Producer Seth Epstein has shared this slick Suzuki Commercial with us. He also has included the most comprehensive production write-up we have to date. Major kudos !!! Seth goes into explicit detail of how the project went from the client conception clear through post and delivery. You will see he is very knowledgeable and we will look forward to his upcoming projects!
Here is his write-up:
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.
Much of the concept through pre-pro followed a standard agency process. I presented 8, yes 8 conceptual directions —- And visualized them using â€œtear sheetsâ€. The spot did not need voice over and was meant to be a visual feast … all about desire really.
Once the client decided on the direction, â€œSPYâ€, then came the need to block shots and storyboard the spot. Normally, there is a pretty open flow of communication with either the agency or client but in this case, I was working with an intermediary production co. in Japan which had an on the ground producer here in LA. Due to time zones and primarily different ways of working, the amount of back and forth through out the process was very high. Often we would think we understood feedback, but upon delivering on a request, hear back that what they meant was different.
Back to boards. I visualized the what the shots might be, even though we had not locked down locations. I do sketches with notes – In this case, there was no linear story, so my boards were rough framings of the type of shots or angles. I watched movies with great chase or motorcycle scenes as well as watching spots to inspire ideas for shots, lighting, framing, etc….
I also brought on a producer at this point 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…
The Japanese Agency presented a cleaned up version of my drawn boards. Usually, I would bring in a stoyboard artist to sit with me to work off my sketches or reference, but in this case, I did not have a budget for that…
We had several conference calls along the way as we made progress on casting, wardrobe, etc…
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 Agencyâ€™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 7Dâ€™s. One of em I own and the other we rented along with the lenses from www.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 80-200mm f/2.8 for our surveillance feeling shots.
I have a RedRock Micro Field Cinema Bundle and a 7â€ 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 did you flash bulbs wrangled by the art dept. to create the â€œflash momentsâ€. 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.
Once we wrapped, I chose to cut myself because I knew the client would make a lot of changes and tweaks. I did not have the budget to ride an editor for that level of micro changes. I figured I could handle it…. I immediately converted the footage to Apple Pro-Res high using MPEG StreamClip and also backed up the original footage in case of a drive crash. Took all night to convert and I had a few footage mis fires that required making another pass at converting. I cut the entire spot on MacBook Pro 2.2ghz with 4gigs of RAM. I have a 24â€ external monitor and a few G Drives connected via firewire 800. I cut the spot in final cut pro. Graphics were done by Ehren Addis, a friend and someone I used to work with at FUEL. We used live action footage blended with created elements in after effects. Getting the right feel can only be done â€˜organciallyâ€™ with live footage. I shot some light effects and b-roll shots of just lights, blurs, etc….
I cut 2 spots. The client spot is only a :15 second spot exclusively for the European Market. Itâ€™s running on CNN and Eurosport. The :30 is the directors cut and I cut in the music from the opening sequence of a bond film.
I am not really tuned into conforming footage from 60fps to 24p – and I canâ€™t say i have that figured out, even though it wouldnâ€™t take me long to figure out. The cost is frame blending. There is one shot where I notice frame blending because of the translation.
Color I did in final cut using the 3 way color corrector. I also used 2 layers and used the â€œoverlayâ€ pull down. I turned my top layer to black and white by yanking saturation out. I then used the â€œoverlayâ€ pull down or transfer control or whatever it is called. I then went into my color footage and used the 3 way color corrector. Sometimes I need to set different transparencies to the black and white â€œoverlayâ€— say to 60% so the it didnt get too muddy on low light shots. Each shot had to be tweaked individually though i would cut and paste settings (color) from a clip that had similar lighting as a starting point.
Even though our reference spot was a Jaguar spot, which is very blue/green and dark….the client changed their minds and wanted a warmer more accessible feeling spot, so i color corrected off the raw footage a warmer toned spot yet with some crushed blacks. The client spot also did not have as much SPY influence- and they wanted the girl to take off her helmet at the end… though I think if youâ€™re selling to men, you would want to show the man being a bad ass getting the girl. Regardless, we tweaked a TON on the edit.
My edit, i colored it in the direction I would have wanted the client to go and cut it with footage that I felt represented the original intention….
Some other post details. I put the footage in a 24p timeline. I had to also render a PAL version. For on air we rendered a 4:3 window with letterboxed video creating the 16:9 look within standard def ratios. I did shoot at 1280 x 720 both 60 and 29.97 frames. When we shot at 60fps you give up some light sensitivity apparently.
Final renders I did for the layoff was from Final Cut using Quicktime Conversion with NO compression (NONE), highest quality at 24 frames and 25 frames/ PAL aspect ratio. We took those files to a post house and had them lay it back to digibeta. Sound levels I tweaked a bit to make sure nothing was too hot and had them double check it as well.
In the end, the spirit or energy or intention of the spot was to be transported into an action scene from a film… somewhat cinematic and driven and from the feedback overall, I think I accomplished exactly that.