Camera: RED Dragon 6k Anamorphic
Lens: Kowa Anamorphics
For the past few years I've been wanting to shoot athletic style commercials like Nike and Adidas. I've has the opportunity to shoot projects that had some elements involved but never to the scale that I wanted. I've tried to plan some on my own for fun at my old high school however i've also been gone a lot with tour so haven't had the chance. My friend Spencer called me about his latest project for a company called Halo. It was all very last minute but I knew we could pull everything together for it. Halo is a headphone like beats however it's specifically designed for high performing athletes. It uses technology to unlock certain parts of your brain and helps athletes train at a higher level. Kind of like pre workout and other supplements but all without taking anything. I'm not sure the science behind it and I sadly didn't get to test it out but apparently it's pretty awesome.
Spencer LOVES Michael Bay films and after our first project I figured out what kind of shots he liked and didn't like. This was our second project together and we had a blast on the first one so I couldn't wait for this. The project was relatively simple, shoot at a football field and a gym.
Spencer found a college field that would work but none of us were able to scout out the location so we had to go off photos we found online. Everything about it looked great except it didn't look like it had stadium lights. We ended up switching to another field in SF because it did have lights at night time. The budget was very tight so even though we had a few 2ks and HMIs that my gaffer Steve had on the truck, we didn't have the ability to run power for them or at least as many as we needed. We talked about the two locations, wanting to use colors like the recent Apple Watch commercials, and really emphasize the headphones and futuristic element of them.
We started late, around 6pm because we wanted to maybe get some sunset but most likely night but didn't want to be up until 8am. We started out at the football field. Of course when Spencer scouted it the night before it didn't have many people there but tonight was some weekly meetup group with about 100 women running in packs together. This makes it a little difficult to make it look like our athlete is the only one there. It was also very dark and RED cameras aren't the best in low light.
Challenge 1 for the night was to also shoot our athlete running while shooting from a movi. Ideally I wanted to employ what I did the previous week with on the Visit Santa Barbara shoot and be in a truck or golf cart riding next to her. This would give me a natural camera shake but remain smooth as we moved with her. Sadly we weren't able to so movi was our option. We were also shooting on the M10 instead of the M15 and the kit didn't have all the correct pieces. Of course this would have been fine if we had a prep day but we didn't and we were getting the movi for a discount rate from a friend. We ended up making it work but it all came down to getting Steve, who help the gimbal while riding his long board, and our athlete to move at the same pace in the short distance we had.
I think after about 10 times we finally got a few shots that worked. Of course everything took longer than expected so we were very rushed. I ended up convincing Spencer we needed to stop shooting movi stuff unless it absolutely needed it because it was slowing us down majorly. We were trying to also use the Mimic system to control the movi which probably wasn't the best idea because it's still in beta. After all the gimbal work we moved to handheld and one specific part of the field so we could actually take the time to light it properly.
Next we moved into the gym where everything really came together. I decided we wanted to haze up the place, use a strong orange backlight and front light with a soft teal blue. This is where we started flaring the anamorphic more with the backlight and really stylizing the footage. The football field shots were great but here we actually had control of everything and it looked 10x better to the point that I don't think they are using any of the track shots.
Here we were all handheld, getting in tight, adding a lot of movement to my camera work to emphasize the drama, and really bring some energy to the piece. Everything was going great until, we blew a breaker. We have really big and powerful lights and most circuits are about 20-30 amps. If you blow one, you just have to reroute power which isn't a big deal, unless you can't find the box or its not available. We searched high and low to find the box until we had to called the owner at 11pm to ask where it was. Shockingly they said they don't have access to it which became a big problem. We didn't know what plugs were on what circuit and if we blew too many, we wouldn't have enough power for anything.
We got through most of the shoot with 1 blown breaker and then on our final setup we lost another one. Our batteries were charging in another room down the hall and I guess weren't plugged in all the way. Our gaffer was going to the bathroom and noticed they weren't in all the way. He goes and plugs them in and BAM, all but one of our lights turn off. Now we are in panic mode to figure out how we are going to light until I give the camera to my AC and Spencer notices he really likes the look now. We setup our final shot and all agreed it worked really nicely. That shot becomes the last section of the video where everything is teal blue. It was the only light we had left so we made it work.
Just like most days on set, problems arise no matter how much planning you do and you just have to roll with them. We even had dinner from Chipotle and i got a bowl but they forgot to put any utensils in the bag so while everyone else waited for our PA to get some, I made a spoon out of the foil container. The results of the shoot were awesome and for me the look came down to a few key things. The anamorphic lenses, the hazer, and of course my amazing crew. The look is very much like a music video which used to be my specialty. The main shot of our actor on the bench was lit with I believe a 1k backlighting with CTO, 2k key into an ultra bounce and gelled with teal blue, and then two daylight kino bulbs on the ground to under light him. Even with all the problems our base lighting set us down the right path.
Nick Mahar is a Director of Photography based in Los Angeles & San Francisco.