Camera: RED Dragon 6K HD & 6K Widescreen
Lens: Zeiss CP2s & Canon 11-16 F2.8
I'm writing this nearly a year after shooting these commercials and it's interesting to look back on what we shot and see how everything turned out. I have a lot of great memories from this shoot with plenty of hilarious stories that I will share. This shoot was also a challenging one with i believe one day having 26 setups. We were also shooting 3 different commercials within a few days with one being completely POV which was an adventure in itself so I will breakdown some of our more complicated setups and prep.
Going into this project there were 3 commercials we were shooting that were all geared to promote advertising through Google and Youtube. The point was to show off Google analytics and integration to Youtube so that unlike traditional television, you could target your ads to those more likely to be affected by it. With the analytics you could target, age, race, where they live, and other very detailed criteria. You can even know if they skipped the commercial or not. One spot specifically was in the POV perspective to show off that people choose what they want to watch. So for that spot we had people choosing who to vote for, what song to play, what stone to skip across the water, everything.
The challenge with this was being able to quickly rig the POV setup on anyone and change it to someone else. We had a lot of setups each day and time efficiency was extremely important to make our day. My gaffer Steve and I went into our local rental house and started testing out ideas. Originally we were going to see about doing a helmet camera but there was a lot of stuff we would have to have on it to make it work and everyone's head size was different. It also was heavy for someone's neck and didn't exactly have the right angle we wanted. We also looked at renting a Doggy Cam from LA but they were rather expensive. We searched the shelves at little giant and found a home made metal easyrig kind of setup. We also found a belt that had metal bars on the side which then led us to combine both of these finds into what became out final rig. As you can see in the photos, we clamped the top of the camera handle to the top of the cage and then mounted the camera to a bottom plate which we stabilized through arms connected to the belt. We also needed the rig to be as close to the body as possible so we could see enough arm in the shot. To achieve this we powered the camera through the battery belt plate I had in my kit and this saved a lot of space. The resulting look was perfect and we shot in widescreen to minimize the vignetting from the 11-16. We also used a Red Rock Wireless focus to make sure everything we wanted was in focus at the right time.
I'm not sure if this was a 2 or 3 day shoot but I remember it being multiple days. Our days weren't very complicated however, we had to cram in way more shots than we should have to make our day. Some were as simple as stop animation of gold stars being put on a board in a straight line, all the way to making it look like our actress was watching a fireworks show at night.
But before we even start with the first shot I have to reminisce and laugh at the hilarity that was load in. Camera department was just finishing loading in and building camera while everyone else was starting to load in. We as a camera department pride ourselves always being on set first and ready to go ASAP. But as we were building, someone from another department I will not name, ran in freaking out because they just ran the side of their rental van into one of the basketball poles. I ask how bad and they said just the tail light. I walk outside to see how bad and at first I thought, oh it's not that bad! Until I walked around the side of the car and half of the car was smashed in. They asked if I could move it because they were still a little shaken up and of course i agreed. As I was backing up I heard screaming. I immediately thought I had just now hit something so my heart sank. I hopped out of the car saying, "Shit WHAT DID I HIT?" Everyone looked at me and laughed because it wasn't I who hit something, our gaffer Steve had hit one of the basketball hoops with the top of his grip truck to where the hoop was now at an angle. I think the photo here with the basketball hoop slanted is hilarious. The location didn't mind as long and we put it back. We tried a bunch of different ways and we ended up having to hit it with the truck again but the other way. Steve did such a good job with it that the location manager laughed and said, "It's straighter than it was before!".
The rest of the shoot went pretty well, some setups went very fast and others took a little longer. We did some run and gun around SF, we got some beautiful shots in front of the golden gate bridge, and we even shot in a home way out in Livermore. The shots all came out great even with how many we had to cram in but I think my favorite setup was our fireworks shot. It was still light out and we needed to shoot a top down shot as fireworks lit up our young ladies face. Steve had a great idea of building a box around an ultra bounce and blasting the gelled lights into the bounce. We also had the lights on dimmers so we could vary the intensity. It ending out working amazingly and we didn't want to stop shooting it. It even became a fun little escape from the rest of the shoot.
This was a tough shoot because of how many shots we needed with such a limited crew but we pulled it off. The only disappointing factor is Google ended up only using 1 of the 3 spots we shot which really sucked but that's part of the business. Some of my favorite music videos and other projects never got released because of one reason or the other. The benefit is we got to improve our craft, work with my friends, and get paid to do it!
Nick Mahar is a Director of Photography based in Los Angeles & San Francisco.