The Making Of: Coinstar

The Making Of: Coinstar
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Camera: RED Dragon 6K HD & 6K Widescreen

Lens: Schneider Xenon FF T2.1

I remember as a kid collecting all my change to save up for new video games. I would have bags and bags of quarters, nickels, and dimes to get my new playstation or xbox game. We used to take it to the bank until Coinstar came out so it was really cool to shoot a commercial for their newest product which turns gift cards you no longer want into gift cards you wanted. As usual this was going to be a jam packed shoot with an art department being about half the size it needed to be. 

Recreating the George Washington Painting

Recreating the George Washington Painting


Most of the pre-production was heavy art department. We had 3 different commercials to shoot in 2 days with every setup being a different set. Our original studio we love to rent, 32Ten Studios, was booked all week so we had to use a much smaller sound stage. The complications with this was trying to maximize the space with the small room we had to work in. The only complicated thing we had to figure out for camera was having enough space to do dolly pushes and possibly setting a guitar amp on fire. 

Towel Setup


All of our sets needed to be tall because of the low angles we planned on shooting which makes building and moving the sets much more difficult. It also presents the challenge of how do we light. Everything needs to be higher up or in different angles because of where we are looking at. I believe the wall was 12ft high so even just a backlight over the wall became a little difficult with the gear we had. We ended up lighting our table room shot with a china ball, back lighting with a 650 and a grid, using a leko to spotlight the table some more, and i believe a 2k ultra bounce behind the dolly to bring some fill. This led to some very nice moody light. 

We then moved on to basically the same setup on the table except we made it a little more dramatic and added some practical lights behind on the wall. Sadly I don't think this setup was used in any of the final commercials even though everyone on set was laughing hysterically. The only real difference here is we dimmed our backlight and shaped the china ball much more to have almost a vignette on the back wall. 

Our next setup was a wall of towels. The shot was to represent being forced to buy something from a dull bed and bathroom shop instead of that kickass guitar or chicken wings you really wanted. Our head of art department, Laura, and her team spent hours building this wall of towels and the way they made one towel look like many was awesome! This setup was to look dull and boring as possible, much like a convenience store. We used 2 4x4 kinos with daylight bulbs to light the towels, a zip light to backlight the talent, and a light into an ultra bounce to illuminate the camera side of the subject. 

We had one more similar setup in a laundry room of a house but I don't have any photos of that. Lastly we shot our coinstar machine on an all white backdrop. Normally I would use space lights above or something that would evenly light everything and supplement some big sources on the ground. Sadly we didn't have space lights so everything were bounce or shooting through silks on the ground. We had to also get the angle just right on the machine so reflections didn't become an issue so after getting in almost perfect I dropped in a circular polarizer to my matte box and turned it until it made the screen pop. We backlit with some kinos, essentially did book lights from the front, and everything turned out nice and even. The edges were a little darker than the should have been but that was because we didn't have the space to move back any further. 


Nick Mahar is a Director of Photography based in Los Angeles & San Francisco.