Mark Jackson, Senior VFX Artist, Saddington Baynes
Craig Ratcliffe, Photographer, Craig Ratcliffe Photography
Cirina Catania, Founder and Lead Creative, The Catania Group
Jon Schellenger, President, Cinematic Motion Pictures
James DeRuvo, Senior Writer, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we are looking at commercials. From Britain, to Australia, then back to the US. We start with Mark Jackson, Senior Visual Effects Artist at Saddington Baynes in London. Before all else, a commercial needs to catch the eye and the attention of the viewer. Increasingly, advertisers are using visual effects to do exactly that. Tonight, Mark walks us through the creation of Strongbow, an all VFX commercial, and the process they used to create it.
Larry Jordan: Next, we switch over to Australia, where Craig Ratcliffe has been a Commercial Photographer since, well, a long time. Tonight, he talks about his process for creating still images for commercials.
Larry Jordan: Next, Cirina Catania is an Independent Filmmaker, who got her start in commercials. Tonight, we talk about her process in creating a commercial and how this differs, as she works in different locations.
Larry Jordan: Next, Jon Schellenger owns Cinematic Motion Pictures, a Florida based production house. Tonight, we talk with him about creating local commercials, budgets and his workflow for creating compelling ads. All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Male Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking. Authoritative: One show serves a worldwide network of media professionals. Current: Uniting industry experts. Production: Filmmakers. Post-Production: And content creators around the planet. Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry; covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan.
Larry Jordan: Commercials are strange animals; they’re essential to just about all marketing today, yet creating a good one is really, really difficult. Tonight, we talk with experts across the globe about how they create the commercials that the rest of us watch. From stills, to video, at the core of every successful spot is a compelling story that grabs our attention long enough to deliver its message. But how is that done? How do production houses work with ad agencies and clients? What’s worked and where have things fallen apart? That is what we want to talk about tonight.
Larry Jordan: But first, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week, provides quick links to all the different segments on the show; plus articles of interest to filmmakers. Best of all, it’s free and comes out every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for our DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Well hi Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: It is wonderful to hear your voice again, as always. What’s in the news?
James DeRuvo: Well, you know, Adobe shipped their 2018 version of Creative Cloud this week; right as they were beginning with Adobe MAX and, in the process, we got a sneak peek of what’s coming beyond 2018. This included a little project called Project Puppetron, which uses Adobe character animator to animate a selfie of yourself, but with a graphic overlay; so you can take a picture of yourself, put graphic overlay on it to make yourself look like, I don’t know, a koala or something and then animate it; which is like really cool.
James DeRuvo: Then, you know those wires and all those little things that are in the image that you want to get rid of, well they have this thing called Project Cloak, which analyses and hides unwanted elements automatically; so thinking of things like wirework or … on steroids.
Larry Jordan: Well James, what are these Adobe sneaks?
James DeRuvo: Well, Adobe Sneaks is one of the most popular sessions at Adobe MAX, their annual conference; because it gives the content creators a peek over the horizon at what they’re looking on for future versions and though, through it we’ve gotten Adobe Character Animator, Warp Stabilizer and even mobile apps like Adobe Click to your smartphone. While many others haven’t made the cut, it’s exciting to see that Adobe keeps innovating and that our post-production workflow gets easier and easier to manage as a result. The irony is, a lot of their ideas come from their interns.
Larry Jordan: Well that’s a look at the future from Adobe, but what about the here and now?
James DeRuvo: Well, yesterday, Sony unveiled their new Alpha 7R III and it’s a pretty impressive dot upgrade. It basically uses the same back illuminated Exmor CMOS sensor as the previous A7R II; but Sony has managed to squeak out even more performance; including a burst mode of up to ten frames per second in either mechanical or silent mode; five axis image stabilization and it over-samples 14 bit log video in high dynamic range, at 5K, with no pixel binning; so that it can then output into 4K and not only at 50 frames per second, but it can also do 120 frames per second at 1080p. It’s going be a monster.
Larry Jordan: Well, what is it specifically that makes this upgrade newsworthy?
James DeRuvo: Well, I think it’s going to be able to future proof your work for the next level. You’ll be able to shoot in full frame, as well as super 30 … mode and it’s just going to be a really good upgrade for video and action still photography shooters; like sports photography and that type of thing. Some may question whether it’s worth upgrading; but if you’re interested in future proofing your work, it could take you to the next level.
