Architectural Digest China
Talent (Indigo Communication): Michelle Liu
Visual Director: Leon Sun
Photographer: Ben Miller
Heidi How did you end up working in China on this particular project? Are you sending promos internationally?
Ben: I used to live in Shanghai, so am familiar with the culture and speak the language. My wife’s parents still live there, so in an effort to see her family more often, I decided to start exploring the market there last year. I went on a couple of trips and called a lot of agencies, knocked on a lot of doors, and made some good contacts. I have not done any mailers yet, but the meetings alone were able to get bids on a number of large projects, plus a few editorial assignments. I also have some informal collaborations with some of the larger production houses there, who are putting my name in the hat for larger projects.
How much are you working here in the US?
I am still working more in the US, I am signed by FRESH Artist Management in NYC, which is part of Greenhouse. They have been great and helped me out on a ton of large projects and bids last year. The reception in the China market has been very encouraging as well, so I intend to pursue work on both sides for the foreseeable future. Some of my bigger clients in 2013 included Dr. Pepper, Adidas, GAP, Ted Baker, Lucky Brand, HUE, Indah, and editorial in Rolling Stone Russia, Ladies Home Journal, Leveled Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler. I am mainly doing Ad and fashion jobs, but would love to do more editorial.
I assume you speak Chinese, is that right?
Yes i am fluent in Chinese, which helps a lot. Most people in Shanghai speak good or decent English, but it does show a level of respect to make the effort to learn their language. The work of foreign photographers is very popular over there, but most foreigners cannot speak, so it loses them a lot of jobs.
Were there any obstacles to this shoot?
In China, budget is always an issue. The rates are not the same as in the West, unless you are already a super famous photographer. So, this means being more creative and figuring out ways to deliver value. Also, I had to have a Chinese bank account to accept payment for the job, which was fairly easy to do, but an extra step.
What, if any are the differences in how the work flow, production works compared to a US equivalent magazine?
Since it is owned by Conde Nast, it is pretty much like working with any NYC Based magazine. Similar job roles, people to deal with, editing process, etc…
How did the creative process unfold for this project? Do you get much direction?
I worked with Leon Sun, the Visual Director at AD China, who is a super nice guy with a ton of vision. He already had a very established concept as far as styling and talent goes. This freed me up to focus on lighting, composition, color, etc… We shot everything in a day at a beautiful retail space called Design Republic in Shanghai. This included a key portrait, and a number of food and table shots.
How does the equipment rental/gear sort out?
I flew my laptop, camera, and one case of lights from the US with me. I have a set of stands, modifiers, and other grip that remain at my parents in laws’ house for all my China shoots. For larger productions, there are great resources such as Central Studios or Amanacliq, who can rent you any of the standard gear at western prices.
Do you have a stable of assistants you work with over there?
I have a couple of good guys I know, and a number of rental houses I can call on when needed. The quality of assistants is generally not as high as in the US, so more oversight and tutelage is usually required.