"How's it cuttin' Fanny?" (Her nickname for me).
There follows a bit of banter and a chat. It doesn't matter whether we spoke last week or last year, we just pick up where we left off. Then we get down to business. It means her preparations for her Christmas show in the Red Cow Moran (or "Moron" as one of her characters refers to it) Hotel is under way.
The process is a three-way between June, me and the management in the hotel. That process is best left unveiled as it is way too complicated but the first stage for me is the photo shoot. Sometimes we have a definite theme. Other times we don't. Usually we have a chat and also involve her creative director and choreographer Ciaran Connolly.
Typically the shoot is in the conference room in the Red Cow Moran Hotel. I mark out an area on the floor, set up studio flash units while June and the cast get ready - makeup and costumes. It's a big deal to organise everybody to be there at the same time. Most of the cast have either their own dance schools or jobs or sometimes are on cruise ships. So I'm always appreciative that the shoot is regarded with the same importance as rehearsals etc.
For a start off the 'studio' is not exactly set up for photography so everybody has to be 'cut' from the background which is a long a tedious process. If you look closely at the photo above you may notice that the girl - third from the left - doesn't appear in the final photo and isn't even dressed for the shot! She's a stand-in for the 'real' girl who is working in another country. I use stand-ins so that the other members of the cast get used to someone being there and allow space for her when they are posing. What we did was shoot the 'real' girl a couple of weeks later mimicking the poses we wanted and I used those in the final picture.
Closer look again and you might see that the guy 4th from the right is not the same guy in the finished shot. Again he's a stand-in but this time I had the 'real' guy who was on a cruise ship get his on-board photographer to duplicate the shots we had chosen and send me the files. Then I took his head and transposed it onto the stand-in.
These are another set of examples of the finished shot:
But there's more!
Very seldom do you get all the cast perfectly posed. Nor June for that matter. There's an unfortunate costume shape, somebody making an less-than- flattering facial expression, or blinking, awkward pose, out of synch step or a myriad of other reasons. So that means choosing the poses of each individual or pair and cutting them out of their original picture and making a collage. This sometimes involves reconstruction surgery. Yes, at times I fell like a plastic surgeon.
In 2012 I took on an extra project. We had the shoot done with all the cast and I was shooting various characters that June does in her show. It's quite amazing how her face and voice change with the characters she portrays. The only other person I can think of that did the same was Ronnie Barker. Just look at him presenting the 'Two Ronnies' and then look at him in 'Porridge'. June wanted to have some shots done as a hurling and rugby player. I suggested we do the straight shots but then try for a shot showing interaction between the two.
This was one of the finished shots:
This is a rough collage I put together to help make our final choice:
So ..... this year I got a call from June a little earlier than expected and she told me that she was going on tour! She had her cast, all the usual gang were on board and she'd like to discuss the ideas for photographs for the poster they were going to get designed. June said she wanted to portray a few of her characters in the poster so I suggested a shot where three of them could interact with each other. The setup for these requires the subject to understand the concept and the difficulties in getting it right. It's a bit like the green screen they use in CGI sections of movies where the actors have no idea what they are supposed to interacting with or what kind of scenery is around them.
June picked her characters and here is the finished picture:
Then I cut Elvis out of the shot ....
At the moment I only have a camera phone shot of the finished poster. June has one kept safe for me. It's kind of cool seeing it on walls around Dublin city.