“The first thing you have to do,” he said, “is rein in photographer Annie Leibovitz’ spending.”
After a long romance to convince me, I took the job to art direct and reformat Rolling Stone. The first day in the office, sitting at a big round Haight Ashbury-era oak table across from Editor/Publisher Jann Wenner, he gave me the big surprise. The real job.
It could have been easier to rein in M.C. Hammer’s spending.
But I hired my cousin, who had been a producer for me, to be Rolling Stone’s first photo editor. He got Annie on budget for each feature and cover shoot, he gave her more time for those by arranging to buy photos for the news and lesser articles from other photographers, and he arranged the resale of her Rolling Stone photos.
A few years later, Annie and I were working on the marketing of the movie “Memories of Me” with the cast in the photo here—Alan King, Billy Crystal and JoBeth Williams.
Marketing movies takes a lot of work and a lot of time in the developmental stages because each film is like an individual corporation, one that makes a very costly product to produce with the possible shelf life of just one day if it doesn’t sell tickets.
So there is a very real concern that the marketing creative works.
A lot of people get involved in the decision as to what creative to use. The studio had bought a lot of the almost-eight-gazillion concepts my office created for the key art image—which would basically be the poster and advertising art. One image was Alan King in a lobster suit.
The studio picked Annie to shoot that shot and the others. Not really the best choice, as we already had the concept approved and we only needed to execute it. Take the picture.
Not the best choice because Annie is an artist and a conceptual artist. Not really just the utility player.
She came to me with her own idea, which is where we should have started if the studio wanted Annie. She said to me, “I want to put the cast in a convertible, the JFK Continental kind, top down on a trailer, towing them along Ocean Avenue, shooting from the tow vehicle.”
As my chin fell slowly to my chest, bounced a few times and with a final thump, my eyes rolled back in my head and from my grouper-like opened and drooling mouth I asked, “How much will it cost to just rent that beachfront view from the city of Santa Monica? How much to hire the crew for the towing? The trailer? The car? The insurance? The police to escort us? How much time and money must I ask studio management for to mock up the new concept, in how many versions to re-convince all the motion picture company’s commanders-in-chief and their soldiers that we all were wrong and that there is a better way?”
We rented a photo studio. And, after a lot of phone calling and being hung up on with plenty of (expletives deleted), I had been granted another round of meetings and approval, with a budget to do the car shot in addition to the other approved concepts. In one day.
But shooting Alan, Billy Crystal and Jo Beth in a studio was fun. Come on. Alan King? In the lobster suit, closing his eyes and shrugging his shoulders with cigar in hand delivering pants-wetting monologues? Billy Crystal? Like Hamlet talking to that skull, Billy was looking at any object he picked up as he worked the empty space and just free form improvising, the two of them giving none of us any time to breathe. A good time was had by all.
But we had too much fun in the studio, lost the light and the car shot just didn’t get done.
And Annie? Annie’s photography, at the time we were all at Rolling Stone, was like the writing in that magazine: it all packaged what was outlaw music and lifestyle and made it legit. I wanted her signature pictures bigger so I dropped the traditional Rolling Stone look of bordered single pages and made her big shots even bigger at two pages wide. And Jann enlarged the size of the magazine pages and we took it into magazine land with a reformatting of its giveaway newspaper look.
The studio picked the most mundane of all our concepts to produce for the marketing.
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