Larry Jordan: Well that’s the latest from Sony; do we have any other camera news?
James DeRuvo: Speaking of looking over the horizon, let’s look back. You know that old Nikon analogue SLR that’s collecting dust in the drawer of your desk? How would you like to blow that sucker off and put a digital back on it and take digital video with it? There’s this new product called I’m Back and it’s a digital back that has this adjustable focus screen. Inside of it, it has this built-in 16 megapixel CMOS sensor and it’s designed to slip onto the backs of an old Nikon Leica or … SLR; you know the ones where you take it off and the bottom comes off as well as the back? You slip this thing on and it’s capable of shooting digital stills, as well as 2K video at 24 frames per second, or 1080p at 60 frames per second.
Larry Jordan: What impact do you think this thing is going to have?
James DeRuvo: Well, I don’t think filmmakers are going to be trading in their D850s any time soon; but if you’re looking for a cool way to get a vintage newsreel look, or super eight footage look, this could eliminate the step of developing film; maybe capturing it and adding filters and re-encoding. It’s not going to be for everybody, but it’s kind of a cool little tool to have for a specific occasion.
Larry Jordan: What other news are we following this week?
James DeRuvo: Other articles we’re following include, we’ve got a host of new competitions with which to win your favorite gear and the State of New York wants drone manufacturers to test their UAVs upstate.
Larry Jordan: James, for people that want more information, where can they go on the web?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Senior Writer for DoddleNEWS and joins us every week with the latest DoddleNEWS update. James, as always, thanks for joining us and have a good week.
James DeRuvo: Have a good weekend Larry.
Larry Jordan: Bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to, doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries; it’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platform, specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in-depth organizational tools for busy production professionals.
Larry Jordan: DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts community; a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking; performing arts to fine art; and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals, or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go, doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Mark Jackson has created still and motion campaigns for many of the world’s top advertising agencies and brands; including Heineken’s largest ever marketing campaign. He currently works at Saddington Baynes in London, as the Senior Visual Effects Artist. Hello Mark, welcome.
Mark Jackson: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: Mark, how would you describe your job as a Senior Visual Effects Artist?
Mark Jackson: My primary role is to take a project that’s not always effects heavy work, it tends to be any of the projects that are slightly more complex, say, than your average sort of 3D animation and I lead those projects through all the stages of production and hopefully create a nice ad at the end of it.
Larry Jordan: Well what first got you interested in effects all those many years ago?
Mark Jackson: That’s an interesting question. I started out as a Graphic Designer when I was a teenager, and I was working at doing flash animation and things like that, for websites. I just got really into the whole sort of animation side of it and they started doing cool things with 3D online and things like that. It sort of took me deeper and deeper into that sort of world and then I thought, I need to properly get qualified for this and so I ended up going back to university and getting qualified on a Digital Animation course. Once I was there, I ended up specializing in the visual effects 3D side of things.
Larry Jordan: On your website, which is saddingtonbaynes.com, if you click on the work page and scroll way past all of the cool ads you’ve done, about two thirds the way down, there is an ad called Strongbow. What was your role with this ad?
Mark Jackson: I was one of two lead artists on that ad and so I was responsible, essentially, for all the animation, effects and rendering on that project.
Larry Jordan: It’s all animation and effects; what were you not responsible for?
Mark Jackson: The other side of the process is compositing. Say we get the storyboard from the Director and that’s sort of your 2D flat boards, thumbnail sketches. We then take that and we’ll do an animatic. We’ll block out all of the shots and make those sort of like the wire frame; so we can actually have the scene there in front of us and move the camera around and block out all the shots.
Mark Jackson: Once all the shots are blocked out and the cameras are set; for instance, the archer in that needed creating and rigging the areas where the clouds needed to be set and then those all need to be animated and cloudified. Those are then rendered and once those are rendered, they then go into the compositing workflow; which is the point after the renders have been made. This is where the compositor will then sort of layer up clouds and, if we haven’t rendered everything together in the one shot, the compositor will then add in extra bits and pieces and color grade everything, so that everything matches nicely. Sometimes there were clouds in the background that were photographic clouds, but they were really far distance things; so you can put the sky in behind. On one of the shots you can maybe see some tree branches lower down, which came from photography.
