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Reps Journal

Sharing Authentic Stories; Kremer Johnson on Working with Real Healthcare and Pharma Patients

Kremer/Johnson’s main goal when working on a project is to get authentic reactions from the talent on set. Even in the most built out conceptual scenes, Neil and Cory want the subjects to be relatable and real. It’s part of the reason that they prefer working with real patients on pharma and healthcare projects. While they may have to direct them a little more, they are the only people who actually know what it’s like to go through the experience of the medicine, device, or to be in a hospital every day. 

The duo has photographed over 100 real patients over the past few years through their work with several Los Angeles area hospitals. No two patients are the same, creating the opportunity to tell an infinite number of stories, something that Kremer Johnson excels at. We wanted to learn more and spoke with Neil and Cory to learn more about their approach. 

Note: All subjects of these images are real patients and their families from the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital.

What is your favorite thing about working with real patients? 

Above all else, the stories. We feel incredibly honored to tell patient’s stories and it’s not something we take lightly or for granted. It’s exciting to hear how the device or treatment can impact their life and to hear that right from the community who it will impact is powerful. It also gives you some real perspective. We have worked with people who have conditions that run that gamut from barely-detectable early diagnoses to late-state terminal diseases. We’ve worked with infants up to a woman of 106 years. Illness and disease affects everyone, so it’s always a reminder to not take anything for granted.

What challenges arise when working with real patients?

It depends on the project, but it absolutely limits where the creative can go. We can’t have a terminally ill child walking on a tightrope. But of course we know all of this before the shoot even starts, so we do everything we can to make them comfortable when on set. While their personal situation may limit what they can do, it’s up to us to get the pure and genuine emotion that the client wants. It is a good exercise in our creativity in that way. In those situations, we embrace and lean into the reality of their situation and mold that into the creative through postures and facial expressions. Sometimes less is more.

How do you get those genuine emotions to come through? 

We simply treat them like regular human beings. We meet them where they are emotionally and we have empathy. Mostly, though, we're simply the same guys we always are: friendly, respectful and conversational. We draw from our own life experiences to create an environment on set that allows for authentic moments to happen for us to capture. This helps put everyone at ease & builds a quick rapport with the talent, all of which comes through in the photos.

You place a lot of weight in the casting process, how might this change on these projects?

The decisions we make in casting set the tone for the entire project. When we put the right people in front of the camera, our jobs as visual storytellers become so much easier.

Our hero patients should be utterly compelling in their own unique ways. We're relying on them to convey the feeling and emotion of the scenes, so we'll want patients who can emote through body language and expression alone. Their faces should say it all. Honest. Authentic. Optimistic.

What is the advantage of working with real patients?

We believe that they will tell the story most authentically. It certainly is more powerful to hear how a drug or medical device impacts the life of the person who will actually use it. While we don’t have as much say in the look of the talent, we believe as storytellers, that we’re putting out the realest version of the story.  

We want to create images and campaigns that inspire and resonate with the audience because it reflects their experiences. We want them to see themselves in the images, because in the end, this isn’t just about the final image, but about helping these people get through their current struggle. It’s powerful to be a part of that.