It’s “Guest Blog Wednesday” featuring Mike Kubeisy!
Open with aerial shot, Pacific Ocean greets surfers two hours before sunset, the beaches of Malibu golden, as camera soars down the coast to the Colonies. Crane shot down as neighbors start to gather in front of a townhome, camera stops on American flag dancing from the cool breeze mounted on the front of the garage, the fragrance of gardenias fills the air.
Stedicam pans right slowly past convertible Porsche, widens to reveal hats, sunglasses, suntanned faces all looking. “What’s going on? Is everyone okay?” Camera tilts down to yellow Police Line Do Not Cross. Camera creeps back and turns, tight on brick pavers, moving slowly over walkway low to reveal Sheriff at doorway. As he opens the front door, the acrid metallic smell starts to overtake the gardenias. Nice upper class home, arched doorways, bullnosed corners, and an oak staircase.
Camera starts to ascend the stairs, slowly pushing in on the framed pictures on the staircase wall. Wedding couple 10 years ago, beautiful bride, groom in his military dress blues, same couple on vacation looks like Hawaii, camera continues up the stairs, photo of same woman tanned on tennis court here in Malibu. As the camera reaches the top of the staircase widen to reveal the ceiling fan trying to move the acrid smell away.
Sheriff acknowledges camera as we follow to arched doorway leading to bedroom. Camera tilts over bed to reveal husband sitting upright leaning on the headboard with a bloody mess behind his head, professional hit, three shots, one to the head and two to the chest. Camera widens revealing women’s lingerie on the edge of the bed. Camera pushes in and creeps along bed to floor gliding gently over the clothes as they lead us into the bathroom where the scent of coconut soap or shampoo softens the air.
Snap to long slender legs lying in shower as blood swirls down drain (think Psycho). Camera raises to show stunning blonde in shower. This is more gracious, one to the head and one to the chest right between her… WAIT, the woman in the photo was a brunette, and this one’s blonde. Something is wrong, dead wrong…”CUT!”
As the Director yells, I try to move in quick behind the steadicam to capture the actress before she moves, Bam Bam Bam, now get the actor on the bed, dang too late! He’s already drinking some water as they refresh the blood and bananas on the wall. FYI the bananas are for the look of brain splatter. I’ll get him on the next take.
Hi, my name is Mike Kubeisy (or as Scott calls me, “Hollywood”), and I’m a Motion Picture and Television Stills Photographer or simply called “Stills.”
Due to actor availability, I would likely have shot the wedding and vacation photos from that scene the day before. For the vacation photo, the actors were comped into a Hawaiian landscape. The picture of the woman at the tennis court in Malibu was shot that morning. When you see a photo that has been used in a crime lab or when a detective pulls a photo from his jacket and asks, “Have you seen this person?” that’s my work. I have a reputation that if it’s dead, I shot it. I have worked on many crime shows, including all the CSIs, NCIS, and as you read this, the new NCIS Los Angeles. The FBI, LA County Sheriff, LAPD, NCIS, County Coroner’s Office and even the CIA have advised me on the different approaches and techniques used by their agencies.
I started back in 1984 shooting publicity for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. In 1996 I started doing niche shooting for the property department on Diagnosis Murder. The prop master, Michael Wilson, loved my style of getting in, shooting, and getting out before they reloaded a camera so much that he referred me to another prop master, and, well you know how the story goes…
Before I continue, keeping up with Scott’s humility and sense of humor, here is a photo of me when I was an assistant for photographer Ron Slenzak. He was shooting the cover for Prince’s “Purple Rain,” and we needed a stand-in motorcycle before the real bike was to arrive. I volunteered my bike, and here’s the image. I like to call it “Red Thunder.” I was half the size and had twice the hair. Notice the very cool Levi cords.
Back on the set, I have the pleasure of working with some of Hollywood’s top stars, and with that comes a variety of personalities. I have learned over the years that being humble and professional can lead to opportunities. It is almost an oxymoron in Hollywood to be a professional photographer and stay humble. My secret: manners. And finding an interest in people.
I was shooting on the set of an infomercial for Simple Green many years ago when I met the president of the company, Mr. Bruce FaBrizio, and his wife. I gave the art director my card and asked if I could come by sometime and show my book to possibly do some commercial shots for them. When I arrived at the Simple Green headquarters, I was reintroduced to Mr. FaBrizio and his wife again. She replied, “You’re the one with the manners.” I got the account, and I honestly believe that it was because of my manners and not my book.
