Not the catchiest blog title but it does what it says on the tin!
First off a little history. Am sure by now you have seen my little short film “Sofia’s People”. Something I shot on my way to dinner whilst doing the first F-Stop Academy Workshop in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was just me being obsessive about carrying a camera around with me and the size of the Canon 5dMKII with a simple 50mm f1.4 on it made it really portable.
I was amazed at the reception the film got as it was an extreme version of my “Portraits series” and just a fun experiment. I also rarely shoot handheld for my own projects, I do a lot for my paid gigs but I like tripod shots generally.
To show how popular the film was I was contacted by half a dozen of the people in the film saying “Hey, someone sent me the link to your film and I am xxxxx, thanks so much etc”. It was great to get such a reception. Also being a relative 5dmkII newbie, it was only the second thing I had ever shot with it and the first thing handheld, it was great to get such a positive reaction…
Anyway to cut a long story short, DBB Bulgaria, part of DDB, one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies (they had revenue of over $12 billion dollars last year!) contacted me about 3 weeks ago to say they loved my Sofia’s People film and they had an idea for a commercial called “On Your Shoulder” for M-Tel Mobile phones and they wanted me to come over, Direct, DP and Edit it and also get it finished so it could go out on air the same week! Bulgarians are apparently addicted to last minute projects so this was going to be one of them!
Of course I leapt at the challenge and a chance to go back to Sofia.
Yordan Zhechev of DDB also wanted me to shoot on the 5d so we would keep the same feel and look as Sofia’s People. Although the concept was quite different, 7 different couple rest their head’s on one of the other’s shoulders and just 30 seconds he thought I could bring a Sofia’s People feel to it.
The casting of the couples was done without me as I didn’t arrive until the day before the shoot, so I spent the afternoon in the production company going through the couples and then we went out to look at the locations they liked so I could see what I thought would work. Obviously Sofia’s People was spontaneous, meeting strangers and shooting them where they were. This was much more choreographed, as it had to be for a commercial. But I wanted to keep it as loose as possible (I think this worried the production company who were much formal in their way of working than me! ;-)). I looked at a dozen or so possible locations, took some shots but basically said to them that will see how it goes tomorrow because we are so light equipment wise let’s just see what works and if one place doesn’t work let’s move up the street. So we were totally guerilla doing this, just filming where we wanted to. We had to get permission for one location though, that was the tram.
So talking about being light let’s talk about what gear I took with me…
Well this is what I shot with:
Pretty minimal gear really! Especially for a commercial. Lens wise I had the same Zeiss I used on Sofia’s People, the 50mm F1.4, I also had a 35mm and a 24mm f1.4 Canon and the 70-200 Canon f2.8 IS. There is also a litepanel micro which I used as an “Obie light” to give a slight glint in the eyes of people for some shots and of course the most important part the 5dmkII with the Zacuto Tactical Shoot Gorilla Kit with Z-Finder. This was the only way I would get decent handheld footage. I also had to shoot stills which would be used in the print campaigns, my first time as a paid photographer. There is convergence for you! I did bring my Miller DS20 Solo tripod with me JUST IN CASE, but I didn’t use it!
So we set out about 830 am. Myself, Teodor (who organised the first F-Stop Workshop) my first AC and BTS cameraman, Angel my translator and second AC, Yordan and a couple of people from the prod company and occasionally some of the clients. Teodor filmed a really nice BTS which I will get around to editing soon and post of the F-Stop Academy website as free content.
First stop was the boating lake. We had the mother and young daughter. Got some nice stuff in the rowing boat from them but I also wanted to try something else with them afterwards and in the end that worked out best. It was them having Ice Cream and mucking around with it and it worked out so much better and more natural which was really what I was striving to achieve.
Because I was after something specific rather than just simple poses it took longer to get than normal. Also there was a language barrier but I managed to convey the direction across pretty well and got what we needed.
It was bloody muggy so I was very sweaty, not attractive!
The plan was to take each couple in two different locations to see which ones worked the best in the edit, so we got the mum and daughter in the boat and ice cream.
Whilst walking to meet the next couple we had a Sofia’s People moment. I saw a dad with his young son on a bike and said we had to get them, so Yordan approached him, after a short bit of persuasion and a release form later I got some lovely stuff with them.
We then met the teenage couple and tried them in front of a really cool fountain covered in lilies. I tried a number of experiments as well as the needed “shoulder” shot just to have options, in the end we used them at night as the end shot which is a shame a bit as the fountain was so cool!
We then shot the middle aged couple who were a dream, I was a little worried to start with as they seemed a little dour but a few patented Philip Bloom gags later I got them laughing and captured a perfect shot with them, we decided it was spot on and wouldn’t need them again for the second location.
Next up was the subway scene, something a little bit more urban to match the couple. We had great graffiti on the walls but I had to make sure there was nothing rude there or any brands in shot. I tried them in about 4 different positions, in the end I went with the one with the least depth but still close up. I liked the fact they were up against the wall, it made a change from the shallow backgrounds of the others.
Next up we tried something that was in the original brief but I wasn’t sure would work. It was a young couple cuddling in bed. My reservations were it felt like the camera had stumbled upon these people in the previous shots but by having a camera in their bedroom shattered that illusion. We got a great shot but I had a strong feeling I wouldn’t use it. One thing though I had trouble getting a natural cuddle from them, it was stiff and unconvincing. So being the perfectionist that I am I showed our man what I needed by erm…getting into bed with the girl and I showed him the natural movement I needed , it took a few attempts for me to be happy (this was captured in the BTS video to come soon)!!
So we did the two girl friends next in the cafe having a drink. Nice and easy once I got them to give me their big smiles!