Larry Jordan: Now I’m confused. I thought, as a Visual Effects Artist, you would create the entire frame; but it sounds like you’re creating pieces and delivering the pieces to somebody else to put together.
Mark Jackson: Yes, sometimes the amount of objects that need to be rendered in the frame can be too heavy, or take too long; especially with clouds, because, they’re a volumetric object and, once they layer up on each other, the renderer sometimes has trouble casting the ray all the way through all of these clouds and calculating all of the opacity calculations that it needs to do. What we would do is sort of split the scene into foreground elements, mid ground elements and far ground and we can render those objects with different levels of detail. The stuff in the foreground will be nice and detailed and then the mid ground and far ground will fall off in detail as you go back and so the geometry is less heavy on the scene and the renderer.
Mark Jackson: What the compositor can then do is, he’ll take those and then the compositing software can quite easily plonk those in as they layer them up and get them all to sit nicely together. It’s just sort of a shortcut that we would take, to allow the whole scene to be rendered. Then it also allows us to focus more on certain elements; so we can get the background done and the Director will go, yes that’s brilliant, that’s all good. The client would sign it off and then we can focus on, say for instance the archer and he can just be rendered and animated separately; so we can work on his movement and all of the little wisps and things that come off him. Then those can be composited together at a later date.
Larry Jordan: Everyone on the creative team is creative, so I don’t mean to imply a lack of creativity; but it sounds like the Visual Effects Artist is the design and the compositor is the assembly. Is that a fair characterization?
Mark Jackson: Yes, within reason. I don’t want to say it’s not. I think, at each part of the process, everybody has their own role and creative flair to bring to the project. There are certain things that a compositor will be able to creatively bring to the shot, to bring it alive; with their color grading and any tricks they might have, to add atmosphere and all those kind of things. Sometimes it’s little flashes of lightning that they might be able to put in the clouds, or little things like that. I think, the nearer you are to the beginning, the client and the Directors will flesh out that story and then, as we go down along the line, each part of the process has its own creative piece of the puzzle to add.
Larry Jordan: What’s the role of the Director, especially regarding the artist? Because you’re doing the creative process, you’re designing the actual pieces that are going to go there; what’s the Director doing?
Mark Jackson: Well, if say we’re blocking out shots, you know, we would sit with the Director and we would sort of go through each shot by shot. Sometimes, you know, the little thumbnail drawing doesn’t make as much sense when you put it in the world and, then, once you start adding camera moves, some shots don’t flow together quite as nicely as you thought they would, once the camera starts moving. Then, we’ll sit there and we’ll work out together how that camera move can change to work.
Mark Jackson: The Director we worked with on the Strongbow ad, I think it was one of the first times he’d actually worked on a fully CGI commercial; most of his stuff before had been video based. He was very used to working on set and dealing with talent and things like that; so it was interesting to have his perspective. I have done stuff in the past on set and I have an idea of how things work, but to have that level of experience there, that we can all use to make a better ad, is very useful. We can replicate everything in the CG world, cameras and lights and all that sort of thing from practical, so it’s ended up being quite a nice and easy process for him to start and take us through to the end.
Larry Jordan: The purpose of a commercial is to make the audience aware of something and encourage them to buy it. Because every commercial has the same goal, how do you avoid clichés and how do you keep your commercials fresh?
Mark Jackson: That’s a good question. I think our company has a set of, I guess, values and we have some great Creative Directors here that try and push those values through as a studio. You know, people come to us because we have a certain set of criteria; you know, we create emotional imagery that is photo real and we’re good at complex short creative pieces. By sticking to our own idea of what is a great image, that allows us to steer away from the cliché things. If we’re working with a good creative team, everybody is highly aware when we do something that’s been overdone, or done to death. It’s always about trying to find our own spin on it, even if we’ve been given a creative brief that could very easily veer off into cliché. I think it’s just being aware of that.
Larry Jordan: How long did it take to create the Strongbow ad; from approval of the concept by the client. In other words you got the go light?
Mark Jackson: I’m going to say between five to six weeks, I think. If I remember correctly, it was about a five week project.
Larry Jordan: For people that want more information about your company and the work that you do, where can they go on the web?
