Documenting the making of a film

When you first hear a movie or TV series announcement, the chances are the news is accompanied by a single image. A striking image (a ‘still’) that tells a thousand words about a production that may have been months or even years in the works. 

This one image is chosen to tease you with a story, a character, a setting and production values that should make you pay attention. It’s your first glimpse of a project that may still be seeking a film distribution deal, might be in post-production, or may have been accepted into a festival on the international circuit. Every film wants to find its audience and these images are a huge part of that journey. 

That image has been taken on set during the filming by a Unit Stills Photographer, also know as a Stills Photographer or EPK (electronic press kit) photographer. 

The photographer is employed, usually by the producer or the publicity team, to document the making of the film (behind-the-scenes, A.K.A. BTS) but also to capture the essence of the film. The skill of the photographer comes down to being able to tell stories in a single image. Stories that can sell a film. These visual stories that are aiming to reach their potential audience. 

It’s a unique skill set required. As a photographer on a busy film set you’re working to observe and document the process without getting in the way. You’re hoping to capture striking images that can sell a film without getting in the way. And you’re hoping to forge personal connections that make for great photographs whilst not getting in the way of people doing their jobs on set. 

It’s an amazing gig. I love being on set and observing the way directors and their actors work together. I love the physical skill required to make a movie; the experience and expertise of the grips, the gaffers, the runners and the personal assistants. I love seeing the way the art department create whole worlds often with very little budget. I’m always in awe at the magic of wardrobe and their ability to dress and redress characters every day that are convincing and authentic. I love getting to observe the parts that make a movie whole. 

Before my professional photography career I had an established career as a publicist and later communications manager in the film industry. My love of visual projects drew me not only to films but to the still images that we would use to promote those films. With a decade working closely with Bill Gosden, former Director of the New Zealand International Film Festival, my eye was honed for what worked well on the page and online to market a film from a single image. 

Across the last seven years I’ve been very fortunate to document the making of short films, documentaries, commercial campaigns, music festivals, tv shows and feature films. I've been incredibly fortunate to observe and photograph directors like Jane Campion, Ainsley Gardiner, and Loren Taylor, and to work alongside the cameras of cinematographers like Al Bollinger, Adam Luxton, and Bevan Crothers. I love being a stills photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand.

Check out more of my unit stills portfolio over here, and my profile on the International Film Stills directory

Bret McKenzie talks to Walter the Muppet about things to do in Wellington
Roimata Fox on the set of Hui Hoppers, holding a birthday cake
A woman is showering and pulls back the shower curtain to see who is in the room. A scene from NOT EVEN tv series
Al Bol holding a cine lens while lining up a shot for short film Behold the Ghost
A woman walks on a highway and approaches a car that has pulled over. Still from GOING GOING