The Jeff Bridges Experience
No matter where you were in the world last week, practically everyone was talking about The Oscars last Sunday in Hollywood. Who won for which film, which nominee you think deserved it more, and who wore what and did they look good. When I think about this past Oscars, I reflect upon a recent session where one of that night’s big names was a winner to me before he collected his long overdue Oscar.
Fade In magazine had hired me to create a portrait of Jeff Bridges for their cover, along with images for the feature story in the upcoming issue. And with all the Oscar buzz in the air the pressure was on. Having been in the belly of the cinematic beast for many years, I still know it is a blessing to have an actor walk into my studio who has multiple Oscar nominations over a 40 year career and is the heavy favorite to land the big prize. However, with such a buzz around Bridges you have to wonder exactly how long he will be in the studio before he is whisked away to his next obligation.
This photo shoot was to be the last pre-Oscar photo session for Bridges. The studio was prepared with three different lighting set ups, but the weight of the situation was on the shoulders of me and my team to get the shots done, and get the shot. Since we were his last photo shoot before the Oscars, he was probably counting down the minutes for this circus to be over. It’s not like “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges character in “The Big Lebowski”) is going to walk into my studio and just hang out. He has places to go and people to see, right?
The morning began with my crew and I ready to get this done the best way we know and as quickly as possible. Then in walked Bridges, but if you closed your eyes all you heard was “The Dude.” Normally celebrities with such a busy schedule like Bridges’ smiles and nods as they walk in with their entourage of publicists, representatives, and agents, and walk out just as quickly. But Jeff stopped and shook hands with everyone in the room. This was not a man who was counting down the minutes, he was cherishing each and every second of his experience!
Over the years I have photographed many celebrities and each shoot is impossible to describe in only a handful of words, but this session left me speechless. A man who is part of an acting legacy, who has been around this type of situation all his life, is sitting back and being genuine, polite, honest, and more importantly, seeming to enjoy each moment. We had in the studio a rare $20,000 Gibson guitar brought in as a prop for one of the shots, reflecting his nominated (now award winning) role in Crazy Heart. He picked it up and said, “Oh man that’s nice of you to get me this, I didn’t get you anything though.” An accomplished guitarist, Bridges knew it wasn’t a gift and was making a joke knowing how rare this guitar actually was. As the shoot progressed he would ask questions regarding my camera and the lighting, not for conversation but because he is also an accomplished photographer.
It’s simply amazing to meet someone in person that you have seen on screen for years and realize, “he really is that guy.” He seemed always down to earth, polite and kind, funny and curious, and humble, even more so considering being the odds on favorite for the Oscar this year.
I’m sure many reading this are wondering about the how the images were lit and the more technical aspects of the shoot. This is something I will get into next time I have a moment to sit down and write it out with helpful diagrams. You will see that entry (along with additional images) both here and on the Profoto blog.
Lastly, I’ve always been a fan of the movie The Big Lebowski, I had a bottle of Kahlua (a key ingredient to the drink of choice of his character in the film) in the studio thinking that if there was time I would ask him to sign it on his way out. There was time. Upon handing Bridges the bottle, I saw him begin to scribble all over the label of the bottle. A moment later he handed me the bottle with his sketch “The Dude” over the phrase “Jerry abides” and his signature. Jeff Bridges was a true pleasure to work with. He’s a musician, a photographer, kind, and an artist in everything he does. . . . And now, he’s an Academy Award Winning actor to go along with it.
If you would like to see the entire shoot online, check out Fade In magazine!