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  • Writer's pictureMike

The Unit Stills Photographer : Part 1

If I had known what a Unit Stills Photographer was when I was at school, maybe my twenty five years working in computers would never have happened.

That said, if I had even been remotely interested in photography at school or when I was younger, my life may have been completely different. But, now I have reached a point in my life where I ( hopefully) have a little time left to chase a new dream, and I am grabbing that opportunity with both hands. 

If you don't know, and to be honest I didn't know what a Unit Stills photographer did, they hang around the set taking behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew. However, the more important element of the job is to take a number of shots of key scenes; the ‘Stills’, which will be used within the promotional material for the production. In a nutshell that’s what a stills photographer does.

Why this style of photography? To really explain why, I need to give you a little bit of a back story, of my love affair with films.

Firstly, no single film or franchise has ever influenced my life, my love for film or the reason I watch films. I never saw Star Wars and thought WOW, this is the greatest thing I have ever seen, I will watch films for the rest of my life, or even I want to work in film. My appreciation of film and film making came later. Back when I was in college and enjoying a large amount of free time in the afternoons, I would walk home and on the way visit the local video store and either pick up the latest film release or a couple of other titles to watch. Plus the guy let me take out ‘18's’ so I could enjoy the horror section as well. I watched these films to be entertained, my sole purpose of watching films, not to be awe of the wonderful cinematography or to marvel at the musical score, or ‘muse en scene’. 

Nope, just as entertainment. Pure and simple.

I continued my interest in films, and in 1999 I got the Cineworld unlimited card, basically allowing me to see any amount of films per month for a fixed price.

Open to abuse? Perhaps just a little.

In one year I saw 241 films at the cinema (not including Festivals). With a more varied diet of films now, I began to appreciate much more about the films, the music becoming one of my favourite aspects of a film. I generally like edit to a score or selection of music taken from films, especially if I am working on a set of images from a film. That said I used to listen to 3 or 4 scores a day at my old job. I actually write this blog to various scores, including funnily enough The Words by Marcelo Zarvos.

Soon my kids had cards and I had a few people to visit the cinema with. I began collecting more interesting films and have a soft spot for Asian cinema, well Foreign films in general (though I do love a cheesy action film as well!)

In 2007 I ended up on the path which would lead me onto a film set. I found details of a film festival in London called Frightfest.

 Along with a friend, Tony,  we got tickets and went down to the Odeon Leicester Square for 5 days of films, Q&A's and hanging out with film makers and horror fans; it was a horror (genre) film festival. The first film we saw was Black Sheep. This  last weekend I saw Frightfest's 1000th film at their Glasgow two day event. 

Me with Sheridan Smith after the screening of Tower Block.

The beauty of the festival is the family vibe you get and I have met and become friends with so many wonderful people, last year I introduced my eldest daughter to Frightfest, she thought it was incredible.

Ben Anderson

So, how did Frightfest open the door to my new career? Well, when the festival moved to the Empire I met Mark Logan. ( good bloke, very talented, should go far.) Now Mark was looking to make films, and eventually he got his chance with Solitary, while he didn’t produce or write it, he did get the chance to direct. 

Mark Logan talking to C Robert Cargill about Sinister 2

Having known Mark for a few years now, he had seen me around the festival with my bridge camera, mainly taking pictures of guests, the people I knew and the odd bit of street photography when out and about in London. This led Mark to believe that I knew what I was doing with a camera. So, he asked me to do the stills for Solitary. Now, I did tell him I had no idea what I was doing really, I had no kit and actually did he really think it was a good idea? Well, he stuck by his decision ( he can be stubborn like that) and that was the first of the many shoots I have been on with Mark now.

Mark Logan on the set of Rats, filmed in Warwick Castle

Through Frightfest I met a bunch of other filmmakers just starting out. I managed to get on to their short films as well, and have returned to many of their subsequent projects. When I first came to Frightfest I never dreamed of getting my name on a credits list at the festival, hell I never thought I would get to work on a film period. But, being around these film makers and in the supportive, creative environment that is Frightfest, that dream became a reality. 

Paul While, SFX artist and regular of Frightfest

Two projects I worked on showed one year. Mab,  written and directed by Katie Bonham, and then Blood Shed, Directed by James Moran, written by James and Cat Davies. 

Katie Bonham (actually taken on Mindless) and James Moran with Cat in the background on the set of Blood Shed.

The following year I was back on the credits list with Mannequins written and directed by David Malcolm. It is such a fantastic feeling to see your name on the big screen, as I said it is something I never believed would happen.

David Malcom and his Mannequins!

My next goal is is to work on a feature film that plays at Frightfest. Fingers crossed.

Now, you know how I got to be a stills photographer. Over the next few blogs in my little story I will tell you of some highs and lows of working on a film sets, where not everything always goes to plan, plus share some of the incredible images I have taken along the way.


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