There have been a slew of new books coming out in conjunction with the release of the Watchmen movie including Watchmen Portraits, published by Titan Books, and due to hit bookstores on February 10, 2009.
The large-format hardback book features a collection of over 200 powerful black-and-white portraits from Enos’ time as Watchmen's official set photographer.
It's a unique look into the world of Watchmen that will not only please fans of the comic and film, but any fan of fine art photography.
I had a chance to talk with Clay Enos about his experiences on the set of Watchmen and the incredible photographs that catalog his journey.
The first big question to ask is “Specifically, what is a set photographer's job?” What are their responsibilities during the course of the movie being shot?
Enos: Primarily, they work for the publicity department more than they do for the filmmaker. We're not making the movie, as a rule. We're there documenting the movie, trying to get shots that can later be used for all of the publicity and marketing and storytelling around the movie. What distinguished my role this time with Watchmen and because of the relationship I have with Zack [Snyder, director of Watchmen] is I got to take pretty much every still photograph that's also in the movie.
I served the traditional function as unit photographer, working for publicity and being there every day, and it was also fun to actually be able to contribute and make props, so to speak.
So you shot probably the most famous prop photo in the film, the Minutemen photo.
And then you did all the other photos like Rorschach's mug shot for the newspapers and photos of Silk Spectre I being honored by the police and those types of photos?
Enos: Yeah. For sure, the mug shots, the Silk Spectre photos... A lot of the stuff that may or may not even be seen, but the vintage photos of the Comedian and the original Nite Owl busting folks. We actually had a special shoot one weekend where we set all those shots up. Mind you, there was a fair amount of Photoshopping after the fact, but the basic poses and stuff were all done on a special weekend shoot to produce all that material.
I saw in one of the production journals that there were a lot of extensive model shoots with Carla Gugino for all of her modeling shots and the Vargas print. That had to be a fun day, shooting Carla in all those 40's glamour costumes.
Enos: You know, it was also the same day. And if I remember correctly, it got even more bizarre. We were photographing her, and later on, we were photographing her and a very young Laurie at a birthday party. There was maybe an eight or nine-year-old girl. We were shooting in the same facility where Dr. Manhattan's lab was and where the prison set was. It was just this cold, abandoned paper plant. But literally at the same time I'm shooting a little eight-year-old's birthday party, I'm running around the corner and shooting porn for the porno street posters! [laughter] Well, not porn per se, but there's four half-naked girls in the prison set. I photograph them for a few seconds while the birthday party's getting set up, I run around, shoot the birthday party, then I go back to shooting naked girls. It's funny to look at the time stamps on my camera, because it's just impossible to imagine.
It has to be incredibly satisfying as a photographer to have that kind of variety in just one job.
Enos: You're absolutely right. Really, the treat of this film is that it's so nuanced and so textured, so deep, so layered, for the photographer, it's a dream come true.
You said you knew Zack Snyder before Watchmen?
Enos: Yes. His wife Debbie Snyder, one of the producers, and I went to college together.
Enos: Yeah, and this has sort of been a long time coming. But because he's been shooting his films in Canada and I'm not a Canadian, it's always been a little tricky. They have certain quotas that are allowed of "gringos" going north, and only with the success of 300 was his pull sufficient to bring me along.
I know Zack Snyder is an avid hobbyist as far as photography goes and he owns a lot of vintage cameras, so you probably had a lot in common to talk about on set. I know he was snapping shots here and there when he had the chance.
Enos: Yeah, he was doing two things: He was really enjoying his iPhone, which at the time was pretty newfangled, and he got some great shots with it. But he also brings around his vintage Polaroid and makes images with that too. A lot of times, obviously I'd be there, and I would scream out an exposure for him to be in the zone because that vintage Polaroid had no such metering. It was really fun to collaborate and assist in his artistic vision, still-wise. So of course we had plenty to talk about. He has a remarkable vision and to spend 100-some-odd days watching that vision, being part of it and contributing was really an honor.
I can imagine. I got to meet and speak with lots of the cast and crew during my set visit, and they all said the same thing — that the experience was probably one of the best experiences they've had making a film — and everybody had high praise for Snyder and his vision.
Enos: It was incredible. Obviously, it's the first film I've ever worked on. I'm not coming in as a unit photographer, I'm coming in as a different kind of photographer. It's always been a bit of a curiosity what's really involved.
You're a “rock n' roll” photographer, for lack of a better term.
Enos: [laughs] That's great. I'll take that. My photography really runs a broad spectrum of interests. It often probably hinders me more than helps me but it's the way I see the world. It's a broader view than most and if I can hold onto that kind of wide-angle vision, I will. I'm a rock n' roll photographer sometimes, other times I'm hitchhiking through Burundi, making pictures of coffee farmers. It really runs the gamut.