Mark Jackson: They can visit saddingtonbaynes.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, saddingtonbaynes.com and Mark Jackson is a Senior Visual Effects Artist at Saddington Baynes and, Mark, thanks for joining us today.
Mark Jackson: Thank you.
Larry Jordan: Craig Ratcliffe is a Commercial and Advertising Photographer based in Brisbane, Australia. He began his career in photography in Sydney at age 15; following in the footsteps of his Father. Hello Craig, welcome back.
Craig Ratcliffe: Hello there Larry, nice to be talking to you.
Larry Jordan: What first made you decide to build your career on photography?
Craig Ratcliffe: It originated from the fact that my Father was a photographer; so I was always hanging around his studios as a small child. He’d get a new studio and we’d be taken in there as kids and he’d build these things. I don’t know, we were always hanging around the studio. Then, when I left school, he offered me a job in his studio, as his assistant, and I took up the opportunity and I’ve basically been doing that ever since.
Larry Jordan: Well let’s flash forward a few years and now you’re running your own company. A client comes to you and wants you to shoot a photograph for an ad. How do you approach a commercial shoot?
Craig Ratcliffe: Well, hopefully they would have some kind of brief put together.
Larry Jordan: What would you expect in the brief?
Craig Ratcliffe: I would like a visual, what we called in the old days a layout, which would be a rough rendering of the concept and then some kind of a vocal brief as well. I usually work with advertising agencies; although the system’s changing a little bit these days. I would be taken to the agency and briefed on the shoot and I’d consider what I’d have to do, to get the outcome that they want.
Larry Jordan: Would the agency give you a sketch of what they want the picture to look like?
Craig Ratcliffe: Yes, in the old model, yes, that’s what would happen. In the new digital age, there’s been quite a shift in how advertising is done. Rather than just having advertising agencies, we’ve got a plethora of people; like social media agencies etc. I find a lot of my photography, these days, is directed at social media; it’s such a potent force. That’s the way clients are directing a lot of their advertising. But yes, I would hope to have some kind of rendering I could look at and conceive the appropriate system to add the photograph.
Larry Jordan: Would you change your procedure if you were shooting something that’s going to go to the web versus print?
Craig Ratcliffe: Generally not, because I believe I should give them the optimum quality possible; so I would always shoot at a high resolution. If that was needed for social media, or online work, then that would be in some way true; the production would be lowered in resolution or what have you.
Larry Jordan: What are some of your favorite things to capture?
Craig Ratcliffe: People, in particular; I love photographing people. I love working with actors. I mean, I shoot everything from food, to jewelry, to cars. In particular, I do a lot of work on set, on television commercials; so working around a film crew. I really do enjoy that, although I don’t get much time on set; time is usually the optimum. In fact, that’s what I’m doing today.
Larry Jordan: Wait a minute. You’re creating a still image, why do you need to work with an actor; where’s the acting?
Craig Ratcliffe: Well, if it was a television commercial with an actor do you mean?
Larry Jordan: Yes, but there’s movement, they’re walking around; they’re walking and talking and chewing gum all at the same time; they’re not doing any of that for you.
Craig Ratcliffe: Yes, well I would have get in there and grab my shot as quick as I can usually; when the First Assistant Director gives me a moment on a film set. But in my own studio, or location, where I’ve got control, of course I can direct people a lot better and more at length.
Larry Jordan: What cameras are you using at the moment?
Craig Ratcliffe: At the moment I’m using a Nikon D810 and hoping, very shortly, to upgrade to the Nikon D850.
Larry Jordan: In this age when a good camera costs a ton of money and the technology is changing so quickly, is it still a good idea to buy your own gear, or should we rent cameras?
Craig Ratcliffe: It’s my belief that you should certainly own a camera and your own lens kit; that can change if you need a particular lens that you might not have; but that doesn’t happen very often. I don’t possess a huge 800 ml, I would hire that; that’s a particularly expensive lens; but I have a good lens range. I still own all my lighting equipment as well. But I don’t know if cameras are that expensive these days; I think they’re actually pretty cheap these days. I used to use Hasselblad in the film days and that was a tremendously expensive camera; but I had four of them. But when you bought them, they lasted virtually your career, sometimes.
Craig Ratcliffe: These days, things are obviously improving rapidly and new cameras are coming up for sale online pretty regularly.
