Behind the Scenes with Extreme Make-Over, Home Edition
By Bruce Dorn | March 26, 2009
Here in the States we have an Emmy-winning reality show called "Extreme Make-Over, Home Edition." It airs on Sunday nights on the ABC network. The show's premise revolves around a team of volunteer home builders, craftsmen, and designers coming to the aid of a worthy but down-on-their-luck family. In each episode, the selected family receives a surprise door-knock at 7:00am on a Saturday morning. After reacting with justifiable glee, the family is herded into a limo and promptly packed off for a week-long vacation. While the family is away, a vast army of local volunteers joins the substantial EMHE production team to remodel or rebuild the family's home before they return the following Saturday
Let that sink in for a moment; they do all necessary demolition and rebuilding in six days and are adding the finishing touches to d©cor and furnishings by the following Friday. It's nothing short of miraculous, really, and shows what an army of big-hearted volunteers can do when given the opportunity.
The EMHE video production crew, architects, and interior designers roll like a well-oiled machine but the bulk of the heavy lifting is contributed by local volunteers. These background players operate bull-dozers, pour concrete, and pound nails 24/7 until the project is complete.
So what does this have to do with photography? Lots, as it turns out. Each episode also includes the efforts of a volunteer photographer. The photographer's responsibility is to create some nice individual and family portraits before the surprised family ships out to Disney World or Hawaii or wherever. Once the images are captured, the shooter submits selects to the Design Team Producers who select an image collection suitable for wall or bookshelf display. After the images are edited, prints and canvases are produced, framed, and hung.
Sounds simple enough, huh? Not so fast. Consider this; the family is, first-and-foremost, image-fodder for the substantial video crew. Without great and extensive video coverage there simply is no show. The still photographer, who also arrives at the crack-o'-dawn for the door-knock, plays a very distant second fiddle. It is of great credit to all still shooters who volunteer for the show that anything at all is captured. The fact that their great work eventually makes it onto the freshly-painted walls is nothing short of miraculous.
If this sounds like a roundabout way to toot my own portrait-shootin' horn, it's not. Yes, I did work on a recent production, but not as the portrait artist. That honor went to my pal an LA-based photographer Dina Douglassâ¦
You can see some of Dina's work here: www.andrenaphoto.com
Dina was charged with all of the family portraiture. Well, the six two-legged members of the family, that is. Given my experience as a wildlife photographer, I was charged with documenting the fuzzy and four-legged members of the clanâ¦
It turns out that this particular California family has dedicated themselves to the rescue of abused and abandoned alpha predators. Their charges include Caracal cats, bobcats, lynx, cougars, Serval cats, leopards, and my favorite, tigers. Quite a menagerie, indeed. Caring for this feline crew has resulted in much sacrifice by the family but all the cats were healthy, well fed, and unstressed in their well-made enclosures.
The family's accommodations, on the other hand, were modest and woefully inadequate by comparison.
While Dina waited for a shooting opportunity with the excited family, I was suddenly thrust to front and center. No demolition or construction could begin until the cats were relocated to another sympathetic sanctuary so their transport was the first priority of the day. I was given about eleven minutes to capture critter portraits through the chain-link enclosures and did the best I could under the circumstances. Diligent production assistants helped mightily by encouraging me to "Hurry up!" every minute or so.
Anyway, I shot fast and wrapped my little kit in very short order. The location was about seven hours from my studio in Arizona so I gave Dina a quick hug for luck and bolted for the border.
I spent the following day editing and digital painting a number of my favorite images. Have you ever retouched a chain-link fence out of the face of a tiger that was leaning on the fence? Big Fun.
While the cats' enclosures were well made and perfectly functional, their aesthetics left something to be desired. The rescue center is located is the high desert and surrounded by graphically-interesting Joshua Trees so I decided to work these into my final digital paintings. This task was monumental in terms of computer time but nothing compared to what the construction workers were facing.
By Monday the designers had reviewed my offerings and given me a list of images to print as 8x10 and 11x14 prints for framing. They also picked several images to be produced as 20" x 30" gallery-wrapped canvases.
I was very pleased that the design team also asked me to contribute some of my own safari images to the mix. I produced all prints and canvases in-house on my fabulous and fast Canon iPF6100 wide-format printer. By lunchtime Thursday I was back on location to deliver the goods.
Simply amazing. By late Thursday afternoon the tireless EMHE production crew was preparing to move in. Furnishings and d©cor bits would be installed the following morning in anticipation of the families return the day after that.
There's way too much to describe here but I invite you to watch this two-hour special edition when it premiers this Sunday evening, March 29th on ABC. Its sweeps week, I think, and these guys deserve the ratings bump.
Watch for Dina's beautiful family portraiture, too. The working conditions she faced were indescribably challenging and she did some really, really nice workâ¦.
There will be so much to see that I doubt our images will get more than a passing glimpse, if that. But you know what? It just doesn't matter. The experience was the pay-off. Doing good things for deserving people is reward enough.
And finally, if you find yourself near Phelan, California, stop by Forever Wild Wildlife Sanctuary. Nice folks and great big happy cats.
If you're interested in joining me for your own digital safari to Africa, stop by www.idcphotography.com for details about upcoming adventures.
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