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JohnGanun_interview
Dec 18, 2013

Phlearn Interviews John Ganun

Scenario Photography is a company built from the ground up by the amazing photographer, John Ganun.
He started off his career as an actor, and was in the theatre industry for 20 years. At the beginning of his career as an actor he would do acting gigs, and shoot actors head shots on the side to make a living, he had a good 10 years or so of that until he was in his 30s and decided to just do acting.

After about 10 years or so of just acting, John was in his 40s and felt as if he wasn’t going anywhere with acting. So, he decided to go back to photography. He knew that he wanted to shoot people, but he didn’t want to shoot just people. He wanted to shoot people at a party, with amazing sets, lights, props, etc. So, then Scenario Photography was born.

Scenario Photography is a company based on the idea of the Photo Booth. You know, a little photo booth for weddings, with prop boxes, costumes, etc… However, although Scenario is based on the idea of a photo booth, it is nothing close to one. It is much more extravagant, elegant, and amazing. This is not a photo booth, this is a photo shoot. John makes the guests at your event feel like superstars and can shoot pretty well everybody. These photo booths can be standard, or can be customized and catered to your particular event.

Here’s some words from John himself –
I started producing photo shoots at events in Los Angeles in 2008. My shoots quickly became popular with the Hollywood crowd (Katy Perry, Drew Barrymoore, Maroon 5) and some of the nations best event planners, so I created my company Scenario Photography.
Unlike standard photo booths, at Scenario, we employ pro photography teams who treat your guests like supermodels and turn out photos to prove it. We custom build every set, design matching prop pieces and produce a commercial grade photo shoot inside your event. Our innovative shoots not only provide stunning photos that last long after the party is over, but they also serve as entertainment, decor, and wow factor unmatched in the industry.

So join us on this fantastic interview with John Ganun of Scenario Photography. I met John personally over this past weekend in Calgary, Canada, and I had the opportunity to work with and then interview John one on one. He tells us exactly how he got to this point of his career, he shares with us his favourite Photo booth Photo shoots, and he shares with us his plans for the future with Scenario Photography. Enjoy!!!

SCENARIO by John Ganun from John Ganun on Vimeo.

How did you become interested in photography? How did it all start?

I got a camera when I was 16, and I was always kind of an artsy kid, and I did really well with it right away and I played for it for about a year. And then I went off to college I got interested in theatre, and I didn’t do anything with photography for quite a while.

And then I was in my 30’s and I was in Los Angelos, and I was an actor, and I needed to make a living on the side, so I started a headshot photography business. It took me a little while, but then I got really good at it. So for about 10 years, from the time I was 30-40 I was an actor and I was doing head shots on the side. It was just portraits, head shots taken with just natural light.

And then at 40, I’m like okay, I’m not acting anymore, it’s not getting me anywhere. So I’m like, let’s go back to photography. And if I’m going to be a photographer, I don’t want to do just head shots. I asked some friends how do you work these strobe lights? So I started doing photo shoots. Basically whatever I could dream up to do. And then I suddenly became released. I was like, Wow, I can do anything! Anything that comes to mind. If I can get the people to do it and find a cool location I can do it. And my career started to progress kind of quickly for me.

A big part of it though, was when I would put these shoots together as I’m the creative type, I would say this is so much fun. Everyone should be able to enjoy a photo shoot, like a creative photo shoot with good lighting and something fun going on!

And that’s when I decided that I wanted to do this. I want to do these at a party! Where everyone’s there and everyone takes turns shooting.

And the thing is – I didn’t reinvent the Photo Booth. The photo booth has been around since the beginning of photography, but like I kinda came onto the photo booth idea in my own way, and in my own style. It just started taking off. I mean, it’s been hard getting people to pay because it’s quite a big production now, and it’s kind of taken over my whole photography career. And it’s only been 5 years.

How would you consider the differences of the very first Photo Booth you ever did to the photo booths you design and create now?

Well, I’m pretty lucky. Like if you look at the first couple ones I did, they’re just as good as the ones I do now. The style was immediate. I immediately had this style where people just recognized my work!

I mean, they’re out there on Facebook and on social media all over the place and people just recognize it right away! Part of it is you know, my style, and part of it is when I process photos I mess around with the levels and I always like really bump up the blacks and makes the blacks super black and makes the colours super vibrant. And it’s just what I like to see. So if you look at the first few shoots it’s all there, it’s all right there. And of course I know bigger things now, and grander things, but the style has just been there from the start.

As much as I’ve worked at it, I’m very lucky. Like, it just happened. I didn’t need to find a style.

