Hiram Garcia didn’t necessarily set out to become a photographer. Just like he didn’t necessarily set out to become President of Production at one of the most high-profile production companies in Hollywood. But life works out in funny ways. Fascination gave way to hobby which gave way to full-on art form, and now Garcia has assembled some of his photography work into a book called The Rock Through the Lens: His Life, His Movies, and His World, which is now available to purchase. Inside you’ll find a wide range of shots from all throughout Dwayne Johnson’s career, thanks to the level of access that comes with Garcia’s position as President of Production at Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions, but also as one of Johnson’s closest friends.
As he explained it during our exclusive interview, Garcia first began getting serious about his photography while making the 2017 film Baywatch, capturing a shot of Johnson and co-star Alexandra Daddario in a “hero pose” that called to mind the work of comics artist Alex Ross. From there he started thinking more critically about his photography as a way to chronicle candid moments on set and help frame how their movies would be presented to the world.
But what’s most clear while thumbing through Garcia’s photography book is that it’s really a love letter to his friend and business partner Dwayne Johnson. Garcia captures many different facets of one of the most famous people on the planet – a father, a husband, a son, an actor, a businessman, a professional. It’s really a beautiful tribute that showcases both Johnson’s tireless work ethic and Garcia’s knack for telling a story with a single photograph.
Fans of Johnson’s films and career will find much to love in the book as well, including candid shots from the sets of Fate of the Furious, Jumanji, Hobbs and Shaw and Skyscraper. One of my favorites is a look at a very long beard Johnson wanted Hobbs to wear in Fate of the Furious, but the studio sadly nixed at the last minute.
I recently got the chance to speak with Garcia on the phone about his book, how he fell in love with photography and honed his craft, and his relationship with Johnson. And of course I couldn’t let him hang up before grilling him for information on Johnson’s upcoming DC movie Black Adam, Disney’s Jungle Cruise, the status of sequels to Hobbs and Shaw and Jumanji, and how they’re heading back into production on their Netflix movie Red Notice under new COVID protocols.
It’s a wide-ranging interview during which Garcia’s love for photography and for Johnson really shines through. Check it out in its entirety below.
And in support of the release of the book, Garcia has partnered with Omaze to offer to have an opportunity to have a photo taken with Dwayne Johnson by him, in addition to a signed copy of his book. Donations in support of this experience benefit The Actor’s Fund, serving all professionals in film, TV, theater, music, opera, radio and dance to address the unique and essential needs for those who work in performing arts. The Fund provides services such as emergency financial assistance, affordable housing resources, health care and insurance counseling, senior care and secondary career development.
I’ve seen the photography bubble up over these last few years, but were you always into photography growing up or is it something you found later on?
HIRAM GARCIA: You know, it’s funny, I’ve always liked photography and I always was a fan of it. And I remember throughout my years of — especially once things started to get digital — always wanting to pursue it a little bit more, but especially when I was coming up and as a production assistant, you’re not making much cash. I could never really afford a camera or a good camera. So, it was always something that I just had as a dream of things I’d want to learn how to do, like become a master in Kung Fu and perhaps photography as well (laughs).
I’ve always loved it, and then as I started to get further into the business, I was able to start exploring it a little bit more. And it’s funny I look back and I see my dabbles in it, and obviously you have no one teaching you, so I’m flying blind. I had no idea about lenses and so forth, but you’re just stumbling along. It was always just a love of mine. And I knew it was always something that when I had the opportunity, I knew I was going to want to pursue a little bit more. And I’m just happy I’ve got to a point where I’ve been able to do that now.
When did it occur to you that this hobby of yours was an art form, and there was a purpose to the shot composition and the light and how you’re framing things?
GARCIA: I think there was a point where I had an opportunity to start taking advantage of producing these movies. And I remember it was always a challenge for me to bring my initial set up, because the cameras were just so big. And you’re like, “Oh my God, they’re so precious, I don’t want to travel with them on planes and God forbid they get damaged.” Right before Baywatch, mirrorless technology was really evolving and really good cameras were getting small. And I remember saying to myself, “You know what I’m going to try and do? I’m going to buy a small camera that’s really powerful. And I’m just going to buy one lens, a prime. I’m going to have a small tape and I’m just going to keep it with me.”
Because I always remember people saying the best camera is the camera that lets you get the shots. I’m like, “As long as I have something with me, I just want to start shooting just for fun.” And Baywatch was actually the first project where I started shooting. I just had the camera with me just monitoring, enjoying the process. And the images were really getting a lot of great response, and we realized we can use this as our digital campaign for Baywatch. And it also really allows us as the filmmakers to help control the narrative of how we were wanting to paint the movie, where it was like big and fun. It allowed us to have a lot of flexibility there.
