I’ve had this idea for an ad brewing in my head for a long time. What if we could use a real-world scenario with actors, in a diner, to play out a slice of life from a couple of working-class guys promoting an electrical tester. I know, I know, not too sexy, but hey, that’s the kind of stuff video creators lay awake at night thinking about.
Well, low and behold the project got legs and I recently got the opportunity to produce and direct it.
One of the first things I had to do was find my actors and a location. Being in the Seattle area we have a variety of locations that could have worked just fine, but that wasn’t good enough. I wanted something better. I tracked down several locations and snapped iPhone shots using the Artemis app, which is really handy for this kind of work. After looking at a few places I ended up choosing the Twin Eagles Café in Snohomish.
It’s the perfect combination of wear and tear, with a greasy patina that coated some of the wood in the booths, a great exterior, a large interior, and a staff that was willing.
Too bad we couldn’t work out a deal with the owners, so on to our second choice, the historic Karl’s Bakery on Wetmore in Everett. The place has been the same since the 40’s and the new owner was willing to work with us.
When shooting on location, many places require liability insurance and if they don’t, it’s a good idea, and in your best interest to cover yourself with at least two million dollars of liability insurance. It’s one of the things that separate the pros from the hacks. One great thing about shooting in Everett is they have a film office and if you need to shoot on the street, it’s not a problem. Leave a refundable deposit, show proof of insurance and let them know where you’ll be and you won’t have any problems.
Because writing the script, securing a location, casting the parts, where the ad plays and what’s the call to action is all part of pre-production and planning, I take it very seriously. It can make or break a production, so I spend as much time as possible working through the minutia of every detail including props and costumes.
The story called for a couple of guys in their late 20’s and early 30’s. One of them is older and the other one has street smarts and younger. Having a budget to pay actors really opens up the possibilities along with having a fat file folder full of headshots from producing a lot of actor-driven videos in the past. The waitress character I already had cast from another project I created and she was perfect. It was the two guys that took a bit of work. I needed a combination of the right looks, physicality, interplay, and availability.
Being so close to the holidays my casting call resulted in just a few takers.
It all came together after a couple weeks of Skype auditions, interviews and browsing headshots.
A Bit of Luck
Part of the story included the 2 guys having a couple of work vans. Preferably white, exactly the same and late model. Humm. Being in a small(ish) city, I called the local Ford dealer and because I was doing an ad for this large local employer, the GM whose namesake is the dealership, he heartily agreed to loan us two 2015 Ford Transit Connects for free.
I offered to rent them, but he said as long as we left the license plate frame with their name on it on the cars, he’d comp them to us. Yes.
I originally wanted to create a series of short videos to drive engagement on YouTube through a playlist, but 2 days before we were to shoot, the client wanted to cut it down to just one video and we had a re-write. Urgh. So it goes when you’re working for clients. At some point you have to do a little give and take to make everyone happy.
With regards to the actual production, it went very smooth due to so much pre-production that went into the prep. I had the actors come into the studio around noon. We couldn’t get into the diner until 3:00. This gave us time to rehearse the scenes which really paid off when we got on set.
A couple days before we shot, my DP (Director of Photography) Chris Mosio convinced me to use a second camera as we only had 4-5 hours in the location at night. Anytime you add a night shoot on location to people who are basically nine to fivers you have to add a bunch more time because people aren’t on their game. Me, I was running on pure adrenaline, which in itself can be dangerous. I was just so stoked that I was able to create this project I dreamed up, to tap into the customers of this huge brand and sell product.
About running on adrenaline.
Even after many productions I still get really excited and have to control and pace myself during a shoot. It’s not a sprint, it’s a long distance event that you sometimes don’t have control over. In that case, I rely on an experienced crew, and my own instincts. It helps to keep a clear objective of why we are doing what we’re doing, and enjoy the process.
My second or B Unit was Randy Peck whom I worked with over the years, has a Sony F5 to match my Sony F3 In hindsight we couldn’t have done it without two cameras.
For audio, we used the Audix SCX One with a hypercardiod capsule on a boom pole going into a Sound Devices 302 field mixer. With a ton of lighting and grip equipment, it made for a long day wrapping around 10:00 pm.
We are currently in post-production on this project and will release it after the client releases it. Until then, we are off to the next shoot.
Daniel A. Cardenas