Larry Jordan: What can clients do, and I define client to mean an ad agency, when hiring you as a photographer, that makes your job easy?
Craig Ratcliffe: I like to have agency representation on set; particularly an Art Director, who can help me with the visual, who can approve at the time of the shoot, rather than down the line somewhere, where everything’s over. Again, these days, there are so many different formats; so you’re looking at online, where you may have banners of various sizes, even bus ads here in Brisbane, there’s something like 27 separate pieces of artwork that have to fit 27 styles of buses. There are dozens of different artwork formats; so we’ve got to make sure that my image is going to work within all those formats. You’re not working around the restrictions of the camera’s format these days, which is traditionally 35 ml, vertical landscape.
Larry Jordan: For clients that realize they have to improve the quality of their photography, where can they go on the web to learn more about you?
Craig Ratcliffe: www.ratcliffephotography.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, ratcliffephotography.com and Craig Ratcliffe is a Commercial Photographer based in Brisbane and, Craig, thanks for joining us today.
Craig Ratcliffe: Thank you very much Larry, it’s been a pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Cirina Catania is a successful Writer, Director, Journalist, Tech Evangelist and Filmmaker. She’s also a former Senior Marketing Executive at MGM/UA and United Artists and one of the original co-founders of the Sundance Film Festival. Hello Cirina, welcome back.
Cirina Catania: Well hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: It’s been a while, I have missed your voice.
Cirina Catania: I know, thank you, I’ve missed you too.
Larry Jordan: Cirina, this evening we’re talking about commercials and I know you were involved with one of the first branded entertainment thingies on the web, when you were asked to shoot the Chivas Regal advertisements. What was that like?
Cirina Catania: Actually, my gosh, I was thinking earlier today, that was almost nine or ten years ago; I don’t know where time goes. We were counted, at the time, as the first branded entertainment on the web and actually created a channel in connection with the brand, which was Chivas; the ad agency; the production company; and then the distribution outlet, which in this case was MSN for the web.
Larry Jordan: What is your process for a commercial shoot? What do you go through and how does the workflow work?
Cirina Catania: It really depends on where you are in the hierarchy. With me, if I’m hired to direct, sometimes I’m also hired to write. In the case of Chivas, I was writing, directing and then post-supervising. The first thing is to really find out what the demographics and the psychographics are of the brand that you are promoting. You have to know who your audience is. The ad agency and/or the production company, in connection with the ad agency, are the ones who have done all of that research and they pass that along to you as the Director, Cinematographer, Writer and you help them to create what is in their heads.
Cirina Catania: I think the difference between an ad agency shoot and a commercial shoot and a normal film that I might be making is, there are a lot more people involved on a commercial shoot side and a lot more people to please and a lot more creative impressions that are made onto the product by the team. It’s a whole different thing.
Larry Jordan: Does it make a difference if you’re shooting a commercial in the States, versus shooting it abroad?
Cirina Catania: No, I don’t think so. The difference is, if you’re based here in the States and you’re shooting abroad, you’re going to need a really good fixer; which is somebody that knows the local lay of the land, has the crews available, can find translators for you, can make sure you stay out of trouble. If you’re shipping a lot of equipment overseas, shipping regulations have changed. On one shoot, we found out that we couldn’t really ship any of the special effects makeup that we wanted to use to create the characters we were going to create; so, at the last minute, we’re scrambling around in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji trying to find the chemicals and the makeup that we needed to create the characters.
Larry Jordan: What’s been the most unusual place you’ve shot a commercial?
Cirina Catania: LA.
Larry Jordan: How so?
Cirina Catania: LA is weird man. Well I don’t know. I’ve been all over the world and I don’t think of it in terms of weird. I did shoot a series of branded videos for a company that was doing survival videos in the Amazon; which took me to the Amazon. Sleeping in tree hammocks and dealing with all the poisonous wildlife and the food in the Amazon. I wouldn’t say it was weird, but it was really interesting. I love those kind of challenges.
Larry Jordan: Perhaps more offbeat is probably the better word.
Cirina Catania: Yes, something a little bit different. In the case of Chivas, I was really lucky, because they really gave me a lot of leeway. They hired me because they knew I was also a Writer and they basically told me what they wanted; they told me what cities they wanted us to go to and the production team helped me to hire the local crews and to deal with all the venues, based on what we wanted to shoot; so that was pretty good. We went to six cities in 17 production days.
