Randy Newman Headshot Session
Randy Newman Wins Second Oscar
Before launching into the Randy Newman Headshot Session, we need to first set the scene. You’ll understand why in a moment.
Prior to the 83rd Academy Awards, Randy Newman had only one win out of sixteen previous nominations. Arguably, not a great percentage for most endeavors. Right?
When it comes to an Academy Award, however, the vast majority of artists will never get within a light year of a single Oscar, let alone garner an impressive collection of 108 nominations! In Randy Newman’s case, all are from various music categories, which include 47 wins!
Did I say impressive?
Nevertheless, the 2011 Oscar Ceremony was an occasion for the Academy, and us Newman fans, to honor Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures. Randy Newman’s original song for Toy Story 3, “We Belong Together,” marked yet another year of inspiration and creativity culminating in a second, well-deserved, if not long overdue, Oscar!
So Then, Why Should I Care About a Nine-Year-Old Oscar Show?
If you’ve read this far, you’re most likely older than a millennial, and probably wondering why you should care. After all, that was nine years ago! Right?
Well, there’s a very good reason.
And as absurd as it may seem, we actually have to return to an even earlier time. How far back? Try 20 years!
The year was 2000 – the height of the Y2K Millennium bug scare and eleven years prior to Newman’s taking home his 2nd Oscar. 2000 also marked the inspiration date for today’s post. It was then that I first intended to put to paper an exceptional experience in my photography career. Obviously, it entailed working with Randy Newman.
However, at that time, Kari and I were consumed with raising three young children and managing our thriving portrait studio (all during the dot-com collapse). Furthermore, and more pertinent, the ubiquitous presence of websites we enjoy today were yet to become a business necessity.
To the point, blogging, as we understand it today, was still a few years away from becoming mainstream. While it was blossoming, it had yet to translate into its primary function of energizing Search Engine Optimization “juice,” generating traffic to websites.
In other words, I put it off. No, not procrastination, but rather an exercise of prioritization. The words may sound similar but the former is entirely unrelated to my reason for shelving my memoir until now.
Yes, I was preoccupied with life and business, but the primary reason is that the corridors for mass communication, which are omnipresent today, were in a nascent state in 2000.
And, to be completely candid, were it not for being quarantined in my home while the world is put on hold during the COVID-19 Pandemic, I don’t think I would have made the time to write it down today.
The Call • Friday, May 26, 2000
Just hours before the opening preview of Randy Newman’s new musical, The Miseducation of Randy Newman, I got a call.
Not being given the time to prepare as extensively as I would have liked, I informed my wife, Kari, and mobilized a massive array of equipment at breakneck speed. We had been photographing the plays and actors at SCR since 1984 and flew down the all too familiar 405.
When I think back on accepting the shoot, I don’t recall agreeing or the details (i.e., what I was being paid), but I’m fairly certain that we arrived in the theater’s parking lot before either the phone or my jaw hit the floor.
We were quickly introduced to Randy’s manager, who told us we would have the first crack at Randy before the press arrived. Translation: if we wanted our time with Randy to matter, we’d better set up quickly and get to it!
He gave us a timeframe of about 20-30 minutes. Impossible but doable…
The Space • Randy Newman Headshot
The rectangular studio allotted was a cramped and cluttered changing room. Were it not for the grand piano they rolled in, the area might have been adequate.
However, as it was, the room was a good ten feet short for my liking. I’d be lucky if I could use the 150mm portion of my 200mm lens.
Regrettably, the miniature room was not nearly the worst of it. Besides it being short and narrow, it was downright ugly. There was not a single aspect about it that lent itself to a recognizable aesthetic – not a scintilla.
Fortunately, we had the foresight to pack a couple of large muslin backdrops. Yes, the unsightly beast was transformable.
However, not having any floor space to plant a couple of background stands, our only option was to adhere the muslins to the walls. As you probably guessed, we were once again saved by the photographer’s best friend, gaffers tape. What else!
Our Lighting • For Inquisitive Photographers
Our studio assembly for the Randy Newman Headshot Session was comprised of three lights: main, fill, and separation.
For the main, I chose a Photogenic 1250 with a four-foot, LightDome Q3 softbox. It was perfect for positioning horizontally, just above the piano.
Our fill was another Photogenic 1250 but with a six-foot Larson RS softbox. I barely had clearance to place it over my left shoulder. Normally, I use the six-footer for my main but it was too large for the space adjoining the piano.
Lastly, I aimed a small, propped-up Norman 200 strobe on the floor, just behind the piano. This served to give separation between Randy and the background.
The Challenge • Randy Newman Headshot
Randy, though as much a wonderful, humble celeb as he is, was not the easiest to photograph.
I’m being kind.
1. Randy enjoyed conversing. He’s probably as prolific at talking as he is writing songs. He had lived a wildly colorful life and appeared to take great delight in sharing the details, one fascinating story after another. As challenging as his chatter was, we loved it.
He knew it, too.
2. Randy sang his songs while he talked. In between talking and playing, there was little opportunity or justification to direct the session – let alone merely looking anywhere in the direction of the camera.