There was one shot in particular that I had put in the book, that was the one that really made me feel like the response we were getting was like, “Oh, maybe there’s a little something more here to this.” I took up DJ and Alex Daddario. It was like a really super heroic… I always equate it to, in our comic book terms, it was like my homage to like an Alex Ross. They were standing heroic, looking down a little bit. And that was the one in my mind. I was like, “You know what? I’m really producing this movie, but I really am enjoying this side bit of being able to create this art with photography and help control the narrative of how we want to promote the movie.”
From there I really started getting into it, because that was a crazy run of films. That went right into Fast and Furious 8 and then right into to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle all in a row. And that three run of movies really was a leaping off platform for how I was using my photography as a hobby, but also as a way to really help our projects and get the words out and promote the movie in fun ways while still being able to have a lot of creative control of what we were doing.
How did you go about selecting which photographs to put in the book? Because I’m sure you had a lot at your disposal.
GARCIA: I did, I had a lot and that’s where I had a great editor, Elizabeth Meyer, who was my partner through this whole thing and I’ve never done anything like this. Crazy enough I never really even printed pictures before, until I had done something like a year ago. So she was wonderful. I had tons of images, so what story do we want to tell? What’s the story here? What are images that felt new that we haven’t seen that had great stories to them? And she really helped guide me through. And then through that I also circled around with DJ and we all weighed in and looked at the pictures, which was also a really fun process.
Because again, we worked so much and I tend to just shoot so much. You don’t really get to go back that much and look at the photos. To actually take a moment and just look back and be like, “Oh my God, look at these memories, look at these moments.” And it was a really fun creative process, just a nice trip down memory lane to review these pictures with DJ and see the stuff we’ve done, where we’ve come from. It was really enjoyable.
Dwayne is one of the most famous human beings on the planet. And this book really feels like a love letter to him. I mean, it’s showing him as a father, as a husband, as an actor, as a wrestler, and these really intimate moments of him working and grinding nonstop. What’s that negotiation of access? I know you guys are super close, but does he ever say “Put the camera away,” or “Not right now,” or is it pretty open that he trusts you?
GARCIA: Look he’s the best. And he really is that guy that I think is the reason why people just are so drawn to him, because he’s so authentic and he’s just such a genuinely good natured person. And at the end of the day, he knows I have his back, he’s got my back. There’s nothing that we’re ever going to use that we don’t like. And it’s also just knowing each other. I’ve never had a situation where he’s had to be like, “Hey brother, not now,” because the truth is I would know this isn’t a good moment. I think that comes with the brotherhood and having worked together for so long. I mean, we’ve lived on the road for years. So there’s a really nice just understanding where we’ve never had to do anything like that, where I’ve had to be like, “Oh, not now.” And the great thing about me is that he’s always of the mindset of, actually you never know, just have the camera ready. You just never know. There may be something, there may be a moment here that we’re going to want to look back on and reflect on. And I always loved that opportunity. So it’s why I always try and keep something nearby and always something a little bit more than the phone. Just something that gives me the option, that if God willing, if there is a special moment, I want to be able to capture something at the quality and resolution that we need to have options if we want to do with it later
I want to go through a couple of images that really struck me in particular. The first of which is Dwayne in his trailer while filming Skyscraper at the “Get Shit Done Table.” It’s this really striking image because on the left, you have all this protein powder and stuff that’s obviously going to keep him looking massive and intimidating. And then there’s some calming stuff. And then all over the table is like all of this work that he’s doing in between filming. It just encapsulates him really well I think.
GARCIA: I love that you spotted all those details too, because I think that was one of the reasons why I wanted to capture that shot is the truth is when we’re on the road and we’re doing these projects, the trailer — especially for an actor — is their home. They’re spending the majority of their time in that trailer, and those brief moments between setups is not necessarily time where he’s like, “Oh, I’m just going to go and rest my eyes.” It’s getting all this other stuff done. So in that trailer is the slice of home. The pictures of his family, there’re motivational things. There’s the protein powder, there’s the food, there’re candles for relaxation.
It’s a whole mix and mash of just everything to keep him stabilized, and what you see on the table there are the to-do list of just things that need to be signed, reviewed, emailed, that his assistant would print out. Just come in and go through these things. So it was one of those moments where I came in when we usually go to our trailers to go set up in between scenes. I was in and we were talking about something and I was just sitting there. I’m like, “What a cool moment of him,” because he’s also all dirty. He’s in his makeup in here because we were filming scenes where like everything’s on fire and he’s covered in soot. Also, I think in that picture of him, he’s got a hoodie on or something that’s just covered up for the moment for walking in between. It’s just a nice snapshot of that chaos and how much more goes into, yes, he’s filming the movie, but he’s also running an enterprise, a brand, and expanding things, and being an entrepreneur, and a father and all that stuff going on. And that’s a little snippet that captures a glimpse of a moment that just really captures everything that he is.
