Phillips takes cover in the pine trees east of Clinton, returned from seven months' work in New York, England and elsewhere on the biggest film of his 33-year career — this summer's practically guaranteed bat smash, The Dark Knight Rises.
His movie photos do everything but move. They are the faces and scenes that people see in print, on posters, in the lobby, at the newsstand. Other travelers have souvenir T-shirts to show for their adventures.
Phillips has the cover of the national Entertainment Weekly magazine: his shot of actor Christian Bale as Batman.
“They can make the movie without me,” he says, “but they can't sell the movie without my work.”
On a movie set, he is the guy with his Nikon digital camera in a soundproofing “blimp” that makes it look like something in a bag off a flying saucer. His sneakers have high-tech, super sneaky soles. His operative color is the same as Batman's — black — so the light won't bounce off him (light can be so delicate), and mainly in hopes that he will ninja-like escape notice.
Phillips, 61, has been perfecting this odd role — “Invisible Man” among the most watched people on the planet — ever since his first job on a Hollywood production, Urban Cowboy (1980). That poster image of John Travolta in his cowboy hat, leaning against the bar with the loose grace of a ballet dancer with a beer: Phillips took the shot.
The poster is framed on his wall at home, signed by Travolta: “Nobody does it better, my friend, than you.”
CAUGHT A BREAK
That shot of Anne Hathaway as slinky Catwoman on a no-doubt purring motorcycle, the one all over the Internet: Phillips nailed it. The teaser poster that shows a bull-necked brute and the smashed ruins of the Caped Crusader's cowl: Complicated. Phillips shot the bad guy (Tom Hardy as Bane the bruiser). He shot many a cowl, too, but he can't claim the one on the poster for certain. Movie studios assemble posters like this from a scramble of shots.
Phillips developed a fascination with cameras from one of his first jobs in the control room of Little Rock's KTHV-TV, Channel 11. He caught a break being hired as the second photographer on Urban Cowboy, and a 10-gallon hat size break when the lead photographer quit.
He caught a plane out of Los Angeles the night of the Rodney King riots in 1991, ready for a night's sleep somewhere else.
ROCKING WITH “THE ROCK”
His full job description is “unit and special photographer for motion picture production.” Besides hanging with Batman, he shot the current release, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Michael Caine in Hawaii.
That crawling-jungle poster: His work. The Journey 2 collector's drink cup and popcorn box at the concession stand: Him again.
“Ron is like a stealth bomber,” says the photographer's friend, movie director and fellow Arkansan Jay Russell (My Dog Skip, Ladder 49). “They don't see him, they don't hear him, but he gets the shot.''
Photo: Dwayne Johnson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.