Could This Disaster At My Very Important Photo Shoot Have Been Avoided?
UPDATE: Back when I initially wrote this article, I did not share the model’s name thinking she just made a mistake and it was not worth ruining her career in modeling over it. But she went above and beyond of what normal people consider ethical and used my name and the images from that test shoot to scam business owners begging for free product. You can read about what has happened since that shoot when she no-showed here: WARNING: BIZARRE THINGS HAPPEN WHEN YOU CROSS PATHS WITH MODEL JULIA HAMILTON
If you have read and watched my Go Pro: Studio Beauty vide course you already know that my approach is to prepare for my shoots to the fullest. It’s obvious that the more you’re prepared the better your chances at keeping everything under control on the day. But can all disasters be avoided?
I have just photographed my biggest to date skincare campaign this past weekend and what happened to us in the middle of this intense project could have ruined it. Fortunately, everything turned out better than I could have imagined, but that was pure luck. I want to share this with you, so that you remember my nearly-fatal-failure and never underestimate the importance of a backup plan.
We were preparing for this shoot for weeks.
The client – a Sephora skincare brand – provided us with a very detailed shot-list and made their final model selection through one of my favorite Los Angeles-based agencies Osbrink Models. However, among the 6 models that we needed for the campaign there were two that I have previously worked with directly (not through an agency), and one of them was specifically selected by the client because we had shot with her for them before and they loved those images and wanted to make her their new face.
The week leading to the shoot was all about providing the models and team members with the call sheets, shot-lists, moodboards with reference imagery and requirements that I had been putting together during the previous weeks along with the client.
I also texted each model including the non-agency models myself to confirm they had everything two days before the shoot. I literally confirmed every single detail with every single person involved in this project multiple times – you can never be too prepared for an important shoot.
The President and CEO along with the Content Director of the company flew in from Miami for our 2-day intense photo shoot and they were very much looking forward to meeting and discussing this great opportunity with the model who they chose to make the new face of the brand. Her slot was in the morning of the second day of the shoot.
Day 1 went great and while it was very intense, we got everything done in the best possible way. Every one left the studio exhausted but inspired by our success and we were all looking forward to Day 2 as it was supposed to be even more challenging according to our plans.
#Repost @drbrandt with @repostapp ・・・ @jennpuff of @osbrinkmodels was such a star on set today. Great day with legendary photographer @juliakuzmenko, visionary makeup artist @lupemoreno_mua and CEO @scolleu. Day 1 of 2 done! Follow our Instagram stories for more tomorrow. #drbrandt #beauty #model #modeling #photography #editorial #iloveskincare #skincareaddict #skincarejunkie #magazine #osbrinkmodels #la #sephora #ulta
We started the morning of Day 2 with a recap and introduction to the updated final shot-list for the day and while I was discussing the details with the client, my team members politely interrupted us suggesting that our first model – the model who was supposed to become the new face of the brand – is running late. I glanced at the time on my phone and she was already 40 minutes late. My heart sank.
From that moment on, I felt as if I was sleeping and it was a nightmare from which I couldn’t wake up.
I frantically dialed her number and got a voice mail message. I dialed her again and again – no luck. I knew I had exchanged text messages with her 20 times during the upcoming week, so there’s no chance that she could have forgotten about our shoot or her call time.
I texted her – no response. I called her again and again.
The President of the company had cancelled a business meeting and skipped breakfast that morning to make sure he was at the studio to meet this model and discuss the potential future partnership with her, and now he was getting a little irritated with her being an hour late.
What happened next had put me into a complete shock and despair.
While I continued dialing her number, leaving voice mail messages and texting, hoping that nothing terrible had happened to her on the way. Maybe she just overslept a little and was rushing to the studio now and her phone was in her purse; or maybe she was just driving so she wouldn’t answer her phone, but she might if I she saw 10 missed phone calls from me.
My Makeup artist and her assistant came back to us and suggested we should not expect her to show up today at all. And then they showed me the model’s Snapchat posts.
It felt as if I was watching a video recording of a crime being committed: 8pm – she’s out for dinner (it’s Ok, totally normal), 9pm – there are some drinks involved (not ideal, considering we’re shooting skincare today, but moderation is key), 10pm – some night club and dancing (ok, there’s still hope), midnight – she is still out and it looks like it’s getting wild (oh no….), 12:30am – she is still out and obviously not sober (oh no no no…), 1am – a slightly indecent bathroom selfie (…), 2am – she is still posting and the captions are straight up dirty…. No hope.
I am getting nervous as I am writing this, even though I know that everything worked out fine in the end. But this kind of utterly unprofessional, careless, unreliable, irresponsible act absolutely blows my mind.
Once we saw that we quickly realized that even if she did wake up now and showed up later for the shoot, she would be too hungover to do her job well, and we would have to deal with her dehydrated skin and puffy eyes.
The client was very disappointed and I sadly almost accepted the fact that they would never want to deal with me and my team again. I felt this huge failure was on me. Not only we needed this model for specific shots for specific product lines, we also needed a 3-model shot later that day and that very shot had determined the schedule of the entire project. That was not happening without the third model.
Luckily, I have been testing a lot in Los Angeles throughout the past year and we quickly went through my Instagram and picked a couple of models who would be an appropriate replacement. I texted and called them and we had an even more beautiful model in our studio 15 minutes later. Yes it was very lucky for us and it could have ended up much worse.
Now that this disaster is behind us, I am trying to break it down and see how I can prevent such things in the future. I don’t care that she blew her chances at becoming the face of a Sephora brand and everything that would come out of that in the future – it was her own choice. But she also willingly jeopardized our relationships with the company that entrusted this project to us – me and my team. Things could have turned out so much worse.
So, could have this been avoided? I don’t think so:
- I did do everything in my power to keep all models updated with all of the details they needed to know about the upcoming shoot
- Ideally, I wouldn’t book a non-agency model for an important shoot, but this model was specifically requested by the client based on our previous images
- Even if she was booked through an agency, I don’t think it would stop her from doing what she did, so that doesn’t really make much difference in this case
But what I didn’t do and that could be crucial if we didn’t get so lucky with the replacement model that fit the project so well and was only 15 minutes away from the studio in a huge city like Los Angeles – I did not have a backup plan.
I relied too much on my team, and while I was sure nobody from my creative team or the tested agency models would have done anything like this, there’s always a possibility of a car breaking down, a sudden sickness or something else that may leave you with a missing team member or a model on the day of an important shoot.
“Expect the best, but prepare for the worst“.
It makes total sense to have a backup for everyone on your team for the day of an important shoot. Connect with potential replacement talent and make sure they are in a standby mode for the morning of the shoot. Release them as you confirm that everyone showed up.
I know I will now. I have learned it the hard way, and wanted to share it with you, so you can learn from my mistake.
P.S. Once we got the replacement model in, I texted the unreliable model and told her not to worry about it, we saw her Snapchat. When she woke up later that day, she had the nerve to text me and lie that her alarm didn’t go off that morning, that she went to bed at midnight and had plenty of time to sleep. Then she deleted her Snapchat account. I’m guessing, she had not remembered that she kept posting her adventures all night while intoxicated and we actually got to see all of that. The moral of the story, don’t leave your creative career destiny in the hands of flaky liars who don’t care of their future as much as you care about yours – have a backup plan!