We recently had a chat with North County Editor of San Diego Magazine Ann Wycoff about her experience on set with Bil Zelman.
It was two years ago and you were producing a shoot for the local magazine you were editor of at the time. You were on a private yacht with five young, buck male models and a photographer named Bil Zelman. Tell us about meeting Bil for the first time.
AW: The first indelible image I have of Bil is of him popping up from the yacht’s galley with a bottle of tequila and a smile on his face. We were shooting male models at play and he had a plan for relaxing the talent. I immediately liked him for his disheveled long hair, friendly eyes and rogue style. I had recently moved to San Diego after a long stint in LA producing shoots for Conde Nast and other publications, and hadn’t quiet transitioned into the mind space of saccharine San Diego. Bil exuded LA and global citizenship, but had actually chosen to live here. And for the first time in a year, I sighed a little sigh of relief about my decision to move south.
And while I passed on taking a Reposada shot (it was 11am), as I had to play Editor in Chief, it was fun to watch him shoot and cleverly get the guys to perform what he wanted without them really even being aware of it.
What did you notice Bil’s methods were for relaxing the talent, or was it just the tequila?
AW: It was his way of making others feel comfortable. He’s very self-effacing and funny so he makes others relax. Bil has a magnetic energy and even though he’s a pro, he feels more like a friend. His distaste for posey, stiff portraits is apparent, evident in the manner in which he talks to the model. He interacts—creates a rapport and is incredibly fun to work with on set. He’s down to earth with a quick wit. He likes people and gets them into this flow of creativity with humor and spot on direction.
You recently wrote a piece profiling Bil for San Diego Magazine. In it you talk about his early days when he would dress up and pose as a caterer to sneak into prestigious events to take pictures. Knowing him now, I imagine this didn’t surprise you.
AW: Bil possesses a ballsiness, but it stems from a deep commitment to his work. On the surface he’s hilarious and a madman–of course he’d don a caterer’s outfit to crash a party for the sake of art. That same energy and risk-taking character exists today. I think being an artist often means extremes—highs and lows, fear and elation. You are constantly walking along the razor’s edge and it infiltrates daily life. This is true for Bil. He is passionate and extreme in myriad aspects of his life. If there isn’t a little risk or fear involved, one can become complacent. Bil knows this. So his drive is deep and strong, fueled by a little crazy genius.
How does that ‘crazy genius’ quality translate to the images he makes?
AW: The crazy genius comes out in their depth and emotion. The layered stories ignite curiosity and a response from the viewer. They leave you wanting to know more about the subject, thus compelling
After the yacht shoot you say hiring Bil for a Tony Hawk cover shoot was a no brainer—How did it turn out?
AW: Celebrity shoots can have their challenges and having produced hundreds in LA, I knew Bil was the right guy. He has extensive experience working with A-listers and knows the deal. Shooting a cover has its constraints and while Bil did a great job, I could tell he’d rather have been lying on his back shooting Hawk doing 940s in the air for a more artistic skateboarding spread. Close ups and 3/4 shots have their limitations. Celebrities love Bil for his wit and professionalism; Hawk was no exception.
Can you leave us with three more words to describe Bil?
AW: Magnetic, astute, radical.
Ann Wycoff is a writer, editor, and producer. She’s contributed to over 25 different publications, written and produced screenplays, and authored four books. Over the years, she’s written for Shape, Fitness, Outside, Redbook, Spa, Snow, Golf for Women, Caribbean Travel + Life, Fit Pregnancy, Modern Bride, VIV, EATING, Men’s Fitness, Luxury Living, Mademoiselle, and many more.
Interview by Amanda Gorence, a contributing editor for Feature Shoot as well as an independent curator and producer.