Set pieces: Behind the scenes in Hollywood

What do Hollywood's finest get up to before the cameras roll? Set photographer Murray Close shares his secrets with Melanie Abrams
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The Independent Culture

His first film was The Shining and his 60th film is about to start. It is the big screen adaptation of the book, Gulliver's Travels, starring Jack Black and Emily Blunt.

Among the blockbusting Hollywood movies on Close's resumé sits one of Britain's best-loved cult classics – Withnail & I. His candid stills from this film are showing for the first time at Proud Camden from 1 April to 7 June 2009. Some images have never been seen before, including the cast and crew in awe of Ringo Starr when he visited the set.

According to Close, there was strong camaraderie on Withnail. "We were all about the same age, so we were keen to do whatever we had to do and work as hard as possible," he recalls. His experiences as well as images reveal an intimate insight into what happens on a movie set.

The director sets the vibe, says Close, who has worked with many, including Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Close's favourite film, and Clint Eastwood on White Hunter Black Heart, The Rookie and others.

"There is a wonderful atmosphere on Steven's set as his energy and enthusiasm is infectious. Some directors direct from the TV monitor but he'll walk on set with the cameras and interacts with everyone fantastically," he says.

Eastwood's approach is different. "He is a very commanding figure. When he walks into the room, you know he's there and he doesn't need to shout. No one raises their voice on his set as he hates noise and talks quietly. He'll say 'come ahead' instead of 'action' and after a take, he'll say 'stop', rather than 'cut'," says Close.

It is important for Close to gain the trust of everyone on set, particularly the actors. "Some actors, like Pacino, don't want to be taken out of their moment so I can't do anything stupid, like change a lens in the middle, which distracts them. I have to be well prepared, know exactly when they're going to move and have rehearsed with the camera crew," he says.

To get his shots during filming, such as, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett on the set of Babel, over the shoulder of the cameraman, Close has to blend into the background. "You are a fly on the wall. You have to be there long enough that people forget that you are there. You have to second guess what is going on and to be there for 20 takes to get the moment that will be the shot." he says. Action shots take careful planning, such as, the shot of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible jumping through a window with water exploding behind him. "We had to break the scene down to find out exactly what was going to happen. The stunt man did it once and then Tom did it in one take, and I captured the image," explains Close.

He enjoyed working with Cruise: "Tom is fantastically energetic and physically fit. His work ethic is amazing and he is very personable. He knows everyone's name and is a good person to have around," says Cole,

One of his favourite actors to work with is Brad Pitt, whom he shot for Troy and Babel, Close says: "The man is God. The most unassuming and polite person, I've met. Talk about a team player. He puts everything he has into it."

But even Close has surreal moments. "Working with Sean Connery on Indiana Jones was amazing. When I stood next to him and heard his voice, all I could think of is that I'm really lucky as he is a cinema icon."

Photo shoots with the stars have to fit into the production schedule, so many take place late at night after the day's filming or at the weekend, which he prefers as he has more control. "Otherwise we are the victim of what production is doing," he says.

Working with children can add extra time pressure. "With the young cast of Harry Potter on Prisoner of Azkaban, getting time with them was difficult as their schedule was already tightly carved for scanning the visual effects, school and time on set," says Close.

Some actors such as Pacino and Keanu Reeves do not like posing for shoots, says Close. He says: "It is a different experience for them because they don't know who to be; they have no lines and they don't have the motivation. So they find the experience uncomfortable so you've got to catch them in full flow."

Close describes his experience with Pacino on Revolution: "Al was in the middle of his method acting phase. It was like tracking down an animal," he says. Close sums up the movie set experience: "It's like a self-contained travelling circus or army with everything you need. We are a strange bunch of people all working together with a diverse range of skills including mechanics and cooks."

'Withnail & I': Photographs by Murray Close, Proud Camden, The Horse Hospital, The Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH, 1 April to 7 June 2009, 020 7482 3867,