Right. I heard you own an organic coffee company, is that true?
Enos: [laughs] I do. I have a lot of fun with that. In fact, I'll let you in on a little secret: We're going to do a Nite Owl coffee. [more laughter] As far as I know, that's the first ever movie tie-in coffee. I mean, I don't know of any other. It'll be in a can, kind of “Chock Full O' Nuts-esque.” On one side, it looks very vintage-y, it's a Veidt Enterprises/Nite Owl dark roast. It has all the trappings of a movie prop. And as you spin it around, there's one of my portraits of Nite Owl and a little description of the scene when the tenement fire victims are served coffee.
Fantastic. I hope it comes with a package of Sweet Chariot sugar cubes.
Enos: [Laughter] That would be awesome!
You gotta do that.
Enos: They made those sugar cubes, I photographed them. But I don't think so.
You had experience last year, with the first photos ever released from Watchmen — your costume photos. The fans went nuts because they were de-saturated, and the actual colors weren't represented right. Some of them went into a panic and I think a lot of them unwarrantedly criticized you.
Enos: [laughs] I can take it. It was really quite remarkable to have images that I was essentially playing with. They were taken at different times, different places, I'm goofing around, I'm giving them a little texture and grunge, sort of beat them up just to give them a similar aesthetic and the filmmakers were like “Yeah, those are good! We'll release those!” [laughs] But I thought “Yeah, okay.” I was playing. I didn't have a huge vested interest in an artistic vision or something. And sure enough, they enter this universe of people that are really, really excited and really, really curious, they're apprehensive — you pick your nervous adjective — and there was a release. While some of it was negative, I think overall it was just a release of energy — like this thing is “real.” This is the first they're seeing of these folks. And in the world of the Internet and the bulletin boards, criticism certainly takes privilege over compliments.
Absolutely. There are some fans that are a bit hypersensitive and whose knee-jerk reaction is to be negative. And you're right, when they have something negative to say, they're very vocal. When they have something positive to say, they tend to not be as vocal.
Enos: That's the nature of these bulletin boards, to some extent.
Oddly enough, what people didn't like about the costumes really had nothing to do with your photography.
Enos: It was just bunches of messy, splotched, grunge brushes that I'd randomly found.
I guess fans were afraid that Zack Snyder was going to make a Watchmen movie with the same sensibilities as 300. I tried to reassure them — having been to the set and seen the costumes. I tried to tell them “Nite Owl's costume is not black, it is a coffee brown,” but they're freaking out that he looks too much like Batman, and Ozymandias has nipples… But now, I think most fans like the costumes.
Enos: Yeah. Well, if it makes them feel any better, Silk Spectre's costume has nipples too.
I thought those were her own, but that's another story.
Oddly enough, Clay, I have an interview tomorrow with Quantum FX, who did the costumes.
Enos: They're awesome. I love those guys. You can talk nipples all you want with those guys. [laughs] For me, it was cool. And look, a little controversy never hurts anything. And Zack Snyder is not just an artist, but he's a bit of an athlete. He likes a bit of "Fake right, go left."
Were you required to be on-set all the time or only for specific scenes and specific things?
Enos: No, I was there every day. From call to wrap, every day.
Wow. So what were you doing, were you shooting 10-12 rolls of film a day sometimes?
Enos: No, I shoot digitally these days. I don't know what was expected. Pretty early on, I was getting word that I wasn't doing what most unit photographers do. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I just kept going. Sure enough, I probably shot three times more than they were accustomed to. On a movie of this scope… I dunno, I think Blood Diamond had something like 12,000 to 15,000 images that the still photographers had amassed. On this, I made about 45,000. Speaking of which, something like 7,000 of those were portraits.
Titan was kind enough to send me your book which is beautiful. I really enjoyed it, and also for me, it was the first time of getting a look at a lot of these characters in the film.
Enos: Like Rorschach without his mask.
Actually, G4 had an on-set video that showed Haley as Kovacs. But a television program's shots aren't going to look as good as the ones in the book. The shots that you have of Haley, he has this look in his eye, it's intense and it doesn't look like it's put-on. He just looks so good as Kovacs.
Enos: He's remarkable. Not only is he one of the nicest, sweetest guys; his enthusiasm is only matched by his talent. The guy just lived Rorschach. It was incredible to watch. Every day, just watching him. In a little side story, I had some pictures of him outside the creepy house with the child molester and that whole scene, and he's just outside. He's just standing there and I made a few shots. Some were in character, some were out of character and he was able to tell me which ones he was in character for and which ones he wasn't. In one of those early character images that were controversial, he was like “No, that's not it.” Right down to his stance, he made Rorschach come alive.
