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Capturing celebrities in an instant at Sundance

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Elijah Wood

When Elijah Wood entered the temporary portrait studio in the center of the Sundance Film Festival, photographer Larry Busacca knew he had only minutes to capture the actor’s personality.

“He has such powerful eyes,” said Busacca, chief entertainment photographer for Getty Images. “I knew before he walked in that I wanted to do at least one setup with him in dramatic lighting.”

According to Busacca his goal was to catch the light in Wood’s eyes by accentuating his profile. “I simply explained what I was after,” Busacca said. “He is such an experienced pro that he understood immediately.”

Fifteen frames later, Busacca created his portrait of Wood, who was at Sundance promoting his film, Celeste and Jesse Forever, and talking up the upcoming movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Busacca said in situations like this, when minutes are few, it’s less about establishing a rapport with your subject and more about developing a mutual professional respect very quickly. In this case, “that respect translated into a basic level of mutual trust that allowed us to create a simple, yet strong portrait in a moment.”

This is the norm at Sundance for Busacca, who has been coming to Park City for the last nine years. Sessions with Busacca are by appointment and they are scheduled by public relation folks and film producers between the talents’ interviews, screenings and meetings. Busacca says he is lucky if he has more than two minutes with any of the stars or filmmakers of a particular movie. “This is just the way it is and everyone involved knows what they are signing up for,” he said.

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Liv Tyler

According to Busacca, the Getty Images Portrait Studio is located at the T-Mobile Village in a section of a large tent erected for the festival near the Lift in the middle of Park City.  “The scene is often wild and frenetic but a fantastic flow of energy, personalities and characters coming and going at all hours,” he said.

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Ice-T and his wife Nicole 'Coco' Austin

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Actor Cillian Murphy, director & writer Rodrigo Cortes, and actress Sigourney Weaver.

“The challenge for any photographer in this situation is too make a connection with your subject in an instant while still managing an ocean of distractions that include entourage, publicists, sponsors and general staff who are all working in the tent at the same time while you are trying to create an image,” said Busacca. “Even though the studio is in a separate section of the tent it still is a very hectic environment.”

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Producer and director Peter Jackson

Throw in a snowstorm, like the one that occurred in the region this weekend, and the job becomes even more difficult.

“Many cast members didn't make their flights into Salt Lake City. Just going up and down Main Street was a bit dangerous,” he said. “Such is life during a film festival in ski country.”

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Performance artist Marina Abramović

Busacca started shooting celebrities in the 1980s when he began photographing musicians. “Rock Stars attract all kinds of people and often those people are celebrities,” he said. “One thing led to another and soon I was shooting both.”

He has shot many directors, actors, and actresses at Sundance and there is no way for him to say who has been the most entertaining. “So far there would be multi-level tie for first place,” he said. However, “I really had a great time with Marina Abramović who may not be a household name but she is one of greatest performance artists of all time.”

“She was involved and passionate about the shots. For the brief moments we had to shoot, she threw herself wholeheartedly into the session,” he said.

Busacca said there are many people he would still like to photograph but there is one particular subject high on his wish list. “At the moment, Clint Eastwood comes to mind. What a face and what a history,” he said.

 Sundance was started by Robert Redford in 1981, and this year’s festival runs Jan. 19 – 21.