Tyson Chandler was the final photo shoot for The Body Issue of 2012. After five productive months criss-crossing the country, capturing athletes in the buff, Tyson Chandler in Topanga Canyon would be the shoot to end the journey with a celebrated bang.
The photographer, Peter Hapak, and I began the “Body Issue” journey together that February when we flew to Miami to shoot the incomparable Olympic gymnast, Danel Levya. We started with a bang on that shoot so our plan was top go out the way we came in, with astounding images.  I was happy that Peter and I would end together with Tyson Chandler. “Let’s go out the way we came in…with a magical bang.”  We were both stoked.
The last two weeks of shooting took place in Los Angeles so I was working on all aspects of this shoot from my hotel room.  I hired a local producer to help me find and secure a location and a few odds and ends.  Peter and I had discussed a Herb Ritts feel. Open desert, space, maybe a clean white stone wall of sorts.  We had a vision.  I was also hoping for something with a view.  And someplace we didn’t have to travel too far to get to.  My local producer sent me a few locations to look at.  One that we loved turned out to not be available.  Another one piqued my curiosity. It was a private residence in Topanga Canyon, high above the clouds with lots of artifacts and structures  to work with. There was a white brick wall, white columns, an extraordinary view. It seemed like it would offer us plenty.  I let the producer know I was very interested and I sent the link to Peter. I thought he would be thrilled with the plethora of options that showed in the location pictures.  Instead he responded with doubt, “This isn’t what we talked about at all. Too busy.”  I studied the pictures again and then convinced him that this location had it all and then some.  Peter then, sold by my enthusiasm, agreed to the location.  After I got Peter on board I contacted the producer. “Let’s lock it in.”  She was thrilled as well but wanted to send out her location scout to get some up to date pictures of the property. A more accurate and current look at the property as opposed to the pictures sent out by the location company representing the property.  He would scout the following day and have pictures to me in the evening.  The shoot was three days away. The pressure was on but I was confident that this location had just what we needed and more.
The next evening while in my hotel room I received the link from the producer. I knew right away that the location wasn’t as nice as it appeared in the prior shots. I was concerned it was.. well, a dump.  What once appeared interesting and eccentric now seemed dingy and random. And odd. Very, very odd. I was now doubtful.  The producer suggested I contact her scout with any questions. I immediately  emailed him a few questions. Below are my questions and his answers:
1-What can u tell me? It’s certainly not as lavish as it appeared. Is it a neglected location?
I wouldn’t say they have a live in groundskeeper but people do live there.  It’s not “dirty”.
2- “Was it buggy?”
Does buggy mean bugs?  Was there for over an hour, not one bug..”
3-“What were the red flags”?
Not the easiest place to get to but he did just have his 2 mile long driveway recently graded.
I needed more information so I called him right away. We went over this scouting pictures together and I was  somewhat convinced that the location wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as great as it originally appeared but I was convinced we could get what we needed.  I probed him on the “Not the easiest place to get to” response to my “red flag” question. “Will i be driving up the side of a mountain because I did that once and it wasn’t good.  He assured me that it was not a tough drive. “You’ll have to do about 40 (mph)”.  That didn’t seem like a problem to me at all.  And that was that.
A call sheet was sent out and I contacted Tyson’s rep, Jaymee who I had been dealing with for months. In those months we worked together on the vision and the execution. And most importantly, Tyson’s comfort level. The Body Issue is a very different beast from all other issues. We are asking athletes to get nude for the camera, for the fans, for the world.  Trust and comfort is very important. I assured Jaymee that her client was in very good hands.
The morning of the shoot, Peter Hapak, his first assistant Eric, and i, all piled into my Buick SUV. As I drove us toward Topenga, I shared my passionate gratitude for the past five months. “The universe has been so kind to me. I am so grateful. What an incredible journey, with such marvelous and talented people.”  I went on and on with my thanks and praises. How fortunate I had been to have such beautiful and amazing experiences with the protection and guidance of such a kind universe. Soon we found ourselves driving up the narrow windy roads of Topenga Canyon. Extremely narrow, paved roads with homes everywhere. “Who lives up here” we wondered. It seemed so foreign to us East Coasters.  Then we came to a fork in the road. This is where the property began, as did the “two mile graded driveway” and a small yellow sign to let us know we were at the right place, “ESPN”.  I drove cautiously as this fresh dirt road winded and climbed. I realized almost instantly that it was pretty dangerous. Narrow, dirt road ON THE SIDE OF EXTREME CLIFFS.  Did that location scout really say “40 mph”? I think he meant to say “4 mph”.  As we climbed it got scarier and scarier until finally as i was rounding a turn, and inclining about 90 degrees, my tires spun out and i stopped the car. I put it in park, put the emergency brake on and  looked at Peter, “Guys, I can’t drive anymore. I’m gonna walk.”  I couldn’t get out of that car fast enough really. We were literally two feet from the side of a cliff that is as high as the clouds. DANGEROUS! TREACHEROUS!  Eric, the assistant hopped in the drivers seat. I looked out over the most amazing view and started my journey. Where we had stopped you couldn’t see the property. We still had a ways to climb…and then descend. The temperature was also sky high so I  shed my shirt and wearing just a tank and shorts I began to jog up this mountain.  The guys however had to carefully back up quite a bit to get momentum to then go forward, up and around the bend.  I continued jogging until i got to the top and could see the property at the base the long dirt “road”. I jogged half a mile. And the Buick made it right behind me.  Needless to say, when i arrived on property I was pissed. Pissed that i did not get an accurate description of what it takes to get to the property. More importantly, I knew it was too dangerous a road to ask anyone to travel on. And I had a whole crew, including Tyson and his rep Jaymee on their way.