On a positive note, he banged out any song we asked. Of my all-time favorite Newman tunes, he began with Lonely At the Top.
As those who know me will tell you, I’m not one to get overly excited by celebs – especially the ones I photograph. But for Kari and I to have our very own personal Randy Newman concert…? If Kari hadn’t been standing next to me I would have been beside myself.
3. Lastly, and most difficult of all, as Randy talked and sang, he also made unusual (read, unflattering) facial expressions. I mean a great many musicians twist and gnarl their faces as they croon (think Joe Cocker) but Randy elevated the art of facial contortions to a whole new level. It was not easy.
Again, I am being kind.
Oh, and did I mention that he blinked continuously? Incessantly.
Needless to say, the rejection pile was mounting in my head. Would 25 rolls of 220 be enough?
Randy Newman Tied In Knots
As the Randy Newman Headshot Session got underway and Randy’s talking, singing, and contorting continued, he began playing yet another one of our all-time favorite songs, I Love L.A.
Now we were rocking!
Just as Randy’s fingers arrived at the piano solo, they unexpectedly hit a roadblock. It was apparent the intricate passage was not going to be successfully navigated. His hands were in a tangled mess.
After a friendly dose of laughter, I couldn’t help but needle him a bit about being a tad rusty. Whereupon, he turned abruptly and struggled lazily to tie his hand and arms in knots.
|Randy Newman playing “I Love L.A.” for Kari & me • During the “solo,” Randy’s hands got tied in knots… ©Orange County Headshots
Church • Randy Newman Headshot
Seeing that his limbs were not going to cooperate, Randy passively surrendered, relaxed, and then turned pensively back to his keys.
Then, out of the depths of his soul, with a solemn tenderness and proud subtlety, he began to sing:
In America, you’ll get food to eat
Won’t have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all-day
It’s great to be an American
The harmonious, dulcet chords to Sail Away followed, enveloping the room.
At the turn-around, Randy unexpectedly looked at me as if to say, “Now this is something I can handle.” And boy did he ever.
There were parts of me that felt like I was in church – especially the weepy eyes.
Music does that to me – especially good music.
You’ve Got A Friend In Me
No sooner had Randy finished Sail Way when he followed it up with “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” Suffice it to say, it was then that I sensed that something special was about to unfold.
Standing alongside my RZ67 with cable release in hand, I began firing away knowing intuitively that what I was looking for was almost in sight. I didn’t want to miss THE moment.
Sooner than expected, however, the song came to the last stanza, as well as our private time with Randy Newman. Had I lost my touch? We’d spent about an hour (40 minutes longer than allotted), and I had yet to feel the gut certainty that I got what I had come for.
I heard Randy sing the closing line, “You got a friend in me…” The final four measures were upon us – there had to be more, but how?
The closing measure rolled in and settled. It ended on the downbeat – an Eb major.
Randy remained transfixed, staring down at his keys. The final chord hung in the air and drifted about the room.
His left hand then dropped to his side while his right hand held the sustaining chord in place. I wondered, was he deep in thought? How long was he going to sit there, staring?
Then it hit me – I missed it. I got zilch. It was loads of fun but I fell short. Sure, I exposed enough film to please my client, but not myself.
My heart sank.
Preparation Meets Opportunity
Just as I was about to let go of my shutter release and wrap things up, something extraordinary took place.
First, Randy turned. He lifted his head and looked straight into my lens. He was silent – all talked out – satisfied.
Then it happened.
A presence emerged we hadn’t seen before. Gone were quirks, the fluttering eyelashes, protruding lower teeth, fidgeting torso, and the perpetual mouth in motion. Randy simply sat, beaming – cheerful, optimistic, hopeful, confident.
It was as if he was saying, “Not bad for a lifetime’s worth of work.”
At first, I was puzzled by the silence – unsuspecting that the moment had just dismounted. I was also unaware that I was about to commit the photographer’s greatest nightmare, an unremitting regret I would play out in my mind for decades to come.
There it was, the expression I had worked so hard to elicit, yet I was frozen. I was caught transfixed, absorbed, and admiring the action I put into motion. At long last, the look was staring me smack dab in the face but the reason for my being was suspended on a cloud, anchored somewhere between Sunset and Oblivion.
An instant later, I heard, “Click!” Then two more, “Click – click.” Followed by a steady string of more. It was yet more music to my ears.
To my good fortune, my autonomic reflexes engaged! As in, I “ought to” be photographing right now. As in, my self-regulating, automatic expression acquisition device took over and captured the moment. If not, it would have been an unmitigated disaster.
You might say I got “lucky.” But we all know that when preparation meets opportunity, things have a way of working themselves out.
Thankful, I didn’t miss it after all!
|Randy Newman playing “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” for Kari and me • Publicity Photo for The Miseducation of Randy Newman ©Orange County Headshots
No sooner had I taken my last exposure when Randy resumed his default position at the piano and launched into “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” It seemed to me he enjoyed playing just as much as we loved listening. The occasion was especially special in that the pressure was off, allowing us could let our hair down, as well as my cable release.
The Press • Randy New Headshot
With the final “I know what love is,” and the last E chord played, the press burst into the room. They had been waiting patiently to ask “Mr. Newman” a few questions and snap a series of candids for their respective papers. It was a zoo.
