Here it is! The cover of Parenting Magazine (and story- see below!) shot by Lee Clower AND part II of the interview series! In part II we will get into the "nitty gritty" of the First Lady shoot exposing what Lee felt, experienced and did that day! Here goes, enjoy!
JMI: We want to get a feel for your “day of shoot” routine…What was that morning like, before you actually got the shoot going?
LC: Well, I’ll step back a second and say that upon arriving in DC the day before the shoot, I took my team and the camera and back up camera and other back up camera around the city to shoot and get in the mindset of being a patriotic American. It was a really great experience for all of us and genuinely brought a feeling of unity to our team for the next day.
On that particular morning, I was in an especially good mood as I walked to Starbucks in the rain to pick up my copy of The New York Times. The rain could have really wrecked the entire shoot concept because we were planning to shoot on the South Lawn. But, I was in a good mood despite the rain because I had a backup plan that I was confident everyone would love. And they did!
JMI: What was the backup plan?
LC: Well, every kid loves a good picnic and is pretty bummed when the plans have to change so I figured it would be fun to just “go with the flow” and move the picnic inside. Everyone thought it was a great idea…so that’s what we went with.
JMI: A rainy day picnic, awesome! Was there music on set? Or was it everyone all abuzz that there was no need?
LC: No music on set, at all. But I did listen to Renee Fleming all morning in my hotel room. When prepping back in New York I listened to “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen 'cause that’s what seemed right….but Renee’s voice puts me in the right place every time.
JMI: Whatever gets you in the zone! You told us at the end of our last interview that you weren’t nervous…. what were you feeling right before she arrived on set? Did the nerves kick in then?
LC: Oddly enough, even with the best efforts of the Secret Service in play, nervous never entered into it for me. I think my enthusiasm was so great that there simply was no room for any other emotion. Even when the Secret Service treated her arrival like the Space Shuttle launch:
“First Lady arriving in 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 5-4-3-2-1…..Everyone, the First Lady has arrived.”
JMI: And there she was! Tell us about your first interaction with her!
LC: Her presence was simply larger than life in person. The best part of our introduction was when I told her that the six kids that would be photographed with her were going to stay hidden around the corner until we called them out to meet her. I really wanted to capture all of the emotion that came along with the kids interacting with her for the first time. She loved the plan and the kids, unwittingly perhaps, loved it too.
JMI: No stranger to cameras, how did you get the First Lady to act natural right off the bat? After all, you only had 30 minutes for two scenarios and had lots of shots to capture! Time was of the essence….
LC: She naturally fell into her “mom” role and just because the White House setting was so regal, we all felt a sense of elegance. It also sort of took care of itself because we photographed her with the kids first. So she was immediately tossed into the situation of interacting with them!
JMI: Makes sense. She was interacting with the kids AND she was in her own home!
The interactions she had with the kids seem truly genuine. Was it hard to balance directing the kids and getting them to do what you needed for the shot while still keeping full focus on Mrs. Obama?
LC: One important element for me when shooting kids is I prefer to not have preconceived notions of what they should or shouldn’t do. In this case, since there were six of them in the shot, the most I could demand was that they do whatever they felt like doing within the frame. That was the tricky part!
Also- it was really important to me that the shoot felt genuine, personal and real. I made a conscious effort to not spend too much time looking at the tech monitor/screen and really just focused on interacting with the First Lady and the kids. I wanted to have a good flow.
JMI: What was the funniest thing said on set?
LC: Ha, easy one. At one point there was an issue with one of the lights. I used my normal terminology on set and told my assistant to “kill” the backlight…
Well as I said it, I realized the mistake and stuck my head out from behind the camera to find the Secret Service agent in charge starring hard and shaking his head at me…We [First Lady] looked at each other and laughed. For next time I know not to use the term “kill” with the First Lady in front of my camera. On second thought, I’ll probably strike it from the White House “approved vocabulary list”.
JMI: We know the shoot was all about the First Lady but did she mention President Obama at all? The upcoming presidential race?
LC: She did not mention him at all and I was aware not to either! When this job first came up, I had a few friends and colleagues mention how great it would be if the President was involved and included but [with all due respect] I never saw it that way. The honor of shooting Michelle Obama was not to be lessened by wanting something more or different.
However, the President was in the building even though he was not scheduled to be! As we wrapped the shoot and started breaking down the significant set in the State Dining Room, we were advised that the man himself was just outside our door and we could not leave for at least an hour. In accepting our fate, we proceeded to run around the room to shoot outtakes of the crew in front of the gigantic windows, even more gigantic fireplace and paintings of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
After an hour we were told that President Obama had stepped away for five minutes but only a few of us could go through the main exit. So, my team of 3 and I would have to be escorted through the back way by Secret Service agents. The rest of this story could compromise national security so I will leave it at this...we ended up back at the South Lawn where we started the day!
JMI: Since we know you are a HUGE dog lover, it seems the only way this day could have gotten better is if you had a run in with Bo (the First Dog) as well. Oh wait…you did!
LC: My wish to meet Bo was granted if only accidentally! He was heading out for a walk and stopped in front of me for less than two seconds so I had time to either take his picture or pet him. I assume you can guess which one I chose!
And there you have it, above is the finish product! Looks pretty great, doesn't it? Be sure to click the images above to go to the parenting.com site for the full interview as well as a video of Mrs. Obama!
We want to thank everyone at Parenting Magazine once again for this amazing opportunity. And a huge shoutout/thank you to Lee Clower for being so open and awesome during this whole process! Be sure to pick up a copy of the August Issue of Parenting Magazine!