Larry Jordan: What can clients do, and that includes ad agencies, to make your job easier?
Cirina Catania: I think it’s all about communication and being very clear. The more they can tell you about what’s happening on their end, in terms of the creative, the better you’re going to be at it. Some clients are very forthcoming and they’ll share everything with you; they’ll share the creative briefs they’ve given to their client, obviously, they have to share the storyboards or you can’t shoot. But there’s a lot of underlying material that is distributed amongst the internal staff and some of them will share it with the outside Writer, Producer, Director and others will just put you on a need to know basis; which makes it for us as creatives a little bit more difficult.
Cirina Catania: It’s easier for us to please our clients if we know exactly what they want, when they want it and how they want it; you know, what’s the style, what’s the content, how many people are going to have to approve this. All of those procedures, as much as they can tell me personally, then I can do a better job for them.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to hire your company to create their next commercial, where do they go on the web?
Cirina Catania: They can go to www.thecataniagroup.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, thecataniagroup.com and Cirina Catania is the Lead Creator for the Catania Group. Cirina, as always, it’s wonderful. Have yourself a great evening.
Cirina Catania: Thanks Larry. Goodnight.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website; thalo.com. Thalo is an artist community and networking site for creative people to connect, be inspired, and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world, with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market, and sell their works. Thalo is a part of Thalo Arts, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking; performing arts to fine arts; and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed. Visit thalo.com and discover how their community can help you connect, learn and succeed. That’s thalo.com
Larry Jordan: Jon Schellenger is the President of the Florida based production company, Cinematic Motion Pictures; specializing in local and national television commercials, corporate video and they’re moving into independent features. Hello Jon, welcome back.
Jon Schellenger: Hey Larry, how you doing?
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just realizing, it’s almost four years since the last time we had you on the show. It’s good to have you back again.
Jon Schellenger: It’s good to be back.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe your company?
Jon Schellenger: We do everything from stock footage, to television commercials, all the way to feature films.
Larry Jordan: I want to focus, for today, just on your commercial work; so let’s shift and put our commercial hats on. When a client hires your company to do a commercial, what’s your role in the creative process?
Jon Schellenger: We play a little bit of everything, I mean, all the way from just simply editing; to being the Director of Photography, which is what I like to do on set, about 95% of the time; all the way to directing, if I have to. Most of the time it’s usually the ad agency, if there is an ad agency for the commercial and, if not, it’s usually the people that have the concept in their mind; like, you know, the owners of an eyeglass company, let’s say.
Larry Jordan: You’ve done both local and national commercials. What’s the difference between the two? Is it just the budget?
Jon Schellenger: You know what? It’s pretty much just the budget. They are very, very similar.
Larry Jordan: Because so many local commercials are so painful to watch and, yet, most national commercials are not. Is it just because you get more by spending more?
Jon Schellenger: You know, when you start out, you start out doing local and you’ve got smaller camera gear, you have a smaller crew; therefore, you know, smaller lighting equipment that you might be bringing out. When you have the larger budgets, now you can start bringing out, you know, Grips and Gaffers and people like that; so now you can get the shots to move. You can bring in larger lighting, so you can light through windows; you know, with some HMI equipment, that kind of stuff. This always help bring up the production value for sure.
Larry Jordan: When you’re creating a commercial or, more importantly, when a client comes to you with an idea for a commercial and let’s say they want to have you take creative control; they’re not exactly sure what they want to do, when do you fall back on clichés like puppies and kittens and when do you suggest they try to break away from that and chart some new ground?
Jon Schellenger: I have to feel the client out and see what they’re willing to do. If I have a fun client that is completely open for fun ideas, then I will do everything I can to not do anything cliché. For a local car commercial in Palm Beach, we had a concept that the lady that wanted to do the TV spot, she had this idea. It was called Take a Virtual Tour and it was a 3D animated car and it did all these things. As soon as I heard it I’m thinking, what’s your budget and what’s your deadline? You have only like two weeks to do this, there’s no way you’re ever going to make that deadline. I just told her straight up. I was nervous during the interview because I’m thinking, there’s just simply no way this is going to happen.