I was greeted by the producer’s assistant and then I met the producer.  After expressing my disbelief and anger on not getting fair warning, I told her assistant to call everyone on the call sheet to warn them of the treacherous road they would be taking.  I wondered if I should cancel the shoot all together.  “Let me show you the property” said the producer. As she walked me around the Hell hole, her assistant found one spot on the property that gave her one bar’s worth of reception. She began calling the crew and their reps.  The producer walked me out to the back where the white columns stood. They held up a wooden structure. Beneath the wooden structure were three small wading pools. In these wading pools was green swampy water with what appeared to be dog feces and buzzing flies galore. Peter and I looked at each other and I wanted to cry. Instead I apologized profusely. He said he could make it work and asked the producer to ask the property owner to get the shit and swamp water out of the wading pools.  I didn’t think it was possible in the time we had before Tyson would arrive. He would be there in two hours.  The “kind universe” that I spoke of on the car ride up was now testing me.
I began to explore the property myself until the producer came running , “Where are you going? Let me protect you. There are rattle snakes”  Oh terrific. rattlers. Was she a snake whisperer? No. I stopped venturing and went into the house.  Also a dump. Musty, hot, old with a spectacular view of canyon and ocean and sky.  Shortly there after the crew started arriving. First was Stevland Wilson, video producer with whom i’ve worked with for a few years.  We had a tremendous hug.  “That was crazy!” I commiserated with him as his video crew pulled up.  I just shook my head, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.  This is not good.”
Shortly there after the caterer arrived in a little truck.   “Do you think i’ll be able to get back down” he asked me with fear in his eyes. “I don’t know” I said. “But you can’t leave yet because everyone is on their way and as you saw that road only fits one car going one way. Are you okay to sit tight for a bit?” He was and did.  He and the prop stylist stood with their cars at the top of the driveway by a big iron gate.  Then suddenly I see a woman with big sunglasses walking down the steep dirt road towards them. The guys were already walking briskly towards her. She was crying. Just then the hired producer look at me and asked, “How are you doing?”  I gave a sharp glance, “Not good” and i darted towards them.  “Jaymee?” I ran faster.  It was Tyson’s rep. She was absolutely hysterical crying. “I AM NOT HAPPY. I am NOT happy!” I tried to console her with my own experience which she couldn’t even hear. She was completely traumatized. Her car was no where in sight.  “No! He is not coming here! I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t have any cell reception. I couldn’t turn around. I am not having him come here. Call the driver now and tell him not to come!” I looked at the hired producer and asked her to bring Jaymee inside and calm her. I told the assistant to call the driver and tell him not to come although I knew he was probably close by and without cell reception.  At this point Jaymee didn’t know I was Nancy and didn’t care. She blew right past me towards the house with the producer. I watched them walk into the house. I watched the caterer and the prop stylist walk up the dusty dirt road in search of her car.  I stood by the gate and looked out onto the expansive universe and shook my head at it. I was being tested with a  shoot from Hell. After a few breaths and a some thought I gathered myself and went into the house to assess Jaymee’s status. She had calmed down quite a bit within those ten minutes. “I’m sorry. i didn’t know you were Nancy.”  I talked her through it. I shared my experience and apologized profusely explaining that I myself had no idea of what it took to get to the location. I looked at the producer who at this point was a good tag team. We soothed Jaymee and assured her that the assistant was trying to reach the driver. At this point I also wanted to cancel the shoot. The photo assistants were now feverishly scrubbing the wading pools and concrete structure with bleach. And the owner of the house was dumping the swapm water over teh side of the cliff. Did i mention it was a hundred degrees out there?  We all walked out to the front gate again and awaited Tyson. The video crew was set up waiting to capture him just as he arrived. Jaymee nixed that lickety split. “No. I don’t want any video on him when he arrives, He’s going to be really upset.”  Suddenly I see a large black SUV come barreling down the road. We all watched in anticipation. The driver was the first one out of the car. I immediately apologized to him..again profusely. he had no words, only a head shake.  then Tyson emerged from the back. he was pale as could be and his legs were wobbly. I looked up at him, introduced myself and apologized with all my heart. He took a few deep breaths and said he needed to lean against the wall. He was a wreck. His wife was sitting in the back seat with her legs now hanging out of the open door. Her head was in her hands.  I shared my experience with him as  did Jaymee and we all listened to him share his. “Im afraid of heights. I thought we were going to go over the side of the cliff. I had an escape plan to just grab my wife and jump out the other door.” His knees were still weak. We all took some deep breaths and i felt the mood lightening just a bit. After about ten minutes i looked at Tyson, “Well we have two options. We can reschedule or we can shoot.”  Tyson thought for a few seconds, “Well we’re here. We might as well shoot.” Big sigh. “Okay, let’s do it.” I said. “Let’s get you into the house, get you groomed, get you some water, get you relaxed.” As we walked toward the house I warned him that it wasn’t a lavish property. “But it’s amazing out back. where we are setting up.” Although I wasn’t sure if it was cleaned up yet. I was afraid to go look.
