Making the Script - Reverse Documentary-Style
I was talking with a colleague the other day talking about this Holiday piece I directed and cut for the cool folks at The Atkins Group - an Ad Agency here in San Antonio. "Cute Girl…the video was nice" is what most say. That's great, I am appreciative of the opportunity and any praise my work gets. But when I started telling him about the script and getting the little girl (her name is Brinkley) to repeat the lines and make sure I got the coverage I needed, he stopped me.
"Wait, that was scripted?"
Here is how this video was made.
The Executive Creative Director at the Agency wanted to do nice, warm, sweet video about the Holidays and remind everyone "about the good stuff". We work well together and have developed a good level of trust over the years. He laid out the idea and script, that sparked my own ideas and I knew the perfect little girl for this. It was a good script. The problem was, she was younger than the script called for. We talked about new creative possibilities and re-guided the script. He re-wrote the dialogue to fit the new younger talent. Now it was time to get it done.
This was a probono job and relied on what was available - favors and love. Based on the script we needed a little girl, a Christmas setting/scene and a lot of prayers/hope/LUCK! First order of business, secure the talent. Brinkley was my next door neighbor and I asked her parents (and Brinkley) if they wanted to help make a Christmas/Holiday video with me. After we discussed all the details, they were in! That was huge! No Brinkley, no video. The new script called for a little girl sending santa a video she was recording herself. That gave me the liberty to test and see what the new iPhone 7 could do.
Enter FilmicPro, an amazing app that allows full control over the iPhone's video camera. I tested, tested, and tested. Then did a quick tech scout at Brinkley's house. I wanted to achieve a few things from my tech scout.
First, I wanted to see how my settings on the camera and time of day would work together (or not), how would the footage hold up…would i need to bring lights based on the location…how does my talent look in the scene…how does slo-mo look/feel…etc? Once i found a setting i liked, I saved presets in the app to use in production.
Second, find my shots! Being that I was the Director/DP/Gaffer/Grip/CamAssist/Scripty/etc…I didn't want to be distracted with this stuff and just be able to focus on Brinkley (as much as possible). So knowing what shots/angles to shoot ahead of time was a huge time saver and helped me a lot.
Third, Staging. This was a good pre-run with Brinkley and her Mom. We didn't actually do the script, but pieces of it. Doing this, I got her familiar with the camera…I mean phone, find her staging marks and limit them as much as possible. We knew how the room was going to look, what shutters to close and where to add extra christmas lights for depth. This also gave her mom an idea of what to expect, very helpful during production.
What I learned
The iPhone is pretty capable of recording some amazing video. I was surprised at the quality i was able to achieve. Again, this was mostly in a controlled environment and specifically fit the creative. I couldn't believe that this might actually work...and this affirmed, testing is always crucial to getting through hiccups. There will always be hiccups in production, always. The tech scout helped me form strategies and tactics to help Brinkley give me the performance I was wanting.
I've worked with kids before and knew attention span would go quick. So we decided it would be best to film over a few days, in short runs (about 3hrs day 01, 2hrs day 02 and about 1hr on day 03). Plus, she was not actress, just a sweet little girl. Repeating lines and scenes would tire/bore her faster too. In my tech scout I determined I did need some light support, so I built a light board out of foam core and white Christmas lights. This really helped give her a proper eye-light and helped fill in the dark side of her face also. (Again, i'm not a DP or gaffer, I prefer to entrust that to real DPs and Gaffers, but I didn't have that luxury on this one) Day 1 we filmed the script, by the end she was getting tired and bored, so we stopped and I went into editorial mode. Day 2 we filmed pickups and Day 3 we re-shot three Broll scenes. Like I said earlier, the script was good with the perfect amount of lines for her to go through. I ended up getting several good takes for each line. During filming, I made sure to just let her do it her way and see what was natural for her, then tweak and adjust from there. Some lines I had her try different things and to get a different emotion. Paying close attention to her behavior, maybe even changing which line she delivered based on her mood. I was filming at UHD and had in mind of punching in tight if need be in the edit between different takes. That helped, and allowed me to just focus on getting lines.
What I learned
The iPhone's form factor was huge for this. Because it was a familiar device, she didn't shy or feel awkward filming. Also, there really wasn't a traditional set, lights, c-stands, hairy grips, people holding laptops, loud noises. It was just us three in her living room, talking to santa on an iPhone. Perdy sweet. Having the right environment for her was crucial.
PLAN PLAN PLAN. doesn't matter how fast the turn around, this was kinda fast. the more you play, I mean plan, the better it potentially can be. Specifically with new technologies and in the times when you are taking on more roles, test and plan!
Editorial took place simultaneously during production. Oh, that was me too. Cut on FinalCutPro X, colored in DaVinci Resolve and mixed in ProTools at The LivingRoom Sound. Raw material filmed on iPhone at UHD, cut in 1080.
I work in advertising and we strife to achieve the best results with the best possible equipment. In a world of constant tech reviews, pixel analyzing and color science, it was very nice to just take a script and make something. New idea…just try it. That, was very refreshing. Think, create, inspire. This piece isn't the world's best super awesome, but it does shine for many different reasons, one being it was born out of an idea and made almost as instantly as it was thought up. That's pretty cool considering how long things normally take and speaks to a new era of content creation. Let's get creating!