And then you have this really emotionally striking image of him writing his father’s eulogy on the plane. And I believe that was also shared on social media, but I was wondering if you could talk about that moment. It’s really beautiful.
GARCIA: Thank you. And I’ve got to tell you that came out of nowhere. I remember we were shooting in Atlanta and I know him well and I could feel something was slightly off, but we had some stuff we had to get done and then he pulled me aside later and let me know, and it just came out of nowhere. Now look, you’re never truly prepared for anything like that, but this one really just really came out of nowhere. And I remember we did whatever we had to do to get things gathered up so we could go and celebrate his father’s life in Florida. And on that flight, it was really just us. And it’s funny, we fly to so many places we always have our spots we sit and I’m always in that seat. And as soon as you come into the right, he’s typically over that one to the left or in the back, those are the two we toggled between.
And I remember he was just trying to find the words that he wanted to say into this, because again, it was all so sudden, and it was just a moment there. I just had the camera on my lap because the one thing I did learn from him early on is I remember him sharing with me that for his culture and for Polynesians when someone passes, there’s not an aversion to photographs being taken because it really is a celebration of life. So in that moment I felt there was something, just because I knew he was really lost in the moment.
I just wanted to give him the options right here. “I caught this of you when you were doing this. There was something poignant about the way you were thinking about it and writing down,” and what I love is so much of what he was writing. I think, again, he delivered a beautiful speech, just talking about his father. It all just came from the heart. I think maybe writing had helped a little bit, but he never really had to use that. It was just something that just came from his heart. It was poignant, beautiful, and really honored Rocky so well. I was just happy I was able to capture that for him and he was really appreciative when I showed it to him.
Then there were a couple of Fate of the Furious photos that I really like. One is Dwayne standing on top of that vehicle, which is a really striking shot. And then the Hobbs beard you guys wanted for Fate of the Furious, which I’m so mad didn’t make it into the movie.
GARCIA: (Laughs) So the one on the top of the vehicle was also another one that I was mentioning that really made me feel like there’s something more in photography for me to pursue it. And that was another one that was getting a really good response. Again, that wasn’t posed, it was just candid. I was just able to capture it, line myself up where I saw light hitting him and grabbed something that I really loved. I just thought it just captured Hobbs in such a cool way. And Hobbs has always been such a favorite character of ours, because we just created that guy from the ground up with Chris Morgan. So that’s like our baby, that character.
So we’d have a ton of fun with him, but the goatee is a really funny story where we were in a whirlwind of films. We were doing three films back to back to back, all overlapping and those Fast and Furious movies are crazy, right? There’s so many people and you’re coming in, you’re coming out and they’re juggling, “What are you guys thinking with this character? What are you thinking with that?” And we came in with this energy and I think we were just in this space, you know what, I want Hobbs to have grown this kick ass goatee, like this really long biker goatee. And we went for it, and we were so under the gun that typically in these things, there’s a whole approval process. You take your pictures with the goatee and then you’re sending it back to the studio, make sure the studio likes it and so forth. And we just were so short on time when we came on the set, we were rock and roll. So I remember we went, we loved the goatee, we pushed for it to be longer. We took these badass photos out on set. We were filming a scene. And then we got the note back. They’re like, “Oh, the studio thinks that goatee’s a little bit crazy right now, we’re going to have to tone that thing down.” And you know what? We’re good partners. We’re like, “Hey, we tried.” We actually had to do some CG and stuff for scenes we shot that removed the giant goatee (laughs), but I always loved that shot, because it was just our exuberance.
I think it’s one of the things that gives us a little bit of special sauce is that at the end of the day, we’re just fans inside. So I think we bring that exuberance and excitement into the projects we do. And even though the process, every now and then we’re going to do something a little crazy and swing for it. We were really having fun with the way we wanted to take Hobbs, but we did end up adding to the Hobbs culture of a little bit of the biker stuff that you saw in his family in Hobbs and Shaw. It all grew from that moment. But I always look at that picture and laughed thinking about, we just jumped on the set with that thing, started shooting like, “Hold on. We’re not all on board with this crazy goatee.”
I hope it comes back. I love it. You guys unveiled Black Adam at DC Fandome and fans were super excited. It revealed this is bringing the Justice Society of America into the fold. What can you tease about that now that we know what these other characters are going to be like, and what the story of Black Adam‘s going to be?