We did the girls in a second location later that didn’t work well at all, we also had big problems with the sun as it was right above us giving us horrible light and bad shadows, as we were guerilla we had no big flags or silks!
We were really actually hoping for a bit of rain to give us a really different look for one of couple but it didn’t come during the day at all even though it was supposed to!
So we waited until dark to do the next stuff. We had the teenage couple back, by this point it was raining so we got the brolly out and I did a LOT of filming with them. I just struggled to get the right chemistry from them, they just didn’t come across well on camera. So I worked with them for about half an hour then a godsend came along. The local nutter popped up and started being very odd just behind me which gave me the perfect shot, them laughing their heads off. I got it and was very thankful!!
Next up was the tram, we had our couple from the subway back and also the grandmother/ grandson couple. I got some nice stuff of the subway couple but I liked the stuff with them in the subway so much I knew that was what we were going to use. So we got the grandma and grandson in place and to be honest it was tough. It was very late by this point, they were tired, we were tired and getting them happy was pretty much impossible, so we decided to capture them as they were and it worked terrifically. It was actually my favourite shot of the film but alas it didn’t make the final cut! It was so great, the low light, the coldness of the carriage and the distance and separation between them. got some great flickers as lights went on and off too!
Shooting the with the 5d was such a joy and I cannot say enough good things about the Zacuto Tactical shooter. When using Canon lenses you need to check focus and set iris, shutter with your right hand on the body. The left hand stays on the barrel for focus. Once I got the exposure I moved my hand to the pistol grip which gave me great stability. If I wanted to I could have left my right hand on the body in Zacuto Rapid Fire mode and this works great too. But having the Tactical Shooter gives you the choice easily. I would rather have the choice than not!
Also the Z-Finder is about as essential as the camera itself! Without this there was no way I was going to get the shots. I used the Version 1 which is now sold out. V2 comes out in August and is much improved (I saw it in Chicago a few weeks back). It gave me an extra point of contact, my head, and is comfy and gave me perfect field of view. There is NO WAY I could have made this commercial without the Z-Finder and without the Tactical Shooter it would have been much more wobbly like Sofia’s People.
I did a Tumblr blog throughout my time in Bulgaria. It’s worth a read as it give you a lot of insight of how the shoot was going. So go to the link and go a couple of pages back.
During the day we took breaks and I dumped the contents of the CF cards onto my hard drive with my little 13″ Macbook Pro and a LEXAR firewire 800 CF reader for super quick dumping! It gave me a chance to look back at the shots, do a quick edit to the music that was chosen to see if the shots were working for us, I even emailed the client a private vimeo link with a rough cut at lunchtime of what we had done! So easy this tapeless workflow!
We finished about midnight and I went back to the hotel. So what I did first was convert everything to ProRes so I could edit the footage. Editing H264 is almost impossible. So slow, it’s not designed for editing. It’s a finishing format. So using MPEGSTREAM CLIP I converted everything. It’s much faster than compressor and gives the same results. I then opened up cinema tools and change the timebase of the whole lot from 30p to 25p causing a slight slow down, almost imperceptible really, but it also gave me perfect 25p which is what I needed for Bulgarian PAL SD broadcast. This was not going to be an HD commercial. So compressor was not used at all! Normally I would have made a backup of my prores files in 30p but as I had the native files backed up I didn’t bother. 25p slightly slower was what I was after anyway.
I did a rough cut the next morning and took it into the agency where we had a play around with the order. I had to catch a flight that afternoon so we had to leave it there.
I continued the edit as soon as I got home and had a couple of versions uploaded privately on vimeo for the agency to see. Unfortunately the music we had planned to use didn’t pan out. That’s the problem with rights for commercials. Hard to negotiate. This was the song we were going to use…Original music. We came so close but it wasn’t to be. It’s a shame as it had the perfect feel for what we were going for. So the next night I spent all night searching pump audio from getty images there are some amazing tracks on there. Not cheap and I found a couple that worked for me, but we needed something that worked for me, the agency and more importantly the client. By this point it was Thursday afternoon and the commercial was to air on TV the next evening and I still didn’t have a cut with the new music. It got sent to me and I had a new version to show the agency and the client within the hour. The new music was much more upbeat and gave it a different perkier feel which is what the client wanted. Great thing about Vimeo Plus is the super fast conversion so it was a painless task to share videos privately. We had to lose the grandma and grandson as the client felt it didn’t fit with the feel for them which was a shame as I loved that shot. I am hoping at somepoint I will be able to do a longer edit with some of the material I didn’t use to a new track for a bit of fun!
In the end the shots I used in the edit were all done with one single lens. The Canon f1.4 35mm. An amazing, but pricey lens. A great great lens!
This camera is very much in demand from clients. I am going to India in just under two weeks to shoot a 90 second commercial for Greenpeace on Climate Change on the 5dmkII again. They also want it handheld so it’s the Zacuto again. I am also bringing the GH1 with for some overcrank.
Anyway after all this talk here is the commercial. It’s for M-Tel Prima, the pre-pay part of M-Tel. It doesn’t have the end graphics as they were added in Sofia for me. I FTP’d the ProRes file to them the Thursday night (took about 3 hours) and then got it all done and put on digi beta the next morning. So enjoy the commercial. I hope you like it!
It was graded using my favourite of course, Magic Bullet Looks. If you want it don’t forget the code Bloom20 to get 20% off at the checkout!
Thanks to Teodor for the snaps and the behind the scenes. To Angel for all his help. To Diyana for putting up with my cheekiness. To Boyana for all her help and of course to Yordan for hiring me in the first place and for letting me share the end product on my blog. Thanks!
The behind the scenes film will be up soon. So make sure you are signed up to F-Stop Academy to get this free content!
Want to learn how to create the film look? Click below.