"I think that's extremely important," says Schuller. "In advertising, you have a very strict plan of what you're shooting, but even still we find moments to take five or 10 minutes to do some experimental things. I always say keep your eyes open, look to your right, look to your left, because maybe by accident you'll see something or you'll get an idea. The other day we were shooting a big advertising campaign, and in the middle of the shoot, we escaped into the garden for a few minutes to shoot an image that was strictly for me. Sometimes I'll do it for a client because it can be more interesting and more fun. It depends on what I find. The other day, I found something and thought, 'The client shouldn't know, but for me it's fantastic. So let's do it quickly.'
"Have your eyes open," Schuller continues, "and always find a way to use every spare second. If you find something, do it. You have a strong team with you, good models, you have everybody on set, and you have eight or 10 hours. Use the time and play; don't just stand around and drink coffee. It doesn't matter what you're doing. You take your camera, you work on your ideas, and you never think for who you're doing it, and you never have in mind how big it is or how important it is, just that you might do something good. It's something like giving 150% of your energy, and that's it. It doesn't matter if you shoot in Bombay or New York or Berlin, Paris or Romania."
Schuller was born in Romania. His early childhood in Eastern Europe had a profound impact on both his life and work. "It must have something to do with being born in the Communist world," he says. "You're surrounded by gray, you're surrounded by a little bit of depression, and then you come to Western Europe, to Germany, and suddenly everything is so colorful and so bold. I got this flash. I saw all these colors, and I loved the colors, and I loved the energy and the optimism. It was like, grab life and take it. Say yes to life! Suddenly you're in the middle of it and everything is possible, and you start playing."
His other great influence was his father. "My father was a theater man," says Schuller. "He was already in theater when I was born, and later on he was doing movies. So I was growing up on stage. It wasn't a big stage, it was a small stage, but the thing is, a stage is a stage is a stage. And if you like the stage, if you like theater, if you like actors, if you like this whole storytelling thing and if you're influenced by that, then you're never afraid to tell a story in an epic way. I love to see the girl and the garment in the whole surrounding, a bit like if you were sitting in the audience in the theater or the opera and you see the whole stage, and sometimes if you open your eyes, you can see the stage and the left and the right of the theater, and somehow everything is part of the story.
"My father was always saying to me when I was a young boy," he continues, "you have to take care that you aren't boring because you have to entertain the people. That's their right to be entertained a little bit. And I think of a photographer as an entertainer. We have to entertain our audience a little bit because, if not, people get bored. You can do it in a nice, intelligent way, not in a stupid, banal way—a good, high level. You can entertain people with good taste and by hopefully telling strong stories."
Theatricality overflows from Schuller's work, but it's nowhere more evident than in his personal projects, like the productions he mounted in the Southern California desert for his 2010 book, 90 Days One Dream. A veritable visual ode to theater, the images incorporate everything from the rigging that literally supports the production to a circus-inspired image of a model and an elephant. Go big or go home, indeed.
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