Over this past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to work with John here in Calgary, Canada, on a few photo shoots. The photo shoots I’ve worked on have been amazing, and the photos came out absolutely incredible (the crowd goes wild for them!!). The shoots I’ve worked on with you have been the ‘standard set’.
However, you have quite the expansive portfolio to show, with all kinds of variety in the kinds of shoots and sets that you create and design.
So I was wondering if you could tell us about the differences of a standard set and a more expansive one?

The bigger the set the bigger the cost. But also it’s a matter of logistics.

So the shoots that we’ve been working on is called a “standard set”. So it’s just like a backdrop, a sofa, and a specialty floor. And that can be styled with any colour, any type of sofa, but it’s very standard. I mean, at least about 60% of the shoots that I do are that standard set. That’s usually if it’s a new client, or especially so when it’s out of LA or New York. You know, these bigger sets that I build – how am I going to get that to Calgary?

For example, now this is my second year doing shoots in Calgary and now I have relationships with the production houses here, and relationships with clients that like my work. So then next year, because it’s been going so well up here, I can say – hey listen, let’s do the upside down set! It’s really expensive and it’s huge and you know, it’s just the best thing I’ve ever done. So if I could find somebody here to build it for me they can build it off of my diagrams, and my styling, and then I’ll come here with my team and I’ll light it and shoot it. So it’s a little bit of a matter of logistics in terms of what I can do where.

When you first started your company Scenario Photography where did you base your business and did you start with in the beginning?

Well, I first started when I was in Los Angelos, and the first couple shoots I just had one assistant.

So I was just scrambling around doing it, and I remember as I was building and growing, I started to say – you know the first one I did I got $600 for, which you know I didn’t make any money on. So in order to do it right I needed more assistants, I needed digital text, and then I added a print station, more hosts, so the crew just got bigger and bigger and the prices got higher and higher.

And that’s when it got really hard because people will say “I want that!” and I’m like well, I’m not going to do this all by myself, and I’m not gonna go broke making a set for you, so I’m going to have to charge you more. So that’s been the trouble the entire time. Because you know, I’m not in the “pro photography” world with this company, I’m in the events world. So the “Photo Booth business”, I’m at least 2 to 3 times, if not much more the cost of an average Photo Booth. So it’s this uphill battle, like listen now – this is what’s going to impress your guests, everyone wants to think of a fun new way to impress their guests, and this is it. There’s no better way in my book.

And then I got my my star client, Patron Tequila. And they started sending me all around the country. In New York, Miami, San Diego, Las Vegas, Aspen, Chicago, Boston, I mean, I could go on and on. So I had to start flying to these different cities, and finding crews there. I would ship backdrops out, and rent sofas here and there, and then it started to really expand and I started developing relationships with all these crew in all these different cities. So now it’s gotten a the point where I have a whole team in New York and I rarely go to New York anymore because they can do it without me. It makes it affordable for the clients as they don’t have to fly me out!

As of right now, how many states do you have crews in where you can book a Scenario Photo booth?

I have crews in Miami, New York, Dallas, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Boston.

On these shoots that I’ve worked with you on over the past weekend in Calgary, Canada, you had photographers flown in from LA, New York and Chicago. In this particular event we had two separate photo booths that were available (and the line was pretty well almost always to the back of the room). Can you tell me about your decision to fly people in from the United states?

Well, when I have a huge job, with multiple shoots, I tell the client you know, I’m gonna have to fly some people in.

But like what I’m doing in Calgary is I’m always trying to hire locals, for now as hosts and/or assistants, to check them out, and try and develop their talents. But you know, I need skilled people on my set. It’s all about learning my workflow and learning how I do things that I develop. So I couldn’t just hire a bunch of random people, and say hey, let’s put this together and call it a Photo Booth. I have a certain way, as you can tell, I have a certain way that I want everything to be done – I’m a bit of a nazi about it. But you know it all has come from over 5 years of experiences. You know, this is the product.

Out of all of the photo booths that you’ve created over the past 5 years, do you have a favourite?

Oh don’t make me pick a favourite. But I have some big highlights.

It was a party for 300 people, and you know it was a $1000 per person party. It was a huge budget.

For the party it was a Marie Antoinette themed party. So I did this huge French parlour with a big chandelier, and everyone at the party was required to come in authentic Marie Antoinette era costumes. Not just costumes you get online, they had to be fitted and everything. So it was like the grandest most opulent thing I’ve ever done.

