 hours: "Since we had worked interactively with the client throughout the shoot, all the settings that were appropriate for each different setup were already created and saved with the images. At the end of the day, the computers were hooked up back at the hotel and there was only about an hour of work needed to prepare the images for batch processing. Once again Photoshop CS and Dr. Brown's Image Processor were utilized for image processing."

File processing ran overnight and into the next day. The files were prepped as 16-bit RGB files with no sharpening; This is a sophisticated client that needed the images for multiple purposes, and we trusted them to make the correct adjustments to the files before final reproduction. Final images were then copied to hard drives and shipped via FedEx that afternoon. The only way we were able to provide this rapid delivery was by staying organized on the set and getting the client to sign off on each setup throughout the day. Having extremely high quality equipment from capture to download didn't hurt either."

Michael Grecco's On-Location Equipment List Med. Format Camera
Hasselblad H1 (Accepts Digital & Film Backs)

Lenses (hasselblad)
HC 3.5/35mm
HC 2.8/80mm
HC 3.5-4.5/50-110mm
HC 3.2/150mm

Photoshop CS
Leaf Capture V8 GretagMacbeth PM Pro 5.0
iView MediaPro 2.6
Synchronize! Pro X
Disk Velox (RAM disk to increase memory on OSX.3)

2 Internal 250GB Hard Drives
Multiple 200GB LaCie Drives
60GB Ext. FireWire Drive
(Emergency Boot Drive)

Digital Camera Back
Leaf Valeo 22

Dual 2Ghz Power Mac G5
15" PowerBook G4

4 Dyna-Lite M1000DR Packs
4 Dyna-Lite M2000DR Packs
1 Dyna-Lite 4080 Head
6 Dyna-Lite 2040 Heads
2 Comet PMT-1200 Packs
2 Comet PMT-12H Heads
3 PocketWizard PLUS Sets
(Additional lighting equipment rented as needed)