Are cameramen scared of Bob Dylan?
You might have gotten that impression watching Sunday night's Grammy Awards, where a multi-generational folk-song summit meeting involving Dylan seemed to send the show's cameramen heading for the hills.
While cameras were in the faces of most of the performers who graced the Staples Center stage during the show, one of the biggest legends on the bill was shot almost exclusively from far away and high above as he tore through "Maggie's Farm" with a pair of younger, folk-based groups.
Mumford and Sons, which kicked off the number, got lots of close-ups and lots of shots from below. Ditto for the Avett Brothers, who followed.
And then Dylan appeared, and the cameras fled. Sure, there were close-ups of the people to his left, and pans across the line of people to his right. But when it came time to show the man himself, suddenly everything was coming from a pair of stationary cameras: one slightly above Dylan and to his left, the other way above Dylan and to his left.
His big backing cast, more than a dozen strong, seemed to be having a ball ripping through the classic from 1965. As for Dylan himself … well, who could tell? Certainly not viewers.
And when Dylan appeared at the White House singing "The Times They Are A-Changin'" last February, something similar happened. The camera started at the back of the room, began to zoom forward … and then stopped dead, waited for a while, and then started backing up.
What gives? Is that a new clause in the 69-year-old singer's contract, that he can't be shot too close?
Not exactly. According to a member of the Grammys stage crew, it's "too strong" to say that the camerawork was the result of a contractual mandate. But Dylan's management, the crew member added, routinely makes a request that the singer not be shot "not too close and not from below."
Normally, he also doesn’t like moving cameras too close to him, whether they're hand-held steadicams or fixed cameras on jibs, though in this instance he indicated that he'd be okay with it. In general, said the staffer, the often-quixotic Dylan was "very easy and very nice" to work with.
And Dylan's requests are nothing compared to the ones Barbara Streisand's camp has been making for many years, and made again at the Grammys on Sunday. The motto of those who have to deal with Streisand has long been "right is wrong," meaning that cameras can never shoot her right profile nor come in from below.
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)