New work: Unscripted commercial videos

I recently completed a pair of 1-minute unscripted commercial videos for a Seattle startup. The company makes colorful friendship bracelets designed for pre-teen girls, with a unique twist: the jewelry is magnetized and snaps into place with a distinct “click.” Have a look:

While this video was shot documentary-style without a script, it was very much driven by a concept. In developing the concept for this piece, I was inspired by the positive feedback I got from my first commercial project, I Am Becoming, which promoted a school by focusing on teachers’ stories paired with visuals shot entirely from a student’s perspective. I knew the videos would be successful if I could get the teachers to say something true about teaching.

Similarly, my goal in this case was to say something true about friendship. In essence, my goal was to create a 1-minute celebration of friendship. Making people FEEL something is much more likely to make a positive impression than trying to TELL them anything about the product, no matter how interesting.

When I presented this video to the client, one of their employees was crying by the end of the video, so I knew I’d hit close to where I was aiming. I’ll post the second video later this week.

The music was composed by Nick Torretta, who was a real pleasure to work with.

Technical details: I worked with a sound recordist to help me with audio; he operated a boom pole during the interviews, freeing me to participate fully in the interviews, which were led by my client. For the shooting part, I used a single Canon T2i. It’s the first project I’ve shot using a DSLR, and I’m thrilled with the results. The shallow depth of field really is perfectly suited for this type of work.

Lenses: I used mainly Nikon glass, with Fotodiox adapters. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, Nikon E series 75-150 f/3.5, Canon 17-55 f/2.8 EFS. Support: Redrock Micro EyeSpy with follow focus (rented from Glaziers Camera Rentals here in Seattle). Audio: Recorded with Audio-Technica AT875, and Octava MK-012, using Zoom H4N recorder on a Rode boom pole. I used a Rode VideoMic on the T2i during filmming, but did not end up using any of the sync audio. (The birds twittering is a sound effect that I purchased from istockphoto because I couldn’t get a clean recording of birds myself in Seattle due to all the background noise caused by cars and airplanes).

I used a two-step approach in producing these videos: the first step was recording audio of the girls talking during a single session that lasted just over an hour. Then, I scheduled a second session for the filmming. When reviewing the audio, I selected the bits that made me feel something, that sounded most authentic, and dropped it in to Final Cut (with regular round-tripping to Soundtrack Pro for cleaning up files), added music, and then added video as the final step.

The sessions were entirely unscripted. The interviews were conducted by the founder of the company and I, asking the girls questions about the things they liked to do together, with the goal of teasing out why they click.

The best visual moment in this first video came as a total surprise. When I showed up for the audio interview, I noticed the girls sitting together in a swing in the back yard. Because the T2i is so small, I carry it with me everywhere. So I had it with me, even though I wasn’t planning to do any shooting that day. I pulled out the camera, dropped to my knee, steadying the camera with my elbow on my knee, and started rolling as the girls blew on a dandelion together. Again, totally unscripted, totally unprompted – it just happened. And I got it. (The lens was Nikkor 50mm at 1.4 with Fader ND).

I asked them to do it again afterward, but they couldn’t find any more dandelions, so that was it! For it to be usable, I had to stabilize the footage in post, and for this I used the amazing Lock and Load X plugin, which I’ve come to rely on heavily. It’s very, very fast – about 10 times faster than the stabilizing plugin that ships with Final Cut. Because of this plug in, I’m able to get away with shooting handheld in more and more situations than I ever thought possible. Which makes me very happy.

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