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Killing Kennedy Photoshoot Behind the Scenes Video

November 08, 2013 //  Commissioned Work Back to posts

Above: Killing Kennedy horizontal film poster (Click to enlarge)

The idea behind National Geographic’s Killing Kennedy campaign cannot be summed up better than in the words of Rama Allen, co-director of the 45 second video promo (posted below at the end of this post):

“We try to imagine what it must have been like within the moments surrounding JFK’s assassination. Those few ticking seconds where a nation’s twisting grasp on its place in the world flipped our collective insides like a sudden bend on a wooden roller-coaster. A few microseconds prior we were the well scrubbed center of the universe. A few microseconds later we had lost our anchor and were in a free-fall trying to make sense of it all, still cheering and smiling in a heartbeat of disbelief. We feel everything we know slipping through our fingers. We are weightless.”

Above: Rob Lowe as John F. Kennedy and Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy

Above: Rob Lowe as John F. Kennedy and Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy

Artsy-Fartsy Talk

The Killing Kennedy images have a lot in common with what we did previously for Killing Lincoln- Historical subjects are depicted outside of a moment, breaking “the fourth wall.” These photos are posed, lit in a studio, and removed from their surroundings.

Working on a shoot like this is an absolute dream job, however some thoughts kept me up at night. What freaked me out the most about this project in particular is that John F. Kennedy’s legacy and unfortunate death are in the living memory of many people around the globe. There is no one on earth today that was alive during Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. During our previous campaign for Killing Lincoln, we were able to take certain artistic liberties. Time has transformed a tragic moment into historical legend. Being so incredibly recent, depicting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy would require even more care.

Although everyone on set had a responsibility, these images are not meant to retell history. If that were the case, we’d be in Dallas Texas, the sun would be high-noon, and there’d certainly be no Rob Lowe on set. The images are simply meant to evoke emotion. Let’s get off our artsy high-horse for a second and keep in mind what we are doing here- advertising a television show. However- my favorite campaigns to work on ride a very thin line between art and advertisement. I was really fortunate that everyone we worked seemed to be on the same page creatively.

Above: Early concept sketch for the shoot by my friend Sebastian Koever

Above: A behind the scenes look at our lighting setup. Photo by Caleb Adams

Above: Photo by Caleb Adams

Photography Nerd Talk

Since this set was shared between the production company, Variable, and I, we were able to share a lot of the same lighting tools and increase production value. I talk about this in my previous “Test Subjects VS Real Subjects” post, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself.

I had access to some of the most beautiful lighting tools known to man- a 30×40 foot Chimera soft box for lighting cars, a Briese focus umbrella, and Broncolor flash units. It also doesn’t hurt having such an all-star cast to work with who are very knowledgable about their roles and have an entire creative team behind making them look the part.

Above: Rob Lowe as John F. Kennedy and Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy

An extra on set welcoming the presidential motorcade in Dallas

Above: Rob Lowe as JFK

Above: Rob Lowe as JFK and Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald

Above: Panorama with the principle cast of Killing Kennedy

Above: Andy Baker of National Geographic peeping over my shoulder (classic client move!) 

Above: Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald

Above: A set depicting the window at the Texas School Book Depository

Above (Left): Original photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald by Marina Oswald. Above (Right): Recreation of the original photograph with actor Will Rothhaar.

Above: A group snapshot where I didn’t quite make the camera’s timer…

You can read creative director Andy Baker’s blog about this same shoot in his great new insightful post on “The Client Blog.” I could blabber on and on about this production, but it’s summed up in this great behind the scenes featurette shot by my friend Mr. Cale Glendening below.

Below is the final “Bullet” spot by Variable, complete with an ominous voice-over by actor Will Rothhaar.