Some of the fans picked that stuff out. There was a set photos released with Rorschach walking through the shot, and I don't know if that's Haley or a stunt double, but some fans were like, “That doesn't look like a Rorschach walk.” And some of us chimed in “Well, you don't know when that photo was taken. maybe Haley was going to get a donut.”
Enos: He was in character there, but isn't that remarkable? It's a testament to the comic book genre. Obviously, nothing moves in a comic book, but people know how he walks.
It amazes me that people will say “That's not how Rorschach should walk,” and I'll say, “Okay, in your opinion — he's only walking in your mind.” Oddly enough, on the same note, a fan was pissed off that the belt knot on his raincoat was centered and not offset like in the comic. I'm thinking, Are you kidding me? Maybe Haley, as he's prepping for the character, just feels it needs to be centered.” Who knows?
Enos: You're right. And the two women who were in charge of his costume did not miss a trick. It was such a lovely team. And first of all, he is a treat to work with, they just adored him, and they really rose to the occasion. They were consummate professionals to begin with, but knowing this character's importance… It really was a lovely triumvirate to watch.
So, would Haley have been the main cast member you had the most fun taking photos of? Not saying you didn't have fun with the rest, but…?
Enos: You know what? It was all equal. I also was training Jackie during lunch hours and stuff. He loves the physical stuff that I'd introduced him to, so we had a bond on another level. But because of the nature of this film, we didn't really privilege one actor over another. It's a true ensemble and I treated everyone accordingly. Actually, sometimes he might have been given short shrift, because he's just wearing that darn mask! It isn't quite as expressive as some of the actors whose eyes and mouths and noses I can see.
Yeah, but he gets some of the juicy scenes as Kovacs. Those are some juicy scenes.
Enos: Oh, for sure he does. But as a rule, when you're wearing a mask, you might not be quite as attractive to make images of. But again, his character is such a pivotal piece. So many of the scenes that he's in are plot points or critical and fan favorites.
How did the book come together? Did you know while you were on set that there was going to be a portraits book or did it came together afterwards when people saw the volume of great photos you had taken?
Enos: Well, going into this project, it was a great unknown. I think I even Googled “What does a unit photographer do?” Warner Bros. had a little ten-point list that was almost absurd in its obviousness, so I said “You know what? I'm going to go up and do what I do.” And I love making portraits, I have that as a constant part of my passion, so the opportunity presented itself. I knew this film would be dense with characters, with characters that evolve, with extras and background and crew, and I thought I would just document it not just for publicity but also for myself, through portraiture.
On day one, there were a couple of background vintage police officers who were were magic. And then on the first official day of filming, with the grave diggers, I got great stuff again. Moloch with the rose wreath… there was something happening here. And little by little, just persistently, over 106 days of doing it, suddenly I had thousands of images. In doing my computer-based work on set, people would look over my shoulder. That's the kind of stuff I would sit and play with, not publicity images.
So the photos were being seen by the crew. Actors would come over and say “Lemme see, lemme see!” It was apparent that there was more here than just my passion and enthusiasm. When the first talk of maybe putting this into a book emerged… I may have suggested it almost tongue-in-cheek, every photographer wants a book. And I've tried it in the past, unsuccessfully. But when the thing really got pitched to DC and it was well-received, it was sort of mind-numbing. And sure enough, having this book sit on my lap, it's almost unbelievable.
And with the volume of photos that you had, what was it like to choose the ones for the book? How did you do that?
Enos: [laughs] You know, having lived with them for a while, every day there'd be a few new ones. But the old ones would still be around. Just in the nature of the way I categorized and had access to the images, the stronger ones sort of filtered to the top and the less strong ones would slowly get diminished. So the whole book was put together in a weekend. They're all un-cropped and all un-retouched, with few exceptions. All I did that last weekend when they needed 210 images, I spend eight hours just cleaning up the white backgrounds, because they weren't always super-white. So a little dodging, then laid it out in fifteen minutes on the floor in Zack's office. Some of the pairings were… it was Zack [Snyder], me, Wes [Collier] and Debbie [Snyder], and I had printed out little thumbnails. Some of the pairings I had lived with long enough that I knew immediately they'd go together. Others, just in a collaborative moment — the muses were about — we put it together.
Well, it looks great. It was a lot of fun going through the book — and I continue to go through it while we're on the phone. It's just fun. It's a fantastic book just as far as portrait photography is concerned, absolutely. But add that layer of being a Watchmen fan and it's just that much more gratifying. I'm really enjoying the book.
