The worst thing you could do is not give the studio a lot of options,” says unit photographer Frank Masi, whose stills have helped show off more than 70 films, from 1995’s “Gordy” to Disney’s upcoming “Jungle Cruise.” Masi has shot photos of stars Will Smith, Bruce Willis, Will Ferrell, Cameron Diaz, Dwayne Johnson and Hugh Jackman, to name just a few, over a 25-year career.
In a single day, Masi, 53, can snap and send upwards of 800 images. Not all still photographers share this methodology, but it has worked for him. On Jan. 18, the Society of Camera Operators will recognize his contributions to the industry with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Masi has galleries of memories from working on movies like “I, Tonya,” “The Hangover,” “Hancock,” “War of the Worlds,” “What Dreams May Come” and many others.
He recalls a day on “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007) when Willis fired a gun directly into the lens of the motion picture camera. Try as he might, Masi couldn’t capture the same composition. So he pulled Willis aside and, with the blessing of the show’s armorer, asked the actor to fire directly at him. “I lay down while Bruce unloaded his gun in my face [behind a piece of durable plexiglass Lexan],” says Masi, adding that his efforts resulted in a great shot.
It’s a level of trust that goes both ways. “Frank’s quality of work and set presence make him my go-to still photographer,” says Willis. “He innately understands how to balance remaining unobtrusive on a set and getting the shot. After meeting and working with Frank for the first time on ‘Armageddon,’ I had so much trust in him that I’ve asked for him on every film.” Willis even asked Masi to photograph his 2009 wedding.
For 2018’s sci-fi monster film “Rampage,” Warner Bros. asked Masi to shoot the promotional campaign as well. The studio wanted the shots to look natural. Between scenes, he pulled aside its star, Johnson — another frequent collaborator — for a few minutes at a time to capture the images. “We did it all with just exterior lighting, no assistants, and no hair and makeup close by like you would normally have in a studio,” Masi notes.
Johnson says that what separates Masi’s work from that of others in Hollywood is his ability to capture emotions and actions that occur in the middle of shooting a scene. “He has great anticipation for moments and a great eye for beautiful composition,” Johnson notes. “And most importantly, he’s a great dude with a big heart — and that matters most to me.”
For director Todd Phillips’ “The Hangover,” Masi was shooting on set when Phillips said he’d also like to include some images at the end of the film as part of the credits. The photos needed to look like the characters had taken them, and everything Masi had shot for the project was too clean. “I went out and got a small, simple, point-and-shoot camera with a bright flash,” he explains.
Phillips says that Masi has an uncanny ability to disappear when needed and yet to capture “the stunning frames he manages to capture. I remember the late nights [when] Frank and I would run around Las Vegas with the actors from ‘The Hangover,’ coming up with insane ideas and creating wild scenarios of what may have happened on that fateful night. Frank is a true professional, and he understands the code on a cellular level: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas — unless Frank Masi happens to be there with his camera!”