Industry News

The Making of WPPI The Movie

July 24, 2013

By RF Staff

Last week at WPPI’s On The Road show (OTR) in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of attending the live premiere of the WPPI 2013 Movie and then interviewing the film’s producer, Roy Ashen, CEO of Triple Scoop Music, and the director, Sion Michel, who has worked with such heavy hitters in the film industry as Steven Spielberg and Rob Marshall, among others.

Sion Michel, Jacqueline Tobin and Roy Ashen discuss the making of the WPPI 2013 movie. Photo © Susan Cegarra

Sion Michel, Jacqueline Tobin and Roy Ashen discuss the making of the WPPI 2013 movie.
Photo © Susan Cegarra

As Rangefinder managing editor Jessica Gordon blogged last week about the film, “If you’ve ever wondered what the WPPI experience is like, a new 13-minute film takes you right there.” I, like Jessica—as well as many photographers in the audience last week, several of whom were also in the film—shed many tears during the premiere and was moved by how accurately and emotionally both Michel and Ashen captured the WPPi experience, from the fast-paced trade show floor time lapses to the moving statements from the speakers to the music that helped build and set the tone of film from the very first frame.  Here is an excerpt of the Q&A I did with Ashen and Michel after the screening.

Jacqueline Tobin: This film was made during the actual WPPI show in Vegas this past March. How challenging was that?
Roy Ashen: I remember mostly being concerned about where we were going to film it, where we were going to do interviews, and then [WPPI director] Jason Groupp said he had a little suite at the MGM, so we basically moved in—18 hours a day with a film crew, a small army of Nikon and Sony gear and the enormous Red Epic camera. Jason never got any peace and quiet but after seeing the film, he told me it was worth every minute of him being displaced!

JT: How did you and Sion get involved in this project?
RA: As a musician, I've watched over the last seven years while being part of this industry, how photographers and musicians have so much in common—the way we view the world, and the way we take our soul and build it into the work we do. I felt like this was a story that needed to be told. And one of my best friends [Sion] in L.A. just happened to be a cinematographer who has worked with the biggest names in the film industry and works on all these incredible projects. Every time we talked he would ask me about the world of professional photographers so when I got the opportunity to produce this film, Sion was the only person I thought of going to. This film is his vision.

Sion Michel: I was always asking Roy about his world [photographers] and wedding photographers in particular have such heart and soul and I wanted to represent that. I wanted to know about these photographers—their creativity, their fears, their heart. Since Roy knows them all, I didn't want to take this on unless he agreed to interview them. In the end, we ended up with 8 terabytes of footage, about 55 minutes in length, and I hope one day we can show that full-length film.

JT: How much work did you do in advance of this year’s show?
SM: Before we got to Vegas, Roy and I mapped out a series of questions. We'd sit at a diner in Los Angeles and work out these questions of how we were going to get answers. We knew certain photographers were reticent, and others just hilarious and others wore their heart on their sleeves, so we had to work out in advance a certain round of questions that could initiate the conversation. And I knew, because I was going to be behind the main camera trying to capture the image, that to make the process human and relaxed I needed Roy to do interviews; he is such a people person.

JT: What was the goal of making this film from your perspective?
SM: I wanted to make a film that inspires all the “newbies,” to help them see that even the biggest stars in the industry started at point zero. I've been around a lot of professional people in my life but when I went to WPPI this year, I was moved. It’s like one big family, and the show is a reunion every year—everyone works hard and parties hard, and they each share their blood, sweat and tears on what they do every day in their businesses. It blew my mind.

JT: The film comes together so seamlessly. What was it like behind the scenes, getting people to relax and take the time to give answers from the heart, especially while the conference was going on?
RA: The most interesting part was encountering all the different personalities. My background is as a musician and I’ve toured all over world. When we did interviews for video or press or TV, we walked in with everything written in advance; it was all prepared. The best thing we did in making this film, though, and this is a testament to both Sion’s technical and artistic capabilities, as well as incredible improvements in hard drive space, is that we would talk to people for 30, 40, 50 minutes to an hour, even an hour and a half sometimes, and we drew them out. Like I said, there are 8 terabytes of data! The main thing was just getting people to let go. Finding out what makes them tick was a blast.

JT: The music plays such an important part in film. Did you guys collaborate on that too? Or was it all you, Roy?
RA: We did collaborate on the music. Triple Scoop Music has over 15,000 hand-picked songs and we both wanted to pick music that truly complemented and supported the images. Music stokes people’s passions and the number one goal with music for a film is that it should always serve the story.  That’s what Triple Scoop Music was built to do  and the song choices here do that.

JT: What do you hope to achieve with this movie?
RA: WPPI had 13,000 attendees last year; we want another 10,000 on top of that this year! This is hopefully the start of that process, to reach those people who haven’t experienced the show yet,let them see what’s possible and inspire them to join us in Vegas for WPPI 2014!.

This film was made possible by the following sponsors: Nikon, Sony, Sigma, Graphistudio, Whcc, H&H Color Lab, Black River Imaging, Animoto, Kubota Image Tools, AsukaBook, Cinevate, and Bay Photo. Triple Scoop Music provided the music.