Photographer Melanie Dunea is famous for her ability to put her subjects instantly at ease, be it a five-star chef or a Hollywood superstar. The resulting images have an engaging effortlessness, which reveal the inner essence of a person. Here, Dunea recounts the to-ing and fro-ing that takes place with celebrity shoots—and why it only looks easy.
This story first appeared in the April 10, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
FRIDAY, NEW YORK
6 PM: Sitting in a meeting with my agent; phone rings incessantly. It’s People magazine. Can I be in Los Angeles for a cover Tuesday a.m.? All hands on deck. Agent: Find flights, hotel, rental car (remember I MUST be in Nashville Wednesday morning and travel agency is closed now, yikes). Asst: Find other photo assistants who are available in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
7:15 PM: Creative call with People team. Sh*t. Need to think of ideas and fast. The story is at home with Kenny Chesney in Malibu. (Since when does Kenny live in California?? I can’t keep up with him!) Ideas, ideas, where are you?!?!?! While talking to magazine, texting Kenny:
Me: Where? Near ocean or in hills?
Kenny: See you Tuesday.
Me: Wait I need to know….
Kenny: Gtg love ya.
7:30 PM: While People finds a stylist, I have 30 minutes to brainstorm ideas….Hmmm, lemme think. I have shot Kenny a million times…what does he like?…his boat, the sun, music, grilled chicken, working out, the islands, diet Red Bull…FOOTBALL, yeah, I remember, he was talking about football and he used to play baseball.
8 PM: The deal: People is thinking an “at-home” shoot and would I mind shooting some stills from the house. Why not? For the “looser shots,” I propose messing around with the football and baseball. They approve.
NOON: Talked with stylist, need jeans, T-shirts and swimming trunks. (Maybe I can get him in the pool?) I emphasized that Kenny may only wear his own clothes. (It has never been any other way.) Prop stylist calls—we need vintage footballs, baseballs and gloves, plus a float for the pool.
10 AM: On the phone with Redbook organizing country singer shoot taking place in Nashville on Wednesday. Shot list arrives from People—there are 17 shots. Geez, we will have to work fastola.
3 PM: Car picks me up for flight to Los Angeles. Trusty assistant Joanna is helping me remember the zillions of bags I need (camera, tripod, digital stuff, grip bag, iPod, chargers, carts, etc.)
6 PM: Los Angeles-bound
TUESDAY, LOS ANGELES
6 AM: (Well, really 9 a.m. NYC time.) Thirty minutes in the gym so I can maintain my sanity today….
8 AM: Breakfast with photo director so we can strategize the day.
9 AM: Wheels up and off to shoot. We leave from the hotel while the assistants leave from the equipment house. We’ll meet in front of Kenny’s so we can go in together.
10 AM: Arrival at house. Kenny is at the gym!!! That gives us time to tour the house, plan where we want to shoot and pre-light. The house is GORGEOUS and the weather is perfect. We start to prioritize our shots. Holly, Kenny’s public relations lady, approaches looking grim-faced….The first hiccup. There are NO summer cowboy hats. FedEx was meant to be sending them overnight from Nashville, but the package can’t be found. OK, time to move on, we’ll have to shoot with the black hat. Big fat bummer.
11:30 AM: Kenny arrives. We have a good catch-up then the bad news….No baseball or pool shots. Pack up the 40 pairs of jeans and other clothes, Kenny wants to wear his own clothes. I should know that by now. Go to his room to pick out clothes. Slim pickings….
NOON: We’re shooting like crazy, the front of the house; tossing a football; by the pool; in the living room; at the piano, and in the kitchen. Kenny is amazing and is happy to work superquickly.
4 PM: Kenny has to go, as he is scheduled to fly out at 5 and the plane is ready. He is going to Nashville!!!! Me too, but I can’t leave now. Could have grabbed a lift, but I have to shoot the detail shots and it wouldn’t be cool to dash out on the People folks. SUPERBUMMER. We shoot all over the house and see some pretty amazing personal stuff, like a letter from Willie Nelson and a photo from Keith Urban.
7 PM: Wrap. I’m totally exhausted and realize I haven’t eaten anything all day….
10 PM: LAX; checking in for red-eye flight to Nashville with a connection in Chicago.
11:35 PM: Finally on plane. Put traveling socks on, wrap head in pashmina, ready to go…an announcement. “Ms. Dunea please come to the front.” (Awesome, I am totally getting something special, I think, can’t be an upgrade because it’s a small plane, what do they want?) Turns out we had gotten on a flight to Minneapolis—not Chicago!!! I do the walk of shame off the plane while the other passengers laugh, then stagger to the correct plane.
5 AM: Land in Chicago. Run to catch connection.
8 AM: Land in Nashville, get bags, get rental car, dash to photo studio, start all over again….