The Story of a Shoot Pt. 1

As I walked up to my first commercial video shoot, I am hushed by folks with one finger over their mouth.

It is with good reason.

The first thing I learned is this: you have to be quiet on the set. The highly sensitive microphones used in production can pick up even slight shuffling on hardwood floors through closed doors, rooms away.

The home was littered with camera stands, a scrim and bounce to soften light, cases that look like they could survive an atomic bomb, batteries charging in stacks, strewn about safety blankets, a steamer, a massive “eco punch” light, quarter inch cable running all over the floor, Steadicam vests, staging items like curtains and rugs, and miniature improvised work stations on almost every surface, and me, looking befuddled in the middle of the room.

I figured it took a lot of equipment to shoot commercials, but I learned how big of an understatement that was once I took it all in.

People waited on couches, feverishly typing on macbook computers, whispering occasionally to their neighbor.

Then the rain came.

While the crew hustled outside to make sure the equipment was moved indoors, I learned that most shoots are at the mercy of the elements, and perfect lighting can change to dismal lighting in seconds flat.

What I learned next was the meticulous nature of a shoot. The director talked at great length about the continuity of hand movements within a scene and wanted to ensure that even the smallest detail was perfect…or as close as humanly possible.

The light flared, changing the mood in the living room. While it poured down rain outside, the eco punch light filtered through the scrim, creating what appeared to be natural-window light. A bigger light is a softer light, which is more visually pleasing on most subjects, I learned.

Art directors gathered in the corner, gazing at the curtains in the sun room. Their weight shifted to their back foot as they made sweeping motions with their hands.

People noshed on small pastries and muffins, joking casually: the proverbial eye of the storm.

I looked around at family photos on the wall and a stuffed Mickey Mouse perched beside the flat screen TV. I learned that shoots can be in someone’s very personal space. I guess I assumed shoots of this size and calibre were all done in sterile studios made to look homey.

But this was someone’s home.

The family dogs laid sprawled out on their beds, looking through glass doors, desperately wanting a playmate as they wagged their tails.

The director spoke to the crew with a voice reminiscent of movie trailer narrations; deep and direct.  “This room is looking nice and airy,” he said pleasantly surprised.

And then we waited. Literally, for clothes to dry, which is only one step up on the interest scale from paint.

“It’s more relaxing today than usual,” Carley said as the washer spun round.  Others commented that the forced downtime was a welcome break and that it was usually much crazier on the shoots.

I felt comfortable too. I didn’t feel as though people were wondering what the guy in the corner was doing, as I jotted down thoughts into a moleskine notebook.

“Stephen,” the director called to the producer. “We need a cable in here now.” And Stephen was gone in a flash. I swear he left so quickly that his outline hung in the air.

With baited breath, we watched the scene in the laundry room on a 20 inch screen.

“We are going to reshoot the pour,” the director says speaking of the scene of detergent being poured into the washing machine.

“Why?,” a man from the agency asks.”I thought the first one was fine.”

“He poured the detergent too high in the cup,” the director responds matter of factly.

Perfect…or as close as humanly possible.

(This ends the first installment of The Story of a Shoot. Stay tuned next week for more musings regarding my first video shoot experience.)