Imagine being a fly on the wall of the Watchmen movie set. Better yet, imagine getting paid for it. Clay Enos is a professional photographer who also happens to be a friend of director Zack Snyder, so when Snyder offered him the job of set photographer for the highly anticipated film, he jumped at the chance. He soon learned that that meant that every photograph that appears in the movie, documents the movie, and promotes the movie would have to be shot by him. That included everything from the sepia-tone team photo of the Minutemen to last week's six different Entertainment Weekly covers. (Well, five of them -- Dr. Manhattan was a computer creation.) But whenever he had a free moment on set, he would shoot the portraits that are his signature work, and now those portraits -- of actors, extras and crew members -- are collected into a book called Watchmen: Portraits. We talked to him about the history-making shoot, his role in the movie and how he came up with the idea for Nite Owl coffee.
TWOP: This was your first set photography gig. Did you have any clue going into it what you were getting yourself into?
Clay Enos: Larry Fong, the cinematographer, had been up there ahead of me, and he was like, "Have you seen this?" And he puts this 60-page document down, with all of the images that we need to make that are in the movie, from the Sally Jupiter [pinup] photo to the porn for Porno Street. He was a little intimidated, and I was too stupid to know the difference.
What was it like being on set?
There's something about the pacing of making a film that is quite methodical, and yet that entire time you need to be attentive. So you get this mixed message of sorts, where everything is moving extremely slowly, but everybody is fulfilling their roles. I was one of them -- in a weirder way, of course, because I'm not making the movie, I'm documenting the movie. So on some level, my job was never done. I think that's why they got three times the number of photos that they [wanted] and a portrait book out of the deal. [Because] along the way, I couldn't help but start making portraits. So I brought up my portable portrait studio and went to work in any free moment when cast was available. Cast or crew, for that matter.
Do you regret not having the real Dr. Manhattan to photograph?
No, I've done my fair share of naked pictures. I enjoyed photographing Billy [Crudup] with the tracking dots. I think that what I was doing was far less a literal exploration of the world of Watchmen than it was the world of the making of Watchmen. It's a funny thing, the lines between reality, between cast and crew, between who's a background character and who's a star are really blurred in a lovely way in my book.
I was going to say, some of the crew members in Portraits look like cast, and vice versa. One tough-looking guy I took for an extra, but he was a set painter.
That's what would happen, right? His name was Derek -- he's a handsome dude to begin with, and then he just had a great look that day. I'm like, "C'mon, we're going." It was all very spontaneous. Within days, my portable studio was abandoned for a 4-by-8 piece of cardboard and a reasonable garage door, for quality of light. And that's it. That's how we shot. So it didn't take a lot. I would steal a piece of foam core off the grip truck, stand 'em up, shoot 'em, send 'em back to work.
Two of the pictures in Portraits are actually you and Snyder dressed up as soldiers for the Vietnam scenes. What was that day like?
For me it was really fun, because I got to go through the process of what all the other actors had been going through. The level of detail they gave our characters, for what is essentially background, out-of-focus characters, is testament to the really amazing work that everyone was putting into this project. That's when it really hit home, like, "Holy cow. There are like four people applying mud to me and giving me a sunburn on the back of my neck in makeup." For that shot! That's just stunning.
Would you do set photography again?
Yeah, I think I'll line up right behind Zack, should he ask, and there's talk already of working on his next one [Sucker Punch]. It's incredibly hard work, but it's such a wonderful thing to be a part of. There's this lurking notion that you're making a little bit of history when you work on a movie. I pulled out of the Midtown Tunnel the other day, in the early morning darkness, to see a monstrously large Silk Spectre photo that I took. That was both a humbling and very prideful moment. To think that my picture will grace a DVD -- or whatever holographic, futuristic media -- forever is pretty darn cool. And I'd be crazy not to try and be a part of that.
I hear you and Jackie Earle Haley bonded on set?
I have another career -- a part-time career, if you will -- working with Logan Hood from Epoch Training. Logan was one of the trainers on 300, and I was tapped to help with the training for the folks in Watchmen: Malin and Jackie and anyone else who was interested. And Jackie just loved it. He had been dabbling, and making an effort to transform himself for the role prior to coming up to Vancouver, but I turned him on to a simpler, more effective [regimen]. He asked questions, and I would answer them, and it was a lovely rapport. The guy just has it in him. He is 100 percent in everything he does. It's hard to believe we missed him from the screen for so long, the way he moves. He just embodied Rorschach. We would train whenever we could: in parking lots, whenever, wherever. He loved it. There's also a huge dietary component to being healthy, and he really got turned on to that, too.
Speaking of diets, how did you get into the coffee business?
My wide-angle life. I was on assignment to make photographs for a coffee importer in Oaxaca, Mexico, and I happened to be accompanied by the coffee illuminati. And was really, really inspired by what they were talking about, a way of doing business that didn't neglect suppliers and everyone involved in the supply chain. So just from the strange coincidences of domain availabilities and that friendship that emerged from that week of work, the Organic Coffee Cartel was born. And then, of course, I'm reading Watchmen, and I read that crazy scene where the tenement fire victims are saved and they're served coffee... Coffee's on my brain already, there it is in a graphic novel, and I just toy with the idea of making a tie-in coffee... and they let me!
Was it a difficult process to get the world's first movie tie-in coffee made?
It was surprisingly easy for them to agree, but an agreement among friends at a dinner table, one of whom is the director of the movie, is very different than when you run it through publicity, lawyers, international promotions... It's like a "cc" extravaganza. I would have had this coffee out months ago, but what are you gonna do? Now it just looks like another crass move to piss off Alan Moore, when in fact it was intended as a tongue-in-cheek, good-time way to raise some money for charity. It's quality coffee, too. I've heard a lot of people say they're not gonna open it, and I'm like, "No, open it! The can is fine, whether it's full or empty!"
You can see Clay Enos' Watchmen photographs in three books on sale now: Watchmen: The Art of the Film, Watchmen: The Official Film Companion and Watchmen: Portraits. The movie Watchmen comes out in theaters and on IMAX on March 6. Find out more about Clay at ClayEnos.com.