Jon Schellenger: She then asked me, she goes, well what kind of car commercial would you do? Of course, me, I don’t want to do anything that everybody sees every single day; I don’t want to do anything that looks local, even though it’s a local TV spot; I want to do something that looks very polished, very national. I told her, I said, you know, when I walked in here, the first car I bumped into was an Aston Martin and so why don’t we make James Bond ads; so it’s something along the line, like the guy is always on the quest to get the key to the car and we utilize all kinds of local areas in Florida. Something where we can bring in scuba-diving; you know, he’s diving off a ship wreck and, when he comes out of the ocean, there’s the car revealed, he’s got the key. You know, some kind of mission; the guy’s always going after the key. We won a lot of awards for that campaign.
Larry Jordan: Well you’ve only got 30 seconds, how do you create a story in that short a period of time?
Jon Schellenger: That is extremely hard to do; you’ve got to be very, very creative on that and you have to think out of the box. Let me say this Larry, you absolutely have to have that figured out so far in pre-production; because, if you don’t, you’re dead. I’ll give you a case in point. For the same car commercials that we were doing, they had a $22,000 budget for a local TV spot and they wanted to do something really elaborate with the helicopter; so we were thinking, okay, there’s going to be a helicopter chase scene.
Jon Schellenger: If you actually go onto our website, you’ll actually see these spots, because they’re posted up there. We did a helicopter chase scene, where they closed down part of an airport in the south part of Florida; one of these small airports. We shoot this elaborate commercial and the guy is late for his wedding and, basically, you know, he’s trying to avoid the helicopters and everything and then it gets to the wedding and you find out that he forgot the wedding ring and that’s why they were chasing him. When we talked to the ad agency, we made it very specific that it was going to be a one minute spot; there was no way we could do that in 30 seconds, with everything; because, no matter how many times we try to come up with the combination code to make that a 30 second spot, it could not happen.
Jon Schellenger: They agreed to it and here we were three months later, deep in post-production, and she saw the first cut of it and she goes, well how long is this? We said one minute exactly. She goes, it needs to be 30 seconds, why is it a minute? There was just dead silence. The only other thing I could say, when it comes down to doing commercials and I know it’s a little bit of a long-winded answer, but it is important, you have to have everything in writing; there’s got to be contracts. You just have to be very specific. It’s not that you’re trying to lock somebody into certain agreements, but it’s there also to protect you as a production company.
Jon Schellenger: That spot, we actually did cut down to 30 seconds, it was so confusing, nobody understood what the spot was. They played it once and they never played it again. We have gotten so many battle scars from doing TV spots.
Larry Jordan: What causes the biggest battle scar? What’s the battle you fight over and over again?
Jon Schellenger: Budget, always budget. It’s like anybody comes up and says, I want to make a music video and then I’ve got to play 20 questions with them, because I can’t give them a price until I understand what is the music video; what do they want to do; what is the commercial; what do you want to do? Are we shooting outside; I mean, do you want drones to be used to shoot your building? If that’s the case, I’ve got to get permits now and I’ve got to get a drone operator.
Jon Schellenger: You know, that just goes on and on and on and you start looking at the list of everything and you come up with the budget and then you give it to them and they turn around and say, oh no, no, no, I know somebody who can do it for 1,200 bucks. You sit there and you’re like, I can’t compete with that and you have to let them go, at that point, or you try to bring your budget down a little bit by being respectful. I don’t want to laugh at them when they tell me what their budget is, I want to see if there’s a way I can tailor my budget to help them and, if not, then I’ll simply give them a suggestion of somebody I know, who’s just getting started, who I can recommend as another videographer, or a cinematographer who can, you know, shoot their spot for them. At least I know they’ll get good customer service wherever they go.
Larry Jordan: The battle of the budget is always the hardest isn’t it?
Jon Schellenger: Yes, absolutely and, if you’re not careful, and this is the big one, you can sink your ship very quickly. In the production business, if you sit there and offer the world and, the next thing you know, it takes you three or four extra days to cut something for them, because of scope creep or whatever, and you let that happen, next thing you know, I can’t make my business work anymore and you will close doors. You’ve got to be very careful. You’re not trying to be mean with anybody, you’ve just got to make sure it’s very crystal clear what your expectations as a production company are; so you can avoid scope creep. That’s huge.
Larry Jordan: Put your people hat on for a minute. How do you convince a client that what they want to do just won’t work?