GARCIA: We are so excited to introduce the Justice Society, especially Hawkman who’s such a beloved character and one of those heroes who’s always meant so much to the DC universe. Having them play in the same sandbox as Black Adam is going to be fantastic, and for the already established fans of these characters I think they are going to be really excited to see what elements from classic story lines we take inspiration from as we bring these characters together. When you take a powerhouse like Black Adam and inject him into this DC cinematic universe you want to make sure you are putting characters around him that can really up the stakes. As DJ likes to say the hierarchy of power in the DC universe really is going to change so Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Atom Smasher and Cyclone will have their hands full no matter how we choose to have them interact with Black Adam. We just want it to really start to expand that universe and really grow it out.
We’re thrilled with how the [DC FanDome] announcement went and the incredible fan reaction from it. Our director Jaume Collett-Serra has always had a great vision for what we all want to achieve and I think audiences are going to go crazy when they see the story and sequences we’ve been creating that showcase this world and more importantly what Black Adam is truly capable of. It’s fun to truly showcase all of his abilities and watch someone with this much power who, unlike other powerful DC characters, doesn’t believe in pulling their punches. Then on top of that you add in the complexity of his character and the things he’s carrying with him, what he’s been through, what he’s come from and where he’s going to go.. and it makes for a for a very unique and intense cinematic ride.
You have films like Aquaman or Wonder Woman that are still tied to this DC universe and then films like Mat Reeves’ The Batman or Todd Phillips’ Joker that are completely separate. I know DC is doing a bunch of different things. Is Black Adam going to be more inherently tied to an interconnected universe, or are you guys looking at it as maybe its own franchise and a little apart?
GARCIA: There’s been multiple ongoing conversations on how everything will roll out and it’s very exciting for myself as a filmmaker but even more so as a fan. Unfortunately I can’t speak to that too much because it is still in the works, but I can say that on our end we’re very focused on building out this world we’re creating with Black Adam and the JSA. Obviously Shazam exists in that universe along with many many other heroes and believe me when I say we have very big ambitions for all these characters and the story lines we want to take them through.
I have not forgotten about the photo that Dwayne shared with Henry Cavill. And I don’t think fans have forgotten.
GARCIA: (Laughs) No one’s forgot that photo.
I know Black Adam was supposed to start filming this summer, but you guys have to go back and finish Red Notice when it’s safe to do so. When are you looking at starting filming on Black Adam, and how has that impacted your guys’ production schedule?
GARCIA: COVID threw a curveball in a big way and readjusted everyone’s schedule, but I think the easiest way to look at it is it simply pushed the entire industry’s schedule a few months… We’re planning to pick back up with Black Adam some time first quarter next year and hoping to lock that all down soon. We’re excited to proceed as planned with all our project’s but our main priority has been making sure we can create safe environments for out cast and crew which we’ve been able to do. We’re fortunate to work on big productions and ourselves along with the entire industry have worked to devise new protocols and systems that allow us to proceed in safe ways keeping the talent, crew and entire production safe. We’ve gotten to a place where it feels like we’ve established some amazing guidelines that allow us to get back to work and so now it’s about rolling that out and applying that formula to all our productions across the board. Obviously as you apply that formula to productions the projects take on new forms due to added costs, new approaches and the required reimagining of some sequences that now have unique protocols and requirements placed upon them. That said though I’m just thrilled we got everything back on track and first up for us will be to close out our year finishing up our fun action movie Red Notice for Netflix and beginning production on our NBC series Young Rock. Then our priority coming out of the new year will be getting Black Adam up and running and bringing Kahndaq to life!
Red Notice sounds great. I mean, the idea of Dwayne with Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot is incredible, and you’ve already seen footage, right? What can you tease about that one?
GARCIA: They’re all like megastars, and when you get them on screen together, their chemistry, it’s fantastic and they’ve all worked with each other in some way. Obviously DJ and Gal on the Fast series, with DJ and Ryan in Hobbs. So there’re just lots of crossover, and they’re awesome together and funny and look great in the movie. We’ve been having such a blast. It was tough because we were really in the thick of it and chemistry was at an all-time high, and we were getting rolling and then unfortunately COVID shut us down. So everyone’s been chomping at the bit to get back, but I think you guys are just going to have a blast with this movie. It’s just the chemistry and the fun that they all bring. You almost feel like whatever you guys are doing, I’m on board. I just want to watch more of it. Because they all genuinely love each other, and it comes through in the scenes how much fun they have.