Upon entering the house which was a round structure, half wooden, half glass Tyson expressed, “Even this is freaking me out”. It was his fear of heights. And we were high. I did find it odd however that someone 7’1″ could be afraid of heights. He must be afraid every time he’s upright. He’s very tall. I then ran out back to see the progress. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a complete turn around. The guys did it. Peter was testing the shots and everything was looking great. It was a miracle.
I sprinted back up to the house where Tyson was being groomed. I introduced myself to his wife and we again all swapped stories. Jaymee, Tyson, his wife and I. Tyson then told us he thought he was being “Punk’d.”  “Me too” I said, “But by the universe.”  I then shared my story of how I was telling Peter and Eric of my tremendous gratitude for such a kind universe. And how all the shoots up to this point had been extraordinary.  They listened and laughed and the energy was slowly but surely shifting. I then explained the shots we would take out back. I knew they would be gorgeous. Tyson listened and liked what he heard, “I love your passion. This too will be a great shoot.” he said. I then put my hands together and bowed to him. I let out a very deep breath, “Ahhh, thank you.”  I then ran out back again and asked Peter how much longer before he’s ready.  “I’m ready.”
Ten minutes later we were all out back. Jaymee was smiling and laughing. The producer and I shared a couple smiles (albeit hesitant ones on my part). His wife, who started to venture, caught my attention quickly. “Best stay here. There are rattle snakes” i warned.  And the next thing you know the shoot was on and poppin’.  Video was getting good footage. Peter was getting gorgeous images. Tyson was beautiful, brave and patient as annoying flies buzzed on and around him.  Stevland and  I looked at each, shook our heads smiling and let out a mutual sigh of relief.
During the shoot however I had discussed with his wife that the home owner or the camera man who is a military man could drive them back to the main road. She found comfort in that as did Jaymee. I myself had no intention of driving or being driven back to the main road. After almost an hour of shooting it was a wrap. We all clapped and had a cautious laugh. The treck back still loomed.
Tyson, his wife and Jaymee all piled in her small rental car and it was driven by the homeowner who had lived there all thirty four years of his life.  I walked to the top of the driveway to see them all off with gratitude and well wishes. I thanked everyone in the crew for a tough day and watched and waved goodbye to everyone as they got in their car and journeyed back. Brenda, the groomer, John the prop stylist, Joe the camera man, ___the sound guy. “Be safe.”  I ran back to where Peter and his first assistant Eric were uploading all the images. I thanked them profusely and gave Peter a big heartfelt hug. “Thank you so much Peter.” he was nothing but calm and positive the whole day. And his images, nothing short of brilliant.  “How much longer before you guys are ready?”  “Ten minutes” he said.  “Great. I’m going to start walking.” Peter smiled.  I then said goodbye to the producer and her assistant who were wrapping things up on their end. I was thankful for all their help. Although it was my ass on the line, we were all in it together. And we all pulled together to execute what seemed like an impossibly doomed day.
I grabbed a bottle of water, shed my shirt again and walked to the top of the driveway looking at the two mile road ahead of me. Just before i took my first step, a huge black snake slithered right in front of me. I panicked for a hot second with the thought that I should drive back. But after that sucker slithered into the grass i sprinted full speed up that road until l couldn’t run another step. I stopped to catch my breath, drink some water and take in all the beauty around me. Until I heard “THHHLLLLLLLKKKKK”…A rattler in the bushes beside me. I found my strength, my breath and my legs and ran the rest of the way back to the main road.
THE END…until next year!