The world of commercial shooting, whether stills or video, is an attractive one. It can be a tough one to break into, but it can also be a lot of fun. But it’s not like shooting for yourself or for personal clients. There’s often big crews to deal with, time and budget constraints, venue hire, actors, and a whole host of other potential issues to deal with.
On a recent commercial shoot for Nu Skin, filmmaker Parker Walbeck documented what went into making it. He talks about the gear used, as well as how it was used. We learn about the lighting choices and setup used to film the actors. Parker also talks about the budget breakdown for this shoot.
The commercial was to advertise Nu Skin’s new toothpaste, and the whole idea was to inspire people to smile more in life. So, the video was titled, Choose to Smile. They brought in a series of actors and asked them two sets of questions. The first set of questions was designed to invoke sadness. The second set of questions to bring out happiness. The subjects were photographed after each set of questions.
The idea here was to show the subjects the two photographs to compare. To see how much of a difference it makes to smile. And the results are very effective. The goal was to create genuine emotion. You quickly see how giving your subject a reason to smile rather than simply asking them to smile makes a big impact on the final result.
The client gave Parker about an $8,000 budget to shoot the whole thing, which breaks down a little like this.
- $3,000 – To hire 6 or 7 actors
- $1,500 – Producer
- $1,500 – Director
- $1,500 – Editing (4 minute edit, 1 minute edit)
- $500 – Location hire
- A few hundred dollars for makeup artists, sound designers, etc.
Parker said the first major issue was whether to go with random people or to hire actors. In the end he decided to go with actors. His reasoning was that they simply know how to better present themselves to camera. It also allowed them to hand pick who was in front of the camera to give a wide diversity of subjects.
Even though they used actors, they had no idea what the questions were going to be beforehand. Actors are people, too. So, their responses are genuine. Parker says he believes it’s definitely worth paying for professional talent on something like this. Going cheap on the talent and just using your friends can often make the production feel cheap and unprofessional.
As far as gear goes, it was a fairly minimal setup, but what little they used was fairly high end.
- 42″ Motorised Rhino Slider
- 6K Red Weapon Magnesium
- 50mm Sigma f/1.4 Art
- Canon EOS 1DX II
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
- Westcott Flex 1’x1′ Bi-Color 2-Light Cine Travel Kit
- 5-in-1 popup diffuser
- Rode NTG3 microphone
- Sennheiser Wireless Microphone Kit
- Zoom H6 portable recorder
The lighting itself was also rather minimal, using only a pair of Westcott Flex LED panels and a 5-in-1 diffuser to increase softness. The key light in front of the subject was attached to a stand. The rear rim light behind and to the right of the subject was taped to the wall. Taping it to the wall was for practical reasons. Originally they’d placed it on a light stand, but with the camera going back and forth on the slider, that stand would creep into the shot.
There was also some natural daylight coming in through a window lighting up part of the wall behind the subjects. With the LED lights set to 3200K, this gave that “orange and teal” cinematic look that seems to work so well.
One very important point that Parker mentions in the video is the need for backup audio.
We have a backup lav mic, as well. Always run two things of audio, because guess what? We didn’t roll audio on [the Rode] on the first video, so it’s a good thing we had the lav running. Otherwise we’d have to redo the whole thing.
On a shoot like this, that’s important. A first reaction is called a first reaction for a reason. If you have to shoot it again because your audio screwed up, you’re not getting the same result. Even for actors who can repeat lines almost perfectly every time, you’re never going to be able to recapture that initial genuine response.
While the gear used to create this setup wasn’t a whole lot of stuff, it does add up to around $45,000 in kit. Not everybody can afford to buy this kind of setup, especially early on in one’s career. But there’s plenty of rental houses out there from where you can get this kind of stuff for a job.
For lower budget productions, you can easily get by with much less capable equipment, too. Not everybody needs to shoot in 6K. The 6K RED Weapon Magnesium alone is two thirds of that total gear cost. While the result wouldn’t be exactly the same, you could probably switch out that RED & Canon 1DX Mark II for a couple of Panasonic Lumix GH5 and still achieve a very respectable result. The LEDs could also be replaced with something like the Aputure HR672s.
Overall, Parker’s video’s a great insight into the kind of work that goes into a commercial shoot. The thought process behind setting it all up, actually shooting it, and then doing the post work. Check out Parker’s YouTube channel to see more of his work and behind the scenes videos.