To that end, it seems like forever ago we saw a short teaser with Dwayne and Emily Blunt on Jungle Cruise and the chemistry was immediate and now everyone is chomping at the bit to see that one. Is that done? Are you guys ready, and just waiting for next summer for a big theatrical roll out?
GARCIA: Yeah. The picture’s locked it’s just doing a few final things on it, but that movie we’re really proud of how it came out and it’s big, it’s fun, it’s a throwback. You don’t really feel like they make movies like that anymore. There’s just so much wish fulfillment and it really feels like a four quadrant movie that just the whole family can go to and have a blast with from little to older. So we’re really proud of how that came out. Their chemistry is just, I’ve always said, it’s like DJ and Kevin Hart and then DJ and Emily Blunt. That’s the two equals of the chemistry and is so fantastic there, which is why we’re so eager to find a new project with Emily when we did Ball and Chain with Netflix, that we have a development with them, which is in the superhero space as well. But right now it’s in the can and we’re just monitoring the business, seeing how everything’s going and planning to proceed next summer when we can get Jungle Cruise out and show it to everyone.
I know another Jumanji is potentially in the works. Dwayne has said Hobbs and Shaw 2 is being written right now. What’s the status of those? Do those feel like things that can maybe go after Black Adam or are they still in the early stages?
GARCIA: They’re in their early stages. So the sequel for Hobbs being written as we speak. And I’m really happy with how that’s coming along. Jumanji is in development. Those projects are at a place where you really just want to let them be ready before we’re pulling the trigger rather than backing into a date. So I’m not sure which one comes first, but they’re both in development. We’re both really excited about what we can do with those stories, especially the directions we’re looking at taking them. And obviously Jumanji did really well for us as did Hobbs. So there’s a lot of fan interaction too. We really have done great market research just seeing what fans love, what they wanted as we’re starting to craft these stories, because we feel like it’s always a partnership with the audience. So they’re in the works and I’m hoping that they come out of the oven ready to go soon.
A couple of projects that have been in the works for a little while are The King and Big Trouble in Little China. Are those still things that are maybe on plate, or taking a backseat? I know Robert Zemeckis is super busy right now.
GARCIA: Yeah, we’ve all been buried. So they’re still in the cooker, they’re just under development. Unfortunately in our business things sometimes take a really long time. And so that’s where we are. Both The King and Big Trouble are both still trying to just do the right takes. Especially with Big Trouble we have a really smart, fun take on it that honor’s the original. It’s almost the Jumanji approach, where it would be continuation, but there’s a lot of pieces that are in the works of trying to pull it together. And it’s something we continue to develop and push along.
Obviously with the merger and the purchase of Fox with Disney there’s been some things there that slowed it up a little bit. So we’re just continuing to truck along. But most of those films we continue to develop and we do have high hopes for, it’s just a matter of everything starting to line up. And like you said, I’ve been super busy and we’ve been buried. So we’re all trying to come together, and find the perfect window as we continue to develop it and hope everything works out.
Every time I talked to you I ask you about Doc Savage. Is that gone now?
GARCIA: We’ve stepped away from Doc Savage. Especially as we really got into Black Adam and focusing on that and what we’ve been doing with Jungle Cruise, we stepped away from that project. I’m not sure where it is right now. We loved it and it just wasn’t in the cards we were trying to develop and the things we were doing with our slate. There just wasn’t perfect synergy there, so we stepped away from that one, but have high hopes for it. And it’s such a great story, and so many fans of it hoping we see that on a big screen at some point.
Well, I hope you guys do something with Shane Black, because I would love to see Dwayne Johnson deliver Shane Black dialogue.
GARCIA: (Laughs) Likewise, that was one of the best parts of that was just developing with Shane, who’s brilliant, such a great storyteller. Hopefully, yeah. We’d love to get back with him.
Is there anything else on your slate you want to tease or you want people to know about that you guys are excited about coming up?
GARCIA: The other thing that we have that we’re really excited about is our Young Rock series on NBC, which I think people are really, really going to be excited about. I think not only is it an incredibly entertaining story with DJ, but there are aspects there that I think anyone who’s been a fan of DJ and the world he’s attached to, I think is going to love it because we have so many aspects to this story and characters and pieces of his life. It’s just going to one of those things that I think fanboys are going to be happy, regular fans are going to be happy. I just think it’s going to be a really fun edgy ride. People are going to be blown away by like, “He really went through all that? He lived all of that? These people were in his house at that age?” It’s like, “Yep, it’s all true.” (laughs) So we’re very fired up about that. That’s getting ready to start filming soon. So we’re really excited about that one. I think it’s something for people to keep their eye open on. That’ll be coming out top of the year.
The Rock Through the Lens: His Life, His Movies and His World is now available for purchase.