I was shooting on Boston Legal, and my assignment was to shoot William Shatner. Everyone on the crew referred to him as Bill. Now Bill had just won the Emmy a few days before, so when he arrived on the set, I quickly said, “Congratulations, Mr. Shatner.” He looked at me kind of funny, shook my hand and said, “Thanks Mike.” We ended up shooting for about 20 minutes, which is unheard of, capturing every ‘70s pose you could imagine. We had a blast! The producers were even wondering what was going on. In the end everyone was excited, and the pictures were a hit. Oh yeah, livin’ the dream!
When the actors trust you, it is then that you become part of the family, and they will go out of their way to allow you to get the shot. Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Sean Murray and David McCallum from NCIS are some of the best. Here is a photo taken by the 1st A.D. where Michael Weatherly is showing me where he stood so that I can recreate the image that he would have taken.
When you watch a show and the agent is snapping off frames, those are not the pictures the show will actually use. The exposure is usually wrong, and the motion blur from the shutter is unusable due to low light conditions. So I observe the scene and watch who is taking the photo, the angle in which he or she takes it, and even if he or she uses a flash. When the Director yells “Cut!” I jump in and take my photos the way the actor did, trying to stay with continuity. I then shoot the scene as I see it and add creativity to it. All this is done very quickly. I would love to think that I could just go and shoot it as I feel and when I’ve got it, move on.
In reality there are about 75 to 100 crew members working on a set. When you hold them up to get your shots, you’re costing the production thousands of dollars. I try to get my shots between camera reloads and lens changes. Robert Vanelli, a mutual friend of Scott’s and mine, came to visit on NCIS back in April. He wrote, “Kubeisy gets in, takes the shot, bam nails it, and they are onto the next scene. That man’s mind works at lightning speed!!!” It’s knowing your job and trusting your gear.
That Hollywood magic, what is it? The way painters make cement look like wood or wood look like steel is amazing. Makeup Effects, how they can make an actor look like he or she has been dead for two weeks and then just get up and walk away. I would insert a photo here, however, Scott doesn’t like looking at that kind of stuff. You can log on to my site at digital-ops.com and see for yourself all that gore, I mean “magic,” you want.
As I was saying, how about the lingo: a stinger or lunch box, cube tap, 5K with an opal, 12×12 with a half grid. Then there are flags, cutters, toppers, and floppies. The most utilized item on the set is a full apple. You can stand on it, cameras can be placed on it, a baby plate can be mounted to it with a tweenie, and everyone has sat on one in-between takes. There is the crew: Grips, Gaffers, Crafty, and Greens. I love it!
One thing it’s not is glamorous. The hours are long, and when on location regardless of the elements, you have to get the shot. You could be shooting at Disney Ranch in the summer… Oh, it’s beautiful there, but it’s 100+ degrees and yellow jackets are buzzing everywhere. You are coated with sunscreen and bug spray. When you go home and shower, you leave an oil slick in the tub. As this is posted I’m at Photoshop World in Las Vegas. I remember shooting for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in downtown Vegas a few years ago when I called my wife to tell her that the thermometer at the top of the hotel was showing 103? at midnight. That’s not glamorous! It is, however, magical, and there is nowhere I’d rather be.
Well my Photoshop brethren, one last comment. It is my observation that so many people in this Television and Motion Picture Industry, referred to as the “Biz,” all find their identity in what they do. “Oh, I’m a Hollywood photographer” so therefore I AM, but I ask, “When you’re not working, what are you? Nothing?” I had a very wonderful thing happen to me last month. A friend of mine, Nick on the NCIS set said, “Kubeisy you have the greatest job being a still photographer.” I said, “Thanks Nick, but the greatest job I have is being a Dad.” We both smiled.
Scott, you are a blessing. The proof is in the people who work with you. Larry Becker and the guys are amazing. The love you have for your wife and children is a gift that you radiate when one is with you. I thank God for our friendship.
I enjoy the talent I have been given and the profession I get to use it in. Regarding the people I work with, I know their vacation plans, how their kids are doing, what shows they have worked on and even how their marriages are. I have wept, hugged, laughed and even prayed with the best in Hollywood, my friends.