Saturday, May 2, 2015

Chris Helcermanas-Benge: A Conversation

Chris Helcermanas-Benge is a photographer who worked on MacGyver for most of Season 1 and then for several more episodes throughout the rest of the series.   A look at his IMDB page reveals some traits that make him sound like he could have filled in for MacGyver himself!  

He is a licensed pilot; a Padi certified diver, and parachutist, trained in desert, jungle, and mountain survival. He is an experienced sailor, a kayaker, and mountaineer; a garrulous book collector and bon vivant, lover of fine wines and avid cross-country skier.

It was a pleasure to learn more about the world of photography and to hear about his experience on the show, and I'm very thankful for his time in answering my questions.   

NS: How did you first get started on MacGyver?

had been a unit photographer for various ABC shows, and the studio’s photo editor offered me the job.

NS: What exactly did your job duties entail as the show's still photographer?

Photographs play a significant part in contributing to a film’s success and are the images you see in film reviews, PR and Advertising campaigns.  Today, in addition to magazines and newspapers, the internet and social media use our images more than ever

The unit stills photographer is a member of the camera department and works independently on set but is responsible to the studio or unit publicist for delivering several hundred photos for each full day of shooting. 

You need to work closely with the director and cinematographer to shoot without disrupting filming.  It helps to earn the trust and respect of  the shooting crew to have space to work as it is best to capture scene stills during the take.

You need to be invisible.  If you are in the Actor’s eyeline you can be distracting with your camera fiddling as they play to the main Film camera.

Time is a killer.  If you need to do a “set-up shot” between takes there is usually only a few minutes to achieve it.  Again you need the cooperation of the ADs, the crew and of course, the actor.

You must shoot with the available lighting (natural or artificial) as set by the DP & Gaffer. 

Unit Stills Photographers shoot every scene in detail using a piece of equipment called a Blimp (a silenced box), which contains the stills camera and prevents camera shutter noise from interfering with sound recording or distracting the actor .  

Back when we used film we delivered contact sheets for review. Now it is usually delivered and reviewed on computer.   

We work under a "Work for Hire" contract in which the employer owns the images, and the photographer does not have a say in the use, nor is permitted to sell or redistribute photos, except for a personal portfolio.

NS: What was your favorite thing about working on the show?

Easy - it was Richard Dean Anderson, he made the job a pleasure.  Accessible, cooperative, friendly and fun.  It was great over the years to become friends.

NS: Do you recall anything about this real-life near helicopter crash on "Deathlock?"

The pilot was an ace and knew exactly what was occurring and what to do about it.  As nothing serious happened we continued shooting.

NS: What made you come back periodically for some episodes in later seasons?

I returned to shoot whenever I was not away on a feature, because it was like family on that set.

NS:  Any favorite episodes, memories, or behind the scenes stories that you'd be willing to share?

CHB: Period pieces are a lot of fun.   Also the guests we had over the years were totally neat. Enjoyed Rick’s Halloween parties, and just hanging.  I never was an ice-skater, so did not play hockey with them, but did attend and photographed some of the games.  We used to race at a track outside of Vancouver until it closed.  Not certain the production company knew about that.

NS: Any projects that you're currently working on?

CHB: I am very lucky, I work constantly in Canada, the USA and abroad.  Love shooting in Bulgaria, Romania, Ireland, Morocco, Thailand, South Africa, Rome, etc.


  1. I'm really gonna have to study the closing credits the next time I watch the episodes as this is a name I never recall seeing. With that in mind my hat is off to you for reaching out to him. I'm kind of curious what other ABC shows he worked on before "MacGyver". ABC was the network my parents' TV got in best at our country place with a weak antenna, so it was also the network I watched the most of as a boy and would most likely include the ABC shows he worked on.

    It sounds like a fun and sometimes complicated job since he needed to be out of the sight of the actors when snapping shots. I wonder if there was ever a production delay/hassle as a consequence of any of his photo shoots "interfering". You gotta wonder how much a job like this paid. Did everything in Hollywood pay a good salary or were some people with a lower profile in the production earn today's equivalent of $25,000 a year?

    It sounds like he's another crew member who really enjoyed working on the set, which seems to be a predominant but not unanimous takeaway from your interviews. Also kind of amusing that RDA hosted Halloween parties. Who on Earth has time for Halloween parties when you're working 17 hours a day?!?!

    1. His credit page is pretty extensive. Knightwatch is at least one ABC show he worked on.

      His description of trying not to distract the actors reminded me of that infamous and classic Christian Bale rant from a few years ago. "Oh Good for you!"

      I like his description of the Blimp and it makes sense that there would be some kind of quiet camera. One of the characters in my next review could have used that!

      I'll bet they got more than the 25K equivalent, though it probably was a more short term contract rather than annual salary. And I liked the Halloween party anecdote too - makes you realize there's still so much that we don't know about the behind the scenes stuff. RDA sounds like he just had boundless energy.