I noticed that reporters’ flashes were not at all flattering to Randy and were noticeably distracting. It then dawned on me that my assembled lighting would be eminently more beneficial to both the reporters and Randy’s sensitive eyes.
I leaned over, grabbed the sync cord to my lights, held it over my head, and loudly offered it to anyone who wanted to take advantage of my assembled studio lighting.
Someone dropped a pin on the carpet.
After a simultaneous cheer of consent followed, I quickly repositioned my lights to correspond to the slightly oblique perspective they were forced to photograph Mr. Newman.
Much to my surprise, everyone, including Randy, was conspicuously in shock over my courtesy. It was as if I had breached an unspoken code of conduct not seen before in the annals of journalism: Thou shalt not assist or in any manner facilitate any competing publication in the procurement of photographs or any facet thereof while in the performance of one’s sworn duty.
While each photographer gladly lined up and took turns plugging in, I could hear the affable banter about the notorious dog-eat-dog world among the press photographers. It was a rare day indeed when one photographer came through to aid another in obtaining the images they were sent to capture.
For me, I was happy to help. It was also a gratifying sight. And probably the first time any of them had ever employed studio lighting to cover a press junket.
With the round of press snaps completed and while everyone was packing up to go, Randy’s manager motioned to Randy that it was a wrap. Suddenly, Randy turned around and said, “Wait a minute, we’re not done yet!
A stifled collective groan.
“I didn’t get any photos with Kari and Mark!”
Another pin fell upon the carpet – and bounced three times.
Randy then kindly directed the press to retrieve their cameras, and power up their strobes. He then wrapped his arms around our shoulders and directed the press to give Kari and me the star treatment. It was a spectacle.
Amidst the popping flashes and somewhat reluctant photographers being gently strong-armed into expending their film (yes, this was before digital), Kari coaxed Randy’s manager to take a couple of exposures from our own camera, waiting at the side, sitting atop our tripod.
As you can see, Randy is a gem of a man and was genuinely appreciative of the time we gave him and the service we provided. I think it was his way of showing us how grateful he was. If I may borrow the persona of The Big Lebowski’s cowboy narrator, he’s the dude.
Private Moments • Randy Newman Headshot
Once all the hoopla was over, and the last of the press left the room, Randy hung around as we loaded our equipment. He was lighthearted and inquisitive.
With everything packed and loaded, Randy plopped himself down on the piano bench and extended the conversation. He didn’t appear to have anything pressing (contrary to his agent’s pantomimes) and simply wanted to talk a spell.
It didn’t take long for things to go deep.
He shared stories about his life, his ups and downs, wild times, being clean, about being a terrible dad, his efforts to make up for it, his new love, and his notions about God. While Randy clearly did not share our faith, he was respectful and possibly enjoyed our exuberance.
Kari and I later talked about how we sensed a wistful affection for Christianity – an apparent value he felt he could not hold, even as much as he wished he could. Then again, we could have misinterpreted a camouflaged chuckle. Who knows.
Randy was so keenly interested in our family, which was also surprising. Typically, conversations with celebs are decidedly one-sided – that is, it’s all about themselves. I think this self-absorption is an outgrowth of a deeply ingrained paradigm that contends it’s what their fans want to hear. They’re simply living up to the expectation.
This was not the case with Randy Newman. I got the feeling that his own voice had frequently become too exhausting for him. He appreciated the opportunity of an intermission.
After discovering Kari and I were the proud parents of three children, Randy was big-eyed and interested. Then, out of the blue, he called for his manager and then whispered in his ear.
The manager returned shortly afterward with a couple of Newman CDs and a marker. Randy penned a personal note to our kids and then signed it, “You’ve Got A Friend in Me – Love, Randy Newman.” Nice touch.
He also jotted a quick note to me on the other CD and signed it as well, “To Mark – Thanks for the pictures! Love, Randy Newman.”
It was a special kindness that touched us deeply.
Randy then thanked us profusely, gave us both big, warm hugs, and that was that.
Understandably, Kari and I were pulling for Randy at the Oscars back in 2011 (as well as most recently in 2020). You see, Randy had also shared with us his disappointment in going away empty-handed on so many previous occasions. I appreciated how candid and genuine he was with us about his frustrations. While we could tell he had a good attitude about it all, he nevertheless was mystified – possibly as a result of the low percentages…
When Randy’s name was announced on the evening of the 83rd Academy Awards, you can imagine how elated Kari and I were to see Randy take home his second Oscar. I trust you were just as thrilled.
I know Randy certainly was!
Once again, congratulations Randy! We could not have been any happier for you! Your witty acceptance speech made it all the more celebratory.
While I’ve photographed and met innumerable celebs over the years, Randy Newman stands out as one of the most memorable, if not rewarding. As you know, the word “genius” is tossed about all too generously these days. But when it comes to Randy Newman, I think the word was conceived with his unparalleled brilliance in mind.
Thanks for the fond memories Randy, you’ve got a friend in us, as well.
Mark & Kari
Orange County Headshots
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Randy Newman Headshot Session
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