How did such a hot cover come together for 2010's final issue of Emmy?
This send-up of Botticelli's Renaissance era masterpiece The Birth of Venus, starring the leading ladies of popular TV Land series Hot in Cleveland, was devised by art director Rich Bleiweiss and photographed by Florian Schneider.
Castmates Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick thrilled Schneider and crew with their good humor and inventiveness throughout the Hollywood shoot. More than 500 years ago, Botticelli painted the goddess Venus emerging from the sea. Winged Zephyrs gently blow her to shore, where a beautiful Grace springs forward to cover her with a flowered mantle. Bleiweiss figured that, with its four characters, the tableau offered the perfect presentation for the actresses and their new show β which celebrates, in a very Renaissance way, the beauty and desirability of women of every age.
In mid-September, Bleiweiss sent a mock-up of his cover idea to Schneider, who was immediately on board. "I have been a fan of all four actresses for some time," he says, "and I loved Richard's idea of creating this image with them."
The next step was choosing a date for the shoot. When the ladies' busy schedules were compared, one date was open β but that was barely a week away. Living up once again to her reputation as a miracle worker, emmy's photography director, Rose Cefalu, pulled everything together, and by 8 a.m. on September 24, Schneider and his crew β digital tech Megan Webster and lighting assistants Glenn Chivens and Zac Hahn β were ready and waiting for the ladies in a historic loft on Santa Monica Boulevard. The actresses arrived at staggered times and proceeded into hair, makeup and wardrobe.
Schneider picks up the story: "During the shoot, I showed Richard's mock-up to the actresses and explained what we were trying to do. All of them were great to work with and very supportive of the concept β they gave me fantastic poses and expressions. I shot them one at a time, which required some directing on my part, as well as some imagination on their part, since they had to react to something or someone that wasn't there and was added during my digital postproduction process.
"Once I had all the single poses wrapped, I asked Wendie and Jane if they might be up for doing their part together, holding each other in a tight embrace (which I'd initially planned to achieve in post with two separate images). They agreed, and did it brilliantly. I knew beforehand that I wanted the final image to be somewhat ethereal, with lots of backlight and high key. I made sure to light the actresses accordingly."
For postproduction, Schneider returned to his home office, where he would work on the cover for several weeks. But before he could assemble the final image, he had to gather many background elements.
"I found the quiet waters and waving shorelines I needed in a desolate area of the Salton Sea. The background is a composite of about thirty single frames β various shoreline pieces and many pieces of skies and clouds, as well as a few branches with leaves that I found and shot in my own backyard. The last piece was a formation of ripples in the water directly underneath the seashell, which I got by throwing rocks into the water and capturing the ripples they created."
Digital magic aside, what was the vibe really like at the shoot?
"Betty White is truly every bit as sweet and lovely as one would expect," Schneider reports. "Wendie, Jane and Valerie were all fantastic as well β as sweet, fun and easygoing as one could ever hope for. It was an easy day and an effortless shoot."
For Botticelli, alas, it was not so easy. According to some historians, the birth of his Venus β which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence β took nine years.