TV Guide: Prime Time Publishing
Special issues of certain iconic magazines are more about embracing a cultural moment than generating a typical read. TV Guide’s Fall Preview issue signals just such a moment — the arrival of the annual crop of new US TV shows, which, by the traditional Network calendar, is seeded with scripts and pilots in spring and harvested each autumn.
“The Fall Preview issue is our biggest and most important of the year”, says Donna Bender, TV Guide’s director of photography. “It’s how we herald each season and introduce the new shows, and it’s very much anticipated by our readers”.
Creating the highly produced issue that celebrates television’s rite of fall was momentous, too. It’s a story best told in numbers: 39 TV stars from 15 shows shot by 4 photographers over 17 days yielded 200,000 images.
TV Guide’s photo team worked closely with the photographers who generated all those photos, and they credit a key technology with a creative assist in solving the brutal production equation. “Aperture was the digital Swiss Army knife that let us capture, caption, organise, rate, present, transmit and back up terabytes of RAW images from four different photographers using different camera models”, says photo editor Godofredo Astudillo. “We were amazed at how easy it was to work with so many images”.
Pulling Off the Shoot
On the set at Smashbox Studios in West Hollywood at the two-week summer shoot, TV Guide deputy photo editor Alyssa Adams attempted to describe the scale of the effort involved just to be able to generate all those photos. “I can explain it to people, but unless they’ve been on such a shoot, they don’t get it. Our West Coast editor Geraldine Agoncillo starts coordinating months in advance, and editorial, creative and photo start concepting very early on. This is THE big production”, she said.
How big was evident in just one half-hour session on the set. Backed by a constant stream of booming music, several actors from the cast of the hit show Heroes in full makeup and theme-appropriate dress posed on an ingeniously simple but convincing set, attended by a churning scrum of photographers, photographer’s assistants, set designers and builders, studio and personal PR reps, clothing stylists, make-up artists, photo editors, and digital techs. In all, more than 20 people worked on set to make each shot.
The Hollywood writers’ strike delayed production of many TV pilots, which TV Guide’s photo, art and editorial teams typically use to ‘concept’ the shoot. As a result, the teams were forced to rely less on planning and more on reactions, particularly those of conceptual celebrity photographers Rodolfo Martinez, Andy Ryan, Rodelio Astudillo and Gari Askew.
The resulting edgy photo layouts make it clear just how well the team adjusted for any lack of planning time: Simon Baker of The Mentalist is inserted into a murder scene at a mannequin factory; Kath & Kim’s Molly Shannon and Selma Blair rock DayGlo lycra in an 80’s-inspired home workout room; and Anna Paquin joins vampire Stephen Moyer of True Blood in a Louisiana car park.
“We wanted to have surprising and graphic images that fit into the aesthetic of each show”, says Astudillo. “It was incredibly taxing on the crew to be in a constant build-shoot-build cycle, but we all worked together to get the shots that we wanted”.