Last week I got the exciting news that I would be meeting with the marketing department’s creative team and going to a photo shoot for HART OF DIXIE. After mass-texting my friends that I officially have the best internship ever, I daydreamed about the events of the upcoming day. I envisioned myself sitting in a boardroom, scribbling down notes about the imminent fall launch; then going to some posh studio where I would meet members of the cast and contribute my two cents about how to style Rachel Bilson’s hair just-so.
As so often is the case, reality turned out to be a
very slightly skewed version of that fantasy. I did sit in on the creative team’s meeting and accompany them to the studio where I did get to meet a member of the HART OF DIXIE cast – just not one with a speaking role.
At the creative meeting, Chris, SVP Creative and Special Projects, elaborated on the concept of the day’s shoot. They had already photographed the main cast members, both individually and as an ensemble, the week prior. The photo shoot taking place that afternoon was for one very special member of the cast – the resident alligator.
The new series is set in the small town of Bluebell, Alabama. Unbeknownst to new resident Zoe Hart, alligators are quite common in the Deep South and, on her first night in town, the former New Yorker learns about Bluebell’s reptilian population first-hand.
I can’t say I have any previous alligator experience either but, unlike Zoe, I was thrilled by the prospect of seeing a gator up close and personal. My mother grew up in Kenya and has the most amazing stories about living amongst the sub-Saharan fauna. Conversely, the only wildlife I’ve encountered growing up in LA is my neighbor’s Cockerdoodle. Wild? Yes. Exotic? Not-so-much.
Ready for my own animal adventure, I left the creative’s meeting with Howard and Melissa and drove to Smashbox Studios. Melissa and Howard both work on the physical production of the creative campaigns and they told me how the footage from the day would be used. To ensure that each member of the cast (including the alligator) achieves the best shot, they photograph everyone individually, then use photoshop to juxtapose the cast together; the final composite image of the cast with the alligator will be used for the print ad.
By the time we reached Smashbox, the studio was buzzing with energy. While Rick, the CW’s creative director, discussed his vision with the photographer and his crew, the alligator handlers catered to the star of the shoot under the watchful eye of a representative from the Humane Society.
The studio consisted of two giant connected rooms that had been painted almost entirely white. Howard explained that shooting against a white background would simplify the photoshop process and enable them to superimpose the alligator into the image of the cast seamlessly. Surrounding the white space was the photographer’s equipment – additional lighting, computer monitors and ultra high-definition cameras. As the two wranglers worked with the scaly model on set, I stood behind the monitors and snapped some pictures of my own on my camera phone.
My iPhone’s measly 5 megapixel camera doesn’t begin to compare to the detail that the 42 megapixel cameras were able to pick up. Every fleck of color in the gator’s eyes and scale on his back translated vibrantly to the monitor screens. Video Footage of the alligator walking was also shot to use as a “lower third” and an animated graphic for cwtv.com. As I watched the shoot I overheard Jules, one of the alligator handlers, mention that he was originally from Kenya. My ears immediately perked up and – mustering up the little Swahili my mother had taught me – I approached him during the next break.
In response to the quizzical look on Jules’ face, I elaborated (in English) that my mother also hailed from Kenya. After establishing that they both grew up in Nairobi around the same time, we realized that, in fact, my mother had attended the same elementary school as Jules’ younger brother. I called my mom about this incredible coincidence and she taught me another Swahili word to impress Jules with.
I waited until the end of the shoot when Jules and his partner were carrying the gator to his cage. Pointing at the ornery six-foot creature in his arms, I proudly exclaimed “Hatari.”
Jules’ face lit up and as he left the studio – alligator still in hand – he waved goodbye, yelling out “Jolly good!”
I drove back to the CW office, elated to have experienced a little sampling of my mother’s Africa – even if it was just at a photo studio in the middle of Culver City, CA.
- Eva Gurfein