Enos: Yeah, that's the thing. It's kind of cool if you take the dust jacket off, the thing stands up with any art book on my shelf, as far as I'm concerned. The Watchmen logo, while that appeals to the publicity parts of the machine, it is ultimately an art book. I made these photographs without "Watchmen" as the paramount concern. Really, what a film crew and what's involved in a film… this book is as much a testament to the fantastic costume design, makeup, hair, and depth of casting that a film set provides. I'm super-honored as a photographer. And as a Watchmen fan, it's just a treat. Maybe there's a little too much Wally Weaver... [laughs]
Well, you look through the book and think “Oh, Clay gets it.” Because there are certain spreads like the prison attacker and the deep fryer; you see that and you're like “Oh, okay.” There's also one in there where you've got Kovacs and a can of beans. When you see stuff like that, you're like “Okay — He knows what we want to see.”
Enos: That is sort of the fun of the book. The publicity folks wrote something about each spread being like a Rorschach test. I just loved that. In the book, while each image is intended to be strong on its own, it's kind of fun because the book forces you to put two together. That became an interesting challenge. That came together in fifteen minutes on Zack's floor.
This is probably the hardest question to ask, so I'm going to phrase it to make it easier for you to answer: I'm not going to ask you what your favorite photo is, but is there any particular shoot or series of photos that sort of stand out in your head as “I really like the product that came out of that day or that session?”
Enos: [heavy sigh] Wow. [long pause] Goodness… That's hard to say because… there was so, so much going into it. But as things flash in my head as you ask that question of some favorites or some moments when I really remember stuff… Rorschach smashing out of Moloch's apartment window was a really remarkable stunt that was done there. Just documenting that… he jumped through three or four times and he hit so hard. It was quite something. His stunt double is in the book, he's dressed as a Knot-Top once and he's dressed as the young kid that ultimately Rorschach bites the cheek out of. But that's Rorschach's stunt double as well. That day, there was just a really great vibe. It was cold, it was getting to the end of the day, people were tired, but there was incredible tenseness on the danger involved in that stunt and Jackie was around. Jackie did the fight on the ground afterwards. So that was really cool to me.
What also stands out was before filming began, just immersing myself in this world of Watchmen and seeing all of the players sitting around that table, reading the script and everyone sort of raising their questions in regard to their specific needs or specialty. The effects guys are paying attention over here, the makeup people are a little concerned about this and that was really cool. I had the privilege of not making the movie, but documenting the movie and right from the start, it was so obvious that this thing was going to be so monstrously big and collaborative that I was inspired. Challenged to rise to the occasion.
Yeah, I was thinking “Clay probably has the most envious job that any Watchmen fan could want.” You are — pardon the analogy — the fly on the wall. You're there all the time, chronicling this entire experience from beginning to end. Not even the actors or even everybody in the crew got to be on set every day — except for maybe Zack.
Enos: You're right. There are a number of folks, but because the stresses of the filmmaking process… again, I'm not making the movie, I'm just documenting it. So when people are stressing out because time is getting short or the weather's not cooperating… well, what am I going to do? Keep taking pictures! [laughs] Another remarkable… well, it wasn't a day, perhaps, but the Owl Chamber was a phenomenal set.
I was inside that one during my set visit, it was fantastic.
Enos: It was a shame to watch it dismantled. Before the movie began, I thought about the things I love in photography and texture is one of them. That room was so filled with texture it was unreal. I was honored that when Alex did his little fictional blog entry about finding the Owl Chamber with Zack, those black and white images were ones that I had made anyway. It was fun to have them re-purposed and used in his little fictional blog entry.
The first set I visited was the Owl Chamber and to enter it up that subway tunnel… the way Rorschach exits, that was surreal for me as a fan. When I was there, we interviewed Patrick Wilson who said that he made a request to have the photo of the Twilight Lady on Nite Owl II's workbench even though it might not make it into the film. Did you take that shot or was it something that the art department Photoshopped?
Enos: Wait, which is the Twilight Lady?
She's sort of sexy, S&M-like super villain that Nite Owl II put in jail. In the comic, he has an autographed photo of her on his workbench that Silk Spectre II comments on. That scene's not in the film, but Patrick Wilson said “Even though it's never mentioned in the film and probably won't be seen, I want that photo there.”
Enos: Yeah, I took it. It's kind of… they were crazy about cameras on set and I was the only guy with a camera. Obviously, there was the costume and the continuity folks used them, but all of the photos are mine.
1.29.08 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.com
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