The funnest one that my crew and I loved the most, was there was this very reputable couple in Bel Air, and they were really quite normal people but their theme that year for their New Year’s Eve party was “Let’s Be Naughty” – they weren’t “naughty type” people. So I said, well if you wanna be naughty, let me do this crazy little pornography movie set.. So I fashioned this like hot pink 1970s era motel room, and then I had the boom mic, and the clapper thing that you know starts and stops the takes, and I had sex toys in the night stand, and it was partly because of the styling and party because of the audacity of it. You know cause we’re not – we don’t do porn, and the client wasn’t into porn, but you know it’s all play. And actually that’s a huge part of my business, it’s all play, it’s all fantasy. You know I’ve done a set where you act like your a baseball player, I do sets where you act like you’re a rockstar, I try to choose sets where it’s almost everybody’s fantasy to enjoy.

With your last answer in mind, when you first started photography and you were shooting actors, before Scenario Photography and photo booths came to be, did your personal work ever have an element of fantasy and/or play to it?

Not really.
I created this unique business for myself where I am just as much a set designer as I am a photographer. The fantasy comes in with the set design.
I’m very, I’m brave with colour. I love extreme saturated colour. I would love to be compared to David LaChapelle, I mean I am much tamer than him but I like to think that we have the same amount of braveness, well maybe he’s a bit more brave than me but I have no fear about doing something rash. I have my guys in LA who help me put things together, and as we’re putting the elements together, even after all of these years they look at me and say – you can’t do this, this isn’t going to work, this is crazy!
Then you put everything together and it all works. I guess that’s the artist in me. I’m very confident about it. And you know, not everything I do is perfect, but everything is definitely me, it’s definitely my style, and I have no fear about doing it.

How did your experience in shooting portraiture lead you into your career with the creation of scenario photography>

I mean I got realllllly good. I mean I think it’s great training for any photographer to do head shots. You’re kind of bound up in a little box of what a head shot can be, and it’s usually a head and shoulders shot, and you can’t do too charactery, you can’t do too costumey, you can’t make the background that interesting as it takes away from the subject unless it’s a certain kind of shot, but in general a good headshot is all about that person. So I got really good at shooting everybody, and it was a really great training ground for me and it lead me into Scenario because when I’m shooting on my sets I can shoot anybody. Again, I’m not perfect but I can shoot people who don’t like me, I can shoot people who I don’t like, I have no fear about it because I’ve done it so much and I understand it. Because you know what, it’s just about how can I take the best picture of this person right now, and I don’t have anymore time than right now so what are ya gonna do?

When working with you I noticed that you’re very into getting your assistants on set to help shoot and direct the subjects. You’re very into getting people involved and experiencing that way of shooting. Do you just do this because you love the photography industry and want to see photographers in there doing what they do best? Is there another reason for this?

Yes, partly.
I want everyone to enjoy working with me, and I demand a lot from everybody. You know why I started this is obviously I want to make a living out of this, but the whole point is to have fun, this is a fun way to live your life. Like, be part of a photoshoot. Especially for the guests, and even for the assistants. You know you don’t have to stand at one job the whole time, let’s shake it up and have some fun.
But, the other reason is very self-serving, as I’m constantly trying to develop more crew. I think to myself, who can shoot for me, who’s responsible, who takes initiative? I’m constantly looking for more crew. So I give them a chance to see if they can fly.

You’ve been creating photo booths and sets with your company Scenario Photography for over 5 years now.

Where would you like to see yourself and your company go within the next 5-10 years?

Well, first off I want to go to Europe. I’ve done these sets in many, many cities throughout the United States and now I do Calgary, so I am officially international. But I want to do Sydney, and I want to do Paris, but that’s a whole other ball game.

I would also like to get my business to a place where I am a little more of the creative director, because right now I’m a little worn out because I’m very much a producer producing these shoots. Like I do entire shoots where I don’t even touch the camera. I’ve got great assistants, but it’s so much about the production of it, and the design work that I’m not exploring the personal photography side. So I want to get the business up to the next level, so that I can sit back a little from that business and start going back to my personal projects, back to getting some print work every once and a while, I mean I still do a little bit here and there but not enough. That’s a side of my career that I just want to keep working at.

Now that you’ve taken a “break” from your personal work for almost 5 years, and let’s just say you do get to the point where you can step back from Scenario Photography to work on your own stuff, where would you start? Would you continue to do portraiture?

I will always shoot people. So that could be fashion, that could be print, it could be whatever, but it’s always going to be people. I would like to go back and dabble in fashion a little bit, but I don’t have a whole lot of confidence about making a great living in the fashion industry, as the whole world is turned upside-down, but I’ve always been attracted to it.

Partly the route that I’ve taken was that I created my own niche. After spending all of those years being an actor and trying to fit into different niches, I’m like, I don’t want to climb the ladder and start from the bottom of the ladder in the fashion photography industry or in any industry, so I created my own industry, I created my own niche. But with that said, I’m like, well now that maybe I can relax a bit, I got a good business cooking, like yeah let’s do some fashion. I think what I would love to be is, the love child of Annie Lebovitz and David LaChapelle. And do Annie Lebovitz portraits, with a little bit of crazy David LaChapelle thrown in.

