On The Radio
At 8:00 am, we were to shoot the Donna Summer album cover for her upcoming release, On The Radio. It was the first compilation of her biggest hits and eventually produced the number one duet of 1979 No More Tears (Enough is Enough) with Barbra Streisand. Donna wanted to create a circa 1940 set for the shooting and had requested we rent the New York brownstone street at the Warner Brothers lot in the steamy San Fernando Valley.
Since the set was bare, we had to bring in all the props, even down to the fire hydrants, lights, and the signs for the windows, in order to depict the 40s thematic feeling Donna wanted. She had rented ten vintage cars, and they were placed randomly down the three-block set. The huge playback speakers she requested played the title track from the new album. After all the preparation, Donna finally strolled down the street at 4:00 pm. As the sun started to set, she decided various three-story buildings needed to be repainted.
The studio crafts department, whose regular crew had already gone home, dutifully called in an overtime crew to spray the buildings. To add further authenticity, Donna asked to have the windows in the ice cream parlor gold-leafed. Make it say Harrys Ice Cream, she said.
We managed to get a few shots with Donna posed in the rumble seat of an old Chevy convertible before we lost the light. Then we brought out the night lighting crew. I could see we were not achieving the artistic 40s effect we wanted. It was time to cut a deal.
I suggested to Donna that we do a studio shoot the following day. If she would allow me artistic control, I would make the shot a complimentary one. She agreed.
My crew and I returned to the studio and worked through the night. I brought the vintage radio from the Warner Brothers lot, built the set, pasted huge rhinestones on the wall and was ready for Donna at 1:00 pm the next day.
That studio shoot produced the cover for the album that went gold and platinum.
Technical Notes: Album and CD covers are square, so I use a Hasselblad EL, Kodak 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 color film, normally 160 ASA. This is very fine grain film and can be enlarged to billboard size. It is considered medium format and quite large compared to todays film standard with 35mm and digital mediums the preferred size. In addition, todays CDs are smaller 5X5 inch covers not like the 12-inch album size of that period.
I used an 80mm lens on the street scene shots and a 50mm lens for the studio shoot. I hand held the Hasselblad for increased portability and to capture various angles quickly. Donna does not stand in one spot too long. I used a Norman 400B flash which re-cycles up to twice a second, allowing me to shoot with the motorized camera set on rapid rewind. I can then shoot 24 shots in twelve seconds if necessary.
Most importantly, the assistant hand held the flash, following Donna and myself in total synchronized movements. The assistant must be locked on to the subject at all times. The flash will freeze a moving subject like Donna and ensure a sharp picture. Additionally it gives better color saturation and skin tones.
© 2004 Harry Langdon and Sheryl Turner.
All Rights Reserved
|She had rented ten vintage cars, and they were placed randomly down the three-block set.
|That studio shoot produced the cover for the album that went gold and platinum.