Client: National Geographic Channel

Title: “Killing Kennedy”

SVP/Group Creative Director: Andy Baker

Design Director: Christos Devaris

Writer/Creative Director: Tyler Korba

Creative Director, Design: Brian Everett

Production Manager: Kevin Lahr

Production Company: Variable 

Creative Development: National Geographic, Variable & Mill+

Director: Rama Allen & Jonathan Bregel

Executive Producer: Tyler Ginter

Producer: Alex Friedman

Production Supervisor: Paige DeMarco

Cinematographer: Khalid Mohtaseb

VFX Supervisor: Adrian Hurley

Phantom Tech: Edward Richardson

AC/DIT: Daniel Stewart & Jeffrey Levine

Production Designer: Joseph Sciacca

Photographer: Joey L

Post Production: Mill+

Head of Content: Ian Bearce

Post Production Producer: Adrienne Winterhalter & Richard Schwab

Editor: Caleb Woods

Assistant Editor: Jessica Ledoux

Lead Compositor: Danny Morris

Titles: Wesley Ebelhar

Score/Sound Design: Fall On Your Sword

Behind the scenes: Cale Glendening

Behind the scenes edit: Ian Rummer at Crave Media

Additional photography retouching: Nick Leadlay and Pratik Naik

Film Drum Scans: Benedict Evans


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Chris N. // November 09, 2013 00:28

Awesome work. Very refined. Did you use the rectangular white shapes just for long smooth reflections on the car, or did they serve other purpose, as well?

Nick Walter // November 09, 2013 00:50

Joey you have raised the bar again. I am blown away by the quality of these images, and I've been following your work for a long time. Simply amazing!

Cody Caissie // November 09, 2013 00:51

Amazing work! The lighting and angles are an inspiration.

Thanks for the #BTS


admin // November 09, 2013 01:24

Chris: You are correct, they were for the reflections on the side panels of the vehicle.

Phil Callinan // November 09, 2013 02:38

Amazing. Such incredible work. Well done.

Rozzy // November 09, 2013 03:48

Nice work J... again I love that you always think outside of the box and that you consider the emotions behind the subject.. You sir, are a gem xo still a fan! Happy B-lated Birthday as well <3

Carolina A Castro // November 09, 2013 05:00

Such an inspiration! Thanks for the post Joey. Best.

Carolina A Castro // November 09, 2013 05:02

Such an inspiration, Thanks for the post. Best.

Mysza // November 09, 2013 15:52

Wow, this is really a great project! congratulations

Derek Anson // November 09, 2013 19:09

Awesome work, especially the 'extra' with placard & LHO posing with the rifle pointing at JFK on the telly. Great stuff.

Dee // November 10, 2013 07:45

Wow!!! another great work by you and your team :)

Vishnu // November 10, 2013 10:00

Stunning as usual.. thanks

nila // November 10, 2013 19:54

will rothhaar looks sometimes on theses photos like ralf fienes ;-)
amazing light joey

bert mclendon // November 11, 2013 07:56

Ridiculous. you are way too Effin good man! jeeez!

Jan Karlo Camero // November 11, 2013 08:15

Outstanding work from the master! I really love the results of your collaboration with Nat Geo. It must have been fun playing with those lighting equipment!

Jeff // November 14, 2013 11:20

BEAST! Pictures look amazing once again. Congrats JL!

Mary Ann W. // November 17, 2013 07:19

Absolutely beautiful. This has such a classic and refined look to it. I love the way you have done the lighting for this , it portrays such a dark feeling about the event its self. Excellent work as always.

numbeos // November 22, 2013 22:49

I adore your work...Love it...

fred // January 15, 2014 13:51

That's great insight and beautiful work. Please keep on sharing.

Cameleon photography // November 25, 2014 23:21

that's are great nice job and the photos are very beautifull
you are an exemple for me ;-)

Alex // June 15, 2015 15:36

That is a very good films, and have excellent photogrphy

Jim Tincher // January 03, 2016 03:16

Wow! How'd I miss not seeing this!

Corey Wendell // March 24, 2016 02:31

Love this read and visual.

Mons // August 10, 2016 21:56

He went not alone in the car. Empty car looks static

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