You know, I was never a student of photography, and I never have studied it, and the average photographer or even the average photographer’s assistant could tell you more about the photography business or the great photographers out there than I could. But, with that said I’ve always had my eye on Annie Lebovitz. That’s what I want to do, but in my way.

What inspires you?

What inspires me… Well I do get inspired by other work, and I do get very inspired by art direction and cinematography of movies. I’m very inspired by Moulin Rouge, I mean there’s been others since then, but that movie knocked me off of my feet. I saw Moulin Rouge before I started Scenario, and that was a big inspiration to Scenario – it was like what the world could look like. The great thing with Moulin Rouge and what I try and do with Scenario is I’m not expecting you to live in this world, as it’s a temporary world that I am creating and you can put in a picture and you can put it on the wall, but I’m not expecting you to live in that pink motel room, it’s just a place for you to take a visit every once and a while.

What else inspires me… I’m always into music, although I don’t know how that translates into visual arts but I love art and graphic design. I mean, I’m an artist.

Can you tell us about your favourite personal project that you’ve worked on titled, “The OT Project”? (Website Title: Lo And Behold)

The OT Project is a project I’ve started that I haven’t done anything with in about two years. It’s a personal project that I really need to start doing again.

It’s based on the Old Testament. I’m in love with the project. I think it’s the smartest, coolest, best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

[nggallery id=371]

How did the OT Project start, how did it come to be?

Well I was doing physique photography, you know real muscular guys, and I was good at it and right away I got bored. I’m like okay, here’s a guy with a great body and I lit him great, and that’s great. But there just wasn’t any meaning to it and I just couldn’t see myself going on and on but the next step, was how can I give this some meaning? So I started thinking of Samson and Delilah, and David and Goliath, like these great physiques from the Old Testament. I’m like, well let me use that as inspiration.

That opened up a whole other can of worms, cause I started to read the Old Testament, and not from a religious point of view, but I was looking for photo ops. And I’ve always been quite interested in religion, and world religions and how it relates, you know you could talk about that forever. But I’ve developed now this whole premise for this project. Most people don’t know what’s in the Old Testament. Most Christians don’t know what’s in that book but they argue about it, and most Atheists don’t know what’s in that book but they argue about it, and you know, I’m ready for my NPR interview when I finally get this gallery together because I have very strong feelings that people are arguing for no good reason at all. So that said, there’s a lot in the Old Testament that no one knows about, and I don’t want to put any spin on it, but I want to show with my own artistic way the characters and stories in the Old Testament. Some of them are popular, some of them are not so popular, and it’s the best idea I’ve ever had.

I’ve done 3 shoots. I’ve done Jacob resting the Angel, and I’ve done Samson and Delilah, and David’s angel. Right now the shots I’ve done so far feature male physique, but the rest of the series will not. I mean there will be some humorous ones, there will be some old people, there will be some beautiful woman, some average people, it’s all of these great stories from one Testament.

To follow up that last question, in the end do you hope to have quite a large series?

I want to do at least 25, and I want to do a gallery showing – which I’ve never done, and I want to do a coffee table book.

I feel very strongly about it, and you’d think if I feel that strongly about it I would do something about it but I haven’t touched it in 2 years. But you know, I’ve created this business, and someone’s gotta run the shop.

I’m not going to make you list off all of your gear, but do you have a favourite piece of equipment? Besides your camera of course! What’s something you need to have on every shoot and you just can’t live without?

Well, my clicker! You can do it with Pocket Wizards or you can do it with something from Calumet.
So basically you put the receiver on your camera, and then you make sure you get the right cord, and I don’t want to get too tech geeky and I don’t want people to get mad at me for messing it up, but basically what you’re doing is your making it so you have the clicker in your hand. You can stand anywhere, which is great, and I mean I can’t shoot without it.

The last question I have for you is, what advice do you have to offer people who want to get into the photography industry?

I have very strong advice. You need to go shoot for yourself. I give that advice to anyone just starting out, and I give that advice to people who are spinning their wheels after years of doing it. You have to shoot for yourself. From my point of view it is the only way for you to find out what you really like to do, and when you find something you really like to do you can build a career off of that. The chances of you building a career off of something that you’re not that excited about is very slim. You have to figure out what you like, and what you like to shoot.

To keep up with Scenario Photography, John Ganun and his work you can do so on his Website and Facebook Page.

Interviewed By: Angela Butler, thanks for reading!

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