The summer of 2018 will go down in my personal history as the summer of music, dance and blistering heat. Not because all of my music festivals, but because I was the unit photographer of #LikeMe, a brand new series by FABRICMAGIC, in co-production with Flemish broadcaster Ketnet.
#LikeMe is a musical series, on a scope that never has been seen in Belgium. It follows the life of Caro, her move to the big city and the trials and tribulations that follow her while finding her way in a new city and a new school.
The producers have dug deep and came out with an unexpected eclectic song mix spanning 70 years of Flemish and Dutch music history. Each episode features two songs, performed by the cast which features young new talent, and an adult all-star cast.
They did not just surprise friend and foe with their vocal skills, but the dancing featured in the series is of a stunning level, with sometimes awe-inspiring musical acts with hundreds of extras.
Also rather unique in Belgium is the fact that I was on set for so many days. In fact, of the the 54 shooting days, I was on set for 28 days. While in Hollywood it’s normal to have a dedicated set photographer that joins every day, in these parts it’s a very, very rare sight. In fact, most shows in Belgium get a photographer for just one or two days.
This not only resulted in a massive amount of photos, but also a visual document on how this series was created.
Being a photographer on set is a delicate dance between not delaying production by walking in frame or making unexpected noise and shutter clicks when sound is rolling, and claiming your space to do your job. After a few days it became second nature to work with the 1st AD, discussing camera moves with our DOP and avoid being smacked with the sound mixer’s boom for interfering with his job. Just kidding with the boom thing of course, but it’s a delicate dance of everything coming together, doing their job, being creative, and creating the best work for this amazing production.
Technology wise I shot the entire series on the Hasselblad X1D-50C, ensuring high-quality images. For the truly dark scenes, I turned to the Nikon D5.
Part of my job was also to create the key art and promotional stills, which is the defining image for the entire series. Together with the producers and communication bureau James Bold, we came up with a series of images inspired by the series and life at school.
We planned in a complete shoot day with our entire youth cast, meaning our 5 leads, and the 15 other characters in the class. To fit our entire shoot in a single day, it also meant a very strict planning. 8:30 am was the call for production installation, with the last person leaving set way past 10 pm.
This also meant we had to treat this day as another shooting day, be it with a skeletton crew. In total we had our two series-producers, my producer, two production assistants, two technical assistants, a gaffer, set dresser, two make-up artists and a behind the scenes camera-man. Also our amazing series-catering kept us fed. So in total we had a complete tally of 35 persons on set.
We shot tethered for the entirety of the day. With Hasselblad’s Phocus software it was a breeze, with a dedicated iPad for the producer. We used a 27” Cinema Display hooked on a MacBook Pro to make sure everything looked as it should, with backups happening on a LaCie rugged SSD.
We took our first shot at 11:15, which is tight schedule for make-up for 20 actors. The first series of images was shot on a white seamless backdrop., giving production the most flexibility to use these shots for things like communication and merchandise.
Our leads got several shots with the obligatory outfit chances. Because the entirety of the class are part of the ensemble instead of just nameless background extras, they all got their own shot in front of the backdrop.
Because you can only get so much with studio photos, we shot the individual glamour shots in the classrooms and hallways of the school. We had the haze going for most of these, to add some mystery and glamour to these shots.
Up next was the first image I conceptualised for the series. As soon as I saw the lockers, I got transported back to my school days, to the moments between class, where everyone headed to their lockers for whatever reasons. If we were to create a huge hallway with nothing but lockers, we could give the entire cast a moment to shine. Each with their own little stories and interactions. A slice of life of a high school student. The producers immediately understood what I tried to achieve, and it was quickly green-lit, despite the limited use this specific format brought along. But, where it can use, it’s a very effective image I’m very proud of.
Because building a full hallway would be rather impractical, and we needed the full resolution of creating a massive graphic, it always meant we would be doing a panorama. We created a small set with some lockers, with minor variations in set-dressing, rotating the cast to create small vignettes. Love, hate, jealousy, flirty, bullying, sick of school, complete happiness. All emotions we have in this unique graphic spanning 35.000 pixels wide!
The key art consists of our lead cast standing on the majestic green staircase that truly is the centrepiece of the school. Surrounding them is the rest of the school.
While the final image is mostly a composit of all elements shot, we also created a full practical single shot with the motion blur intact.
We achieved this effect by bringing Tom Van Sand, one of the gaffers from the series, in for our shoot day. He lit the entire staircase with an ARRI Skypanel S60-C with an Octa 5 Softbox, with an ARRI M18 HMI bounced on a 2×1 frigolite to fill in the rest of the hallway from the back. We waited for the ambient light to go down so we had complete control over the entire area. We then placed our main cast in a V formation on the stairs, and blocked all continues light with a floppy and black drapes.
We then lit them with our Profoto B2 lights in a huge umbrella and an Elinchrom Deep Octa 100. An overhead B2 gave some rim lighting, with a gridded 2 foot OCF Profoto Octa brought in to fill some shadows on the other side. These modifiers gave us the best quality of light.
We then had our choreographer yell action, while our main 5 smiled and did their thing, while the rest of the class moved up and down in the class. By blocking the continues light and bringing in a strobe we managed to get both motion blur as pin sharp portraits in one single shot.
In the end, our studio created a massive series of unique images, giving FABRICMAGIC and Ketnet full freedom in their communication and whatever use.
For Kris Van de Sande
- Photographer: Kris Van de Sande
- Producer: An De Cleyn
- Assistant & BTS photography: Ymke Dirikx
- Assistant: Anne Smolenaars
- BTS video: Sam Boddin
- Producer FABRICMAGIC: Bart Van Oost
- Creative Producer: Thomas Van Goethem
- Production Assistant: Stéphanie Crombé
- Production Assistant: Cédric De Boeck
- Gaffer: Tom Van Sande
- Wardrobe: Lesly Deliens
- Chief Make-Up: Xavier De Keersmaecker
- Assistant Make-up: Vanity Geerts
- Retouching: James Bold Agency
PS: eagled eye-viewers might spot me in the background for a small cameo in episode three. 📸