Monday, April 28, 2008
Ken Sax - Taking A Shot
Celebrity photographer Ken Sax has successfully managed an eclectic career with a little luck, a thirst for knowledge and a lot of charm
“One afternoon,” Sax recalls, “the publicity executive at 20th Century Fox Television informed me that they were looking for a union still guy to shoot stills for a cliffhanger episode for one of the most popular shows at that time, Dynasty. This was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the only catch was that I had to be a member of the local cinematographer's guild, which I wasn't. As soon as I got off the phone with him, I called the guild, which, sadly, informed me that I'd have to come up with a $5,000 association fee, and with a deadline of only about 30 minutes.
“Under such tight circumstances,” Sax continues, “there was no way I'd be able to come up with the $5,000. But somehow, I was able to break all the rules and managed to negotiate the guild into two $2,500 installments, which was unheard of. And from that work at Fox, along with all the stills that I had accumulated over the years, I was able to attract CBS television to take a meeting with its photo department. Weeks later, I received a call from the senior photo editor. I was now a new CBS employee—and it was at that pivotal moment that I finally felt I was an established photographer.”
Sax found himself working for CBS as principal photographer, shooting the advertising and publicity for its top programming lineup. He remembers it like a battlefield—bouncing around from set to set like a ping-pong ball. Sax had to play several different roles, including publicist, as he was responsible for the key art that would appear every week in TV Guide. Through that, Sax also was given opportunities to shoot some of the galleries on locations.
“I still find myself on many television commercial sets shooting the print campaigns,” says Sax. “I also shoot advertising and publicity for movie posters and sometimes magazine editorials. Shooting stills is difficult and takes a lot of patience. You have to always work around the production so you're not too much of a distraction.”
For most photographers, that level of achievement is a career pinnacle. For Sax, who had good pay, even better benefits, and had earned a lot of respect as the youngest member in the Guild, it was time to break away to take a chance at exploring his creative side. So Sax resigned to go it alone.
With a celebrity roster that includes Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Samuel L. Jackson, Brittany Murphy, Vin Diesel, Barbra Streisand, Cindy Crawford and more, Sax has become the go-to guy for celebrity portraiture. His work also has appeared in the pages of GQ, Time, People, Premiere, Newsweek and many more.
Sax puts a lot of time and planning into preproduction for a shoot, maintaining frequent meetings to discuss ideas and concepts with creative execs and art directors. During the shoot, he goes out of his way to create a comfortable ambience by creating an “artillery” of music or even by hiring an on-set DJ. He also makes sure there are ample appetizers for noshing.
Shooting stills is difficult and takes a lot of patience. You have to always work around the production so you're not too much of a distraction.
Most importantly, Sax surrounds himself with the best people so that there's a level of confidence and trust from all involved. And even though there's a preconceived notion of what's supposed to happen, he often finds himself on his own artistic merit, altering the flow when inspired to change direction or to make creative choices.
Sax has gained his respected client list by a well-deserved reputation for talent and charm. He finds that getting a job is more about his pictures and his relationships than anything else. Sax also uses the vast potential of the Internet to self-promote and even thinks that the web is replacing the standard portfolio.
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