By David Joshua Ford, Executive Director, Refilmery
How does a director take a winning pitch from concept into production? Earlier this year, I directed a commercial for Refilmery about a home security camera product. The system allows you to keep an eye on your home from via your smartphone. It’s a crowded market, so we had to find a way to portray the unique features of the product in a family-friendly manner. Let’s look at some of the pre-production and production challenges I encountered.
The delicate part of developing a pitch for the client was creating a world that was relatable while also demonstrating product features. I had to avoid fear mongering (i.e. thief breaking in) or creepiness (i.e. keeping tabs on the babysitter), and yet still portray the security and convenience benefits of what the camera system can do. As I searched for ideas, I liked the concept that from a child’s perspective, a parent has “eyes in the back of their head”. I embellished that to incorporate scenarios whereby the technology extended Mom and Dad’s capabilities. I used the humor of the reactions of the mischievous boy being busted to offset any bad taste around overbearing parenting.
As our team transitioned the broad pitch concept into a defined storyboard, it was difficult fitting all the product features the client wanted to portray into a one-minute story. Our budget allowed for a one-day shoot, so as the creative juices flowed outwards, we also had to reign in the practical limitations. We had to condense what was preferably a two-day shoot into a one-day shoot. To achieve this, we revised the storyboards to cover multiple features within the one scene. We reduced the number of locations needed by showing Dad at home instead of walking through the city.
With the storyboard approved, preproduction began to find a location for our family. Finding a great location can be a trade off between story and logistics. We found a cute farmhouse-style property in Tuckahoe, a little town about an hour north of New York City. However, because our production team is based in Manhattan, the travel time would have severely impeded our ability to cover the storyboards in one day. Having produced videos for real estate companies in the past, we were able to utilize our contacts for an apartment block in Brooklyn. The final look was more modern and fresh than the farmhouse, and we were able to style it down to suit a young family.
One of the main advantages of choosing a location close to our production office was that we were able to do numerous site visits before the shoot day. After an initial walk through to confirm the main logistics would work, we had follow up visits with our DP and production designer. I refined the shot list each time, tweaking the story and simplifying setups. I collapsed four scenes into the living room, so that rather than losing time resetting camera and lights, we could simply turn to another part of the same room for a different look. Finally, I photographed each setup with stand-in actors and printed the photos alongside the drawn storyboard.
It goes without saying that the more time you can invest in preproduction, the smoother the shoot will go. This is essential, because there’s always some outside obstacle that rears its head at the last minute! In our case it was a blizzard two days before shooting. With the product launching in the spring/summer, it would be a problematic story element to have the family bundled up in the snow. At this point I sat down with our producer to work out if the most efficient solution would be to re-jig the creative, or alter the logistics.
So how did we get around it? We kept the actors warm inside and did short takes for the external scenes so that their wardrobe could be lightweight. I also limited what we saw within the frame to hide the snow in the background. But the point-of-view shot from the security camera itself was directed at the ground, so we laid Astroturf across the top of the snow and warmed up the overall color tone in the grade. It was the best twenty-five bucks we spent!
As a director facing the start of a shoot day, there is both excitement for the collaborative work ahead, and intense focus to get through all the planned coverage to a high standard. With so many moving parts, it’s easy for something simple to hold up the process - an unironed shirt, a WiFi network going down, or the “toilet paper” prop tearing and needing to be reset. I was reminded again that a great production crew sees these problems before they arise, and the net effect is that it creates a team energy that buoys a director along to the finish line.
View the completed video.
David Joshua Ford is a commercial film director at Refilmery, a video production agency in New York City. He has twelve years filmmaking experience for agencies and brands such as Samsung, Edelman, Madison Square Garden, the United Nations, and National Geographic. See more at Refilmery.com.