Seth Epstein from The Group Digital Agency has a great Suzuki spot up on Vimeo. But wait, thats not all, I contacted Seth and asked if he would elaborate on the shoot process. He got back to me with a bunch of behind the scenes information including client presentation treatments (3 different concepts), story boards and a breakdown of the whole shoot process. It was so much good information that I am breaking this article into 3 pieces and serializing them over the next few weeks. Lets start off by watching the Suzuki Directors Cut and then getting into what happened during the shoot. Future installments will cover the pre-production client process and then Post issues.
The Suzuki project was interesting because I played the roles of agency and production company. I was approached out of Japan to develop a spot for the European market based on some previous work. Additionally, the budget was tight, so they needed someone who has worked on the entire life cycle of campaigns…. from inception to delivery… which i have done a ton of when I owned FUEL, a motion graphics house, way back in the day.
The timing of the original meetings collided with the release of the 7D and based on what I was seeing on the 5D and the light sensitivity, I told the client that in order to deliver the spot, on budget and at a very high quality we had to be innovative and the 7D would be at the heart of the engine if you will
I brought on a producer to run the project, Scott Setterberg. He jumped into action to wrangle the world of logistics from locations, permitting, crewing up, talent, final budgeting, etc… etc…. We also sought out a DP who had worked with the 5D or 7D on commercial level projects AND understood car mounts as well as experience shooting vehicles and Kevin Ward was the man. Very easy going, very experienced and fast. All things I like. Kevin has shot at night and done a lot of vehicle work with the Canons…. Additionally, Kevin knows his stuff and is very matter of fact about the technology. Yes it is amazing, but it is a tool, and there are many tools. Great work is much more than technology…
Our pre-pro meeting and shoot date were driven by when Suzuki could get us the motorcycle, which is a European model as well as the Agency’s ability to come to the shoot. Oh, and, we had to pull it off in ONE DAY because of budget.
We had one creative director out of Japan as well as the US based agency producer actively involved in pre-pro and the shoot. During pre-pro we/ they signed off on wardrobe for talent and the rider
The spot was shot over one 12 hour shoot in downtown LA in mid- December. I was very concerned about the temperature being cold for our talent who were supposed to dressed in spring clothing… we got lucky that we had clear weather and a lucky warming trend…
We used 2 Canon 7D’s. One of em I own and the other we rented along with the lenses from LensRentals.com. Kevin (the DP) has rented through them on a bunch of jobs and it was seamless. They send a box and you send it back. Easy. Efficient. Pro.
Lens wise, we rented a bunch of fixed distance lenses that are fast. We also had my stock zoom lens that came with the camera which we barely used at all. We also rented the 80-20mm f/2.8 for our surveillance feeling shots.
I have a RedRock Micro Field Cinema Bundle and a 7” Marshall LCD which I fully expected to put into battle… but to my surprise we barely used either. We used the LCD for playback mainly. What was critical to the shoot was the Gyroscoptic Stabilizer…. can learn more at http://www.ken-lab.com.
There were two types of sequences we needed to shoot. The live action talent and the motorcycle footage. The talent we shot in 3 locations with limited to no light.
The first location was a shoe store BLENDS on 4th St. downtown dressed to look like a gallery. We shut down all lighting in the store and lit with 2 main source lights to give it a moodier/ harder light feel. If I were to redo it, I might even have lit it LESS in some ways. We also shot with a second camera across the street at 200m at 24fps. The in store footage was shot at 60fps. The in store footage was handheld with the gyroscope attached. Kevin hopped up on a ladder as well.
We then jumped outside into an unlit alley which is the part where the couple is kind of making out and then get discovered by the paparazzi. We DID NOT light the scene at all. The street light provided enough spill. We used flash bulbs wrangled by the art dept. to create the “flash moments”. In post I grabbed still frames from the uncompressed quicktime and layered over a photo frame grid in photoshop….I re-imported the stills before color correction.
The footage of them running exterior and the staircase were all shot at the DWP building in downtown LA. I wanted a mid century building with some scale and Scott the producer found DWP, which is an awesome location. Its used a lot apparently in films/ commercials. On the DWP interiors, it was all fluorescent so zero lighting was necessary. We may have adjusted for the color correction in camera or not… doesnt really matter really…. Exterior dolly shots were done on a hand cart, with myself or the DP being pulled by someone. Using the gyroscope on the camera is key even though it is heavy, gets hot and requires a chunky battery pack.
The motorcycle footage itself was shot out of the back and side of a rigged up mini van. We had two cameras going. Usually one out of the back that the DP had and a second camera I had. He had the Gyroscope on his…. I did not. My footage was always inferior and had a lot of vibration it. The gyroscoped 7D was pretty dang smooth. We shot at 60fps and our ISO was as high as 3200. We would vary the ISO by scene. Shutter speed was always at 120 or is it 125? We would obviously open up as much as possible on aperature.
We had light mounted on top of the van powered by a generator which was mounted on top of the van. Crazy but true. The light was directed on and off the rider/ cycle to create the feeling of light coming on and off.
Additionally, we had a professional rider, who was a woman, riding. Walky talkies all around and an ear piece for her to hear directions. We filmed from Midnight to 5 am and had 2 police escorts. We used 2 16gig cards and 2 8 gig cards which we mainly used. We dumped via firewire 800 external card reader onto a 500g portable G Drive via a MacBook Pro.
We also mounted a camera on the bike but we were crunched for time so Kevin, the DP jumped on the back behind the rider and did handheld over her shoulder. The opening shot of the commercial is Kevin holding the camera one handed. In fact, I used a lot in the edit of those shots, even though they were last minute.
Focus was certainly an issue in post. We lost shots because they were out of focus ever so slightly. I would argue the number 1 issue with using DSLRs is that we are trying to adapt them to do things at a speed they were not designed to do. I happen to love the effect of an element coming in and out of focus. In fact what makes film look like film is those moments of transitioning focus….shallow depth of field, motion coming in and out…. by accident and on purpose.
Stay tuned for part 2.