A couple of weeks before Christmas I got a call from Matt Snyman asking if I would like to shoot a commercial for him to enter into the Mofilm competition for Chevrolet. We quickly bounced some ideas off of each other and he said the magic words to me that every DoP wants to hear – “I’m leaving the visual style completely in your control, make it look cool”. I was immediately on board.
The idea for the commercial was simple. It opens with two children, sitting in a make-shift cardboard car that they have constructed. They then travel on an imaginary journey across the world in their cardboard car before returning into the garage as adults in a real Chevrolet car.
We were shooting in a double garage on a very small budget but we had managed to wrangle a RED MX and a full set of Zeiss Super Speeds from Decode UK. The challenge was to create a visually striking commercial with a high budget look in a confined space with limited power (we were running off mains electricity). I gave a call to James Kar, a trusted fellow DoP to give me a hand as gaffer and he also came on board which was brilliant as it enabled me to focus on the project as a whole.
First I set about lighting the cardboard car scenes and I wanted maximum flexibility. Working with children takes a lot more patience and I knew that the kids would get bored really quickly so I needed a lighting package that could be quickly changed with the best efficiency so I opted to bring in a couple of Dedo-light kits that are very flexible with their size, quality of light and the ability to dim. I wanted an overall ambient light inside the cardboard car coming from above and we did this by balancing (I stress the word balancing as all we had was a little bit of gafferholding it in place on the garage door joist) a kino-flo with a set of four tungsten tubes. This gave us a really nice slightly spotlit soft light from above which was enhanced when we smoked the garage up. For the children’s light we simply used two dedo’s close up cross-lighting both of them. This worked really nice as we were able to bring the lights in really close to give us a soft directional light which also provided nice eyelights you can in the commercial. And finally to light the green screen I simply used two diffused redheads to give a nice even light on the green screen. I was happy for the three characters (yes, they were a Panda, a Penguin Pilot and a Rabbit cowboy) in the back seats to be slightly underexposed as I didn’t want the viewers eyes to distract them away from the main characters. That was pretty much the basic setup for the shoot.
As you can see from the lighting diagram we also had several Dedo lights gelled with different colours and an LED light that we would spin continually to give the illusion of the car passing through the bright lights of the vibrant cities around the world that the children travel through. It was a really low budget way of achieving a nice feeling of movement in the car and we were pretty happy with the effect in the rushes.
We were running out of time towards the end of the day and we needed to get the final shot of the car pulling into the driveway at night-time. I knew that I would have to have some lighting outside so that the car wasn’t entering the garage from a black wilderness so we put up a 1.2k HMI and raked it as a 3/4 backlight across the front driveway and it was able to pick up hints of foliage and also rimlit the car which worked nicely. Inside the garage we had to remove all lighting equipment to be able to let the car fit in with enough space. Ideally, when lighting cars it is really nice to be able to place some bare kino-flo bulbs around the car which reflect in the curvature of the car however unfortunately we didn’t have enough time nor the resources to make this happen. in the end we had to settle with using the existing fluorescent fixtures in the garage to light the car as it entered and fix the mixed colour temperature to our taste in post.. Sometimes you have to find a compromise in your lighting even if it is not to your taste and this is a definite example of that situation.
For the shoot we also rented a smoke machine from a prop house which gave us some crazy amounts of smoke. I really wanted the garage door opening sequence to be overly dramatic and luckily Matt was so on board and open-minded with my ideas that he plumped for the smoke machine as well and I’m glad he did. it took a lot of choreography to get the smoke outside the garage door just right so that when it opened the smoke billowed into the garage. I placed our 1.2k HMI behind the smoke and pointed it through the cars windscreen to flare the camera and deliberately over expose the smoke to help sell the children’s imagination.
With all my projects I really like to get involved as early as i can in pre-production and will always try and go to the grade to complete the visual look for the film as so much can be changed in the grade and your work can be ruined to as much of an extent as it can be improved and this is why I feel it is so important to attend the grade. Sadly on the project I wasn’t able to attend as I was at Camerimage (a cinematography film festival) in Poland so I hope to get the footage to have a play around with myself at some point.
Overall though, considering our restrictions and the turnaround time it wasn’t a bad effort. There were a lot of compromises we had to deal with which in hindsight I would have loved to have changed but such is the nature of the beast I would have been there all night making minor adjustments.
The commercial was nominated for the best commercial along with 20 others and has a great chance of coming in 1st place in it’s group.
WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!!!