Jon Schellenger: In this business, also, we’re not out there just to make a bunch of videos for a reel, we’re out there to get repeat business. The biggest thing you want to do is you want to offer the client customer service all the way. You can’t just tell them, no that can’t be done, you have to tell them why and you have to try to get them to understand. For example, when the ad agency wanted to do this elaborate 3D thing, I said, that’s going to require a building filled with people and that’s going to be probably two months of work. I said, I could build a 3D steering wheel and it’ll take me a day just to build that.
Jon Schellenger: Instead of just saying no and leaving them nowhere to go, I gave them suggestions and, hopefully, they take those suggestions. If they don’t and they are absolutely wanting to do the spot no matter what, sometimes, and it’s painful to do, you have to turn it down. You’ve just got to tell them, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I want to do this spot for you really bad, but we just don’t have the manpower; we don’t have the current technology to do it.
Larry Jordan: What’s your favorite client to work with?
Jon Schellenger I love clients that are open-minded and the ones that kind of think like me; which is someone that’s obviously out of the box; people that don’t want just the same old local TV spots, they’re willing to do something different, something crazy, not specifically artsy, but just something that really is eye-catching. Maybe my favorite client would be somebody that sees cinematically, I love that; people that respect the work that goes into making something really cinematic; something very national, even though it’s a local spot. It makes them look great, it makes their company look great.
Jon Schellenger: Commercials are very similar to shooting movies; the movies is a marathon and the commercials are really nice. In some ways, I almost like doing commercials more than I do the movies, because, the post-production side of it is very quick, you know, it’s 30 seconds; so to go in there and watch it 20,000 times, you can do it basically in one day; you could color correct everything in a day, you can export it out and double-check your deliverables very quickly.
Jon Schellenger: Whereas, if you do a movie, it’s, you know, however long the movie is; it’s an hour and a half movie, or two hour movie, it could be a two to three hour render. You have no choice but to do quality control, so you have to sit there and watch it now, to make sure there’s no render glitches or anything wrong with it and then you have to upload it to the client and that takes a long time.
Jon Schellenger: Commercials are nice because, you know, the ones that have the decent budgets are great; you can go in there and shoot it in a day, usually cut it in a day, day and a half and you’re done. I like that side of how fast the commercials are and how different each commercial can be from one another.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to create their own eye-catching spots, where can they go on the web to learn more about you?
Jon Schellenger: Go to cinematicmotionpictures.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, cinematicmotionpictures.com and Jon Schellenger is the President of Cinematic Motion Pictures and, Jon, thanks for joining us today.
Jon Schellenger: Larry, thank you, I appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking about the power of simple kindness. Last week, one of my co-workers was having a difficult time personally; though, she still needed to get work done in the office. Part of her job is contacting people to set up interviews for The Buzz. Now, for those of you who have done any amount of cold calling, or cold emailing, you know how depressing that can be. Imagine her surprise and delight in getting an email reply from a high-level executive at a tech firm.
Larry Jordan: Even though they declined the interview, the email itself was pleasant, cheerful and personal; even though the two of them had not met before. What struck me was her reaction to the note. The executive could simply have ignored her, or sent back a one word reply; instead, they sent a pleasant personal comment. It wasn’t just the message, it was how the message was packaged. Far too often, we lose sight of the fact that the words we say and how we say them makes a difference.
Larry Jordan: Earlier today, my Wife walked into the office, commenting about how much she likes talking with customer support at her credit card company, because they’re always polite and easy to talk with. In today’s world, it’s easy to be unnecessarily abrupt, especially with people we don’t know; but after seeing the smile on my associate’s face, it made me appreciate, even more, the power that a cheerful phrase and kind words have to brighten someone’s day. Just something I’m thinking about and, as always, I’m interested in your opinion.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank this week’s guests, Mark Jackson with Saddington Baynes, Photographer Craig Ratcliffe, Filmmaker Cirina Catania, Jon Schellenger with Cinematic Motion Pictures and James DeRuvo with DoddleNEWS. There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online and all available to you today, and remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @dpbuzz and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner, with additional music provided by smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take1 Transcription; visit take1.tv, to learn how they can help you. Our Producer is Debbie Price, assisted by Tori Hoefke. My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2017 by Thalo LLC.