Shoot those Stills

By Greg Pak
Everyone will tell you this, and it’s so true: Make sure you get good 35mm publicity photos (a.k.a. “production stills”) during the shoot.
Ideally, you should shoot both color slides and black-and-white. In practice, I’ve mostly shot black-and-white and had nary a festival complain. But if you have excellent color stills, you’ll no doubt have them used more and in better venues — some magazines, for example, will run someone else’s mediocre color photo before your excellent black-and-white.
Even if you’re making a MiniDV short, shoot those stills on film.
I’ve just made this mistake myself — in the scramble to shoot “The Penny Marshall Project” (a Blair Witch spoof from the Pollyannas) in a single day, I let the shooting of 35mm stills slip by. For publicity, I’ve made do with frame grabs from the video.
Penny Marshall Project stillThe photo on the right depicts Lisa Jolley in “The Penny Marshall Project.” This is a frame grab from a video image displayed in a Final Cut Pro window on my computer — not a 35mm still. Online, it looks okay. Blown up for a festival program, newspaper, or magazine, it’s a little less than ideal. I’ve gotten away with it, but 35mm stills would give better results.
With certain productions, you can shoot stills after the fact — I’m fairly confident, for example, that I can get a few good stills for “The Penny Marshall Project” if I can get an actor or two in costume in a dark corner of Central Park. But for most projects, if you don’t shoot the stills that day, you’ll never get ’em (’cause the actor’s moved to L.A., the costume’s gone back to the rental shop, and the location is now a parking lot, etcetera).
Regarding the content and composition of stills, avoid wide shots of ten people — those will seldom get reproduced. Go for simple but striking images of one or two actors.

mouse still
Seung-Hwan Han in “Mouse”

My most successful still is the image at the right for my short film “Mouse.” Almost every festival that ran “Mouse” included this photo in its program. “Mouse” may not have been the best film in a given program of shorts, but it had the most striking photo and as a result got the most graphical attention.