OK—No surprise endings here. Yes, I indeed got the opportunity to be Michael Phelps’ lighting double for a couple of hours on a still shoot in 2017. As many of you know, rock stars and athletes don’t waste hours of their time standing around on set while photographers and crews set up and tweak the lighting for god knows how long. That’s usually left to a lowly crew member to just kind of stand in as needed throughout the pre-lighting process of a shoot.
In this particular shoot though, the “still photographer” was really more of a videographer/DP and didn’t know much about lighting still photo sets in a studio. To his credit, he told his “producer” (and I use the term loosely—she was really his agent and knew little of actual production) to hire a stand-in who would wear the same swimming suit, etc. and allow him to light the shot as closely as possible before Michael actually went on camera.
The plan was to shoot Michael in the studio in the morning (which didn’t involve me), and then go to Papago Park around mid-afternoon which I had set up as the location scout/manager for them. Much to my surprise, I received a call from Ms. “Producer’s” assistant at 8:30 in the morning, many hours before I was supposed to meet them at Papago Park. She was very nice, but completely green and all in a panic because the lighting double they had hired hadn’t shown up and bailed out on them at the last minute. She inquired if I knew anybody who could be hired at the last minute on Saturday morning to head down to the studio immediately and do the gig. I was rather perplexed and suggested the obvious answer that whatever talent agency they booked the slacker from needed to send a backup dude pronto.
The PA was very nice (and about 18 years old!) but seemed not to know what I meant by the term “talent agency.” She informed me that she had simply called a friend of a friend and asked him if he would do it. Of course, I’m guessing this kid was all of about 20 years old as well, and didn’t see any problem with simply “changing his mind” (his car wouldn’t start—Seriously, dude?!) and leaving the shoot in the lurch. I asked young PA girl how much she offered to pay the dude to get out of bed at 7am on Saturday morning, and the mystery about why he wouldn’t show up was solved. $50. Seriously?!!! I told her I needed to talk to the “producer” for a second and she didn’t see any problems with the price or the way they had done things either!!!
I told them I didn’t have a handy list of swimmers or anyone else I could call on Saturday morning for an immediate job for the princely sum of $50, so I sighed deeply, muttered a few curse words under my breath, thanked myself for taking my 54-year-old ass to the gym the past few years, and got into my car. I took one for the team, but I will freely admit it was an honor to actually be able to pull that shit off at my age! I was annoyed at the time, but looking back on it now, I am very grateful to be offered that unique opportunity and to help out some clueless newbies in the process. The local crew was kind of looking at me funny wondering how the hell Eric the producer/location guy ended up in front of their lights in a bathing suit. And the state of the so-called “production” department was revealed to have become exactly the expression my friend Denise and I had been calling it for the past decade at least—“A race to the bottom…”