Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shooting Mario Lopez

Backstage with Mario Lopez for Nescafe

I have never felt more like a part of a team, all of us striving towards the same goal of excellence, as I did on the Script to Screen commercial with Mario Lopez for Nescafe Dolce Gusto Coffee maker.

Film production crews in Los Angeles metro are mostly freelance, working on a TV commercial one week and a movie or TV show the next. The crew I worked with was partly freelance, partly full time staff. Yet I was amazed over and again by the professionalism of the lighting people, the camera operators, the producers, directors, food stylists, hair and makeup, so much talent being focused on one thing; making Mario Lopez drinking a cup of Nescafe coffee look great!

On day one of the two day shoot, the electricians and grips had a multi-million dollar Newport Beach mansion with a huge world class island kitchen to light, and the lighting included what was outside the windows as well as inside. One of the most important camera angles being used included looking out a large glass door into a walled court yard with tropical plants and vines and a large fountain. Two large HMI daylight balanced continuous lights, 12,000 - 18,000 watts or more I would estimate by their size, lit the areas outside each window. I looked them up, 12,000 watt Arri HMI lights are around $32,000 each. Reflectors, flags and other gear defused and directed the light. It was an overcast day, gloomy and grey, yet the film crew turned it into a warm, sunny morning out the kitchen windows. Awesome!

Indoors, most of the HMI lights I saw were made by Arri, and were round, with barn doors attached, and ranged from 300 to 5,000 Most of the lights had black aluminum foil wrapped around the outside of the barndoors. There was an additional HMI light in the kitchen that had 4 florescent looking tubes about 4 feet long, also wrapped and directed with BlackWrap. The most popular brand of BlackWrap is Rosco Matte Black Cinefoil, highly heat resistant and perfect for shaping light into anything you like. In addition to barn doors, many of the lights sported diffusion domes, warming gels and other light modifiers. Large silks or “cutters” on frames were used to defuse the light like a softbox on a strobe system; however these covered half a wall. All the windows that we were not looking out of with the cameras had black coverings over them, so that the director of lighting had absolute control.

They were trying to create a “good morning, how do you want your coffee” feeling to the lighting, and one of the more surprising tools they used was tree branches taped with gaffer tape to the arms on Matthews century stands. The tree limbs created patterns in front of the light, giving it a natural, light through a county manor window feeling. This effect is often created by putting a Cucoloris in front of the light, I have one made by Matthews that is 18” x 24”, metal, and full of random shaped holes created to shape light to look like it is coming through tree leaves. I respect the Script to Screen lighting people for using the real thing, and putting up with the mess from dried leaves on the floor.

I was happy to see a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto zoom lens mounted on the Canon EOS C300 Cinema EOS Camcorder Body they were shooting with, as have owed variations of this lens for years. It’s good to know that I have good taste! The EF lens mount on the camcorder body allows you to put any of the glass you use on your Canon EOS still camera on the C300 or C500 camcorder. The Canon C300 and C500 look so similar I am not sure if all 3 of the camcorders that they used were one or the other, but I can tell you that the video looked excellent on the monitors with saturated color, crisp and sharp.

Working with TV personalities and movie celebrities as the talent in a commercial can lead to all kinds of expectations and wild thoughts the night before a shoot. What would it be like to spend two days working with a famous celebrity like Mario Lopez? Mario Lopez was a child star in the television show “Saved by the Bell”. He appears on “X Factor” and CBS “Extra”.  Spending time with him off camera, talking with him and his wife Celebrity Hair/Make Up artist Courtney Mazza, I learned what a kind and sincere person he is. Mario Lopez has so much energy on camera, he is so upbeat and excited in his on camera presentation, and I could never get tired of shooting him.

Mario seems to love good coffee, and his excitement for the Nescafe Dolce Gusto came across as absolutely genuine and believable. He was the perfect pitchman for this advertising product infomercial, he made me want to buy the Nescafe coffee maker, and I do not drink coffee. I would use it for tea, hot chocolate and coffee for guests.

There were at least 4 rooms with people watching what was taking place on the three cameras on multiple monitors. The client room was where Mario Lopez hung out when he wasn’t on set, along with along with his manager, wife and some of the other talent, wardrobe and hair and makeup people. The Script to Screen Co-Founder and VP/Executive Producer were watching two monitors in a totally dark room along with two clients from Nescafe. If there wasn’t enough foam on the milk in the cappuccino, one of the clients would notice and the Executive Producer would communicate over the radio headset. The director would call cut, and out onto the set would come Food Stylist, Food Stylist Assistant or Art Director with new cups of cappuccino in hand, or refills for the Dolce Gusto coffee machine. Perfection was required and achieved time and again.

As the production stills photographer, my primary job was to capture Mario Lopez on set and back stage, and to create advertising product photography of the coffee maker and the beverages it produced.

When we broke for lunch, I had the set to myself as well as the services of the two food stylists. I had 30 minutes to capture 8 drinks being made. HMI video production light levels are much lower than that of strobes. I had to do shots of the Dolce Gusto machine with milk or coffee flowing into the cup. With strobe I would normally be shooting at ISO 100, shutter speed of 125 or 160 and an aperture based upon how much depth of field I want. With HMI video lights I was shooting at 800 ISO, f2.8 and 1/60 of a second shutter speed to stop the action of the flowing milk, coffee, chocolate or other liquid pouring from the machine into the cup. However, once the drink “settled” and the layers in the milk and coffee appeared, I switched to 100 ISO, ¼ second at f2.8. This was to reduce the noise or grainy feeling in the image, and allow it to be enlarged further. To see more images from this shoot, go to

keywords: los angeles advertising photography, Los Angeles Lifestyle photography, food photography, beverage photographer, nescafe, Mario Lopez, Xtra, Xfactor, TV, advertising photography,


  1. Dennis, great informative post. It sounds like there were many factors to co-ordinate, and you and your team worked well to bring everything together. Thanks for sharing your experience. - Lisa

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