SAG Awards, 2016 – People Magazine Photo Booth

Filed under: Art, Entertainement, Film, Stuff that Happened

My old dear friend Pete got me a job as a lighting tech working for photographer Dani Brubaker, who was in turn hired by People Magazine to shoot their photo booth at the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Awards. These are the photos we shot.


We spent all day putting together a rather complex lighting setup, given that we knew that sometimes we would be photographing a single person, and other times it would be the whole cast of a show. It was so complex, in fact, that when we heard that Queen Latifah had won the first award of the night, we weren’t ready yet. The rep from People Magazine informed us that in fact, we were done, so we just went with it.

Each celebrity that won an award that night, after stepping off the stage with their statuette, would be guided through a series of photo ops. The first was a long “step-and-repeat,” which is what they call those walls that have the logos of all the sponsors of the event printed on them in a pattern. The celebrities would walk in front of the wall while a gallery of screaming photographers would yell at them to try to get their eyes for a moment so they could take one perfect shot. It got pretty loud and discourteous after a bit, and we were under the impression that at least one SAG winner that night decided to ditch the rest of the photo ops because of how discourteous they were being at the step-and-repeat. It was Idris Elba, by the way, if you were wondering.

After they got through that gauntlet, they would enter a much calmer atmosphere to be photographed by three different publications. I never did catch who the first one in the line was, but after them it was People Magazine, and after us it was the Los Angeles Times.

Despite the fact that we were a lighting crew, just hauling big metal stands, lights, and diffusion around, I had decided to dress up a bit for the night: I at least put on a tie. I was the only who thought to do so, and I think that might be why I was elected to get the celebrities positioned in the right spot when they came into our booth so we could shoot them. As a result, I met and spoke to all the celebs pictured in the gallery below, even though it was only to ask them to stand at a certain spot.

Queen Latifah was very cheerful and down to Earth. She had a small entourage of managers or agents or something, but she managed to outrun them and got into our photo booth to start taking pictures before they could involve themselves in the creative process.

The cast of Orange is the New Black seemed genuinely overjoyed at having won their award. Many of them were completely new to the entertainment industry, and others may have thought they were in the twilight of their career. In any case, for the most part they seemed blown away that they actually won. They also seemed to have gotten a few glasses of alcohol into them before they reached us, so they were just sloppy happy by the time they got to us. I remember making eye contact with Laura Prepon for an instant, probably because both she and I were taller than virtually everyone else there, and because I’ve had a crush on her since she did some college screwball comedy the title of which I may have never known back in the day.

Kevin Spacey didn’t seem to want to spend much time with us. He posed for something like three photos then told us we were good and started to walk out. Dani begged him to stay a little longer, so he posed for one more and took off. I was a little hurt that he never hit on me once. I guess I was too old for him.

I didn’t even know who Brie Larsen was when she came through. I was a little surprised that the photo they ended up using of her was the one where she was leaning back laughing the way she is. I do remember there was a moment where we tried to have her sit down on this vintage stool we had brought, but that there had to be a lot of care taken to make sure that lovely dress of hers didn’t get TOO revealing. Little did we know that she would eventually become Captain Marvel and be the biggest movie star in the world 3 years later.

Dani wanted Leonardo DiCaprio to sit on the fancy stool too. When he came in, I asked him in deferential tones if he would not mind sitting. He ignored that I had even spoken to him, even though I was only three feet to his right. I tried again, and he ignored me again. I figured we had another Spacey on our hands, so I just ducked away. As I retreated, he asked Dani if she wanted him to sit, and she said yes, if that would be alright. He obliged, and let us take all the pictures we wanted. When we had finished, he stood and asked if we could take a few more. I think in the end that he knew he was going to get the cover of the magazine, and he probably just felt he looked better standing up than sitting. He might have been burned before with a lousy, embarrassing picture that got seen by millions of people. So in hindsight, I don’t think he was being impolite when he didn’t acknowledge my initial question, but that he just didn’t want to end up getting another crappy photo taken of himself.

DiCaprio was the last one through. All in all, it was the biggest torrent of celebrity encounters that I ever had while living in Los Angeles.