Product Shot

Product Shot

Just 15 seconds, that’s it-  How hard could a 15 second product shot be?

Apparently VERY hard! Personally, I believe this project was the most challenging task we took on this trimester. Though, this was not my way of thinking going into it. In fact, my thoughts were the total opposite. As a team, we chose to shoot a fragrance as it was easily accessible and none of the other groups had chosen to do one. Upon some deliberation, we decided on the Katy Perry fragrance “Killer Queen” from her Royal Revolution line. This particular product stood out to us due to its vibrant blue colour and diamond like shape.

During preproduction, I was under the impression that we were going to breeze through the filming of this product shot with ease, maybe even get a bit of an early mark if all goes well. How wrong I was. Based on previous productions, I knew how imperative, yet difficult successful lighting was to achieve but I have never had to light a product for such a close-up footage. For me, lighting has always been a struggle and I feel that it is still a weakness. In terms of composition and framing, I knew we had to be on our A-game on the day of shooting as the product had to shine, especially being the only thing in frame. Until this shoot wrapped, I had never really considered the resources that go into creating the tight, polished frames in product television commercials. As naive as it seems now, I thought majority of these advertisements were produced in post-production, with a limited amount captured in camera.

Our final cut for this project was something I don’t think anyone in the group expected from our planning in preproduction, and even whilst filming. Originally, we had taken inspiration from the official television commercial for one of the other fragrances in the Royal Revolution line. This TVC expressed themes from royalty in the medieval era with rich imagery of red velvets and brassy suits of armour. In true Katy Perry fashion, the sense of stately tradition, portrayed through set/ production design and costuming, was shaken up with the edgy, vivaciousness that is carried throughout all of the popstars work. This idea of ‘breaking tradition’ is a notion that we wanted to stay with. Another great thing about this existing commercial was that it included a singular shot of our chosen product at the very end.

From this image, we were drawn to the cool, icy feel and took great inspiration from the title graphics. The idea of having a similar title at the end of our 15 second commercial was possibly the only choice made in the initial conceptualisation that followed us through to completion. Initially, we thought we would start with the product seemingly floating in the Palace of Versailles to echo idea of royalty and grandiose. We were planning to break this up with cool, sharp imagery of broken mirrors, cracking ice and frosty diamonds. This idea was somewhat short lived following our test shoot the week before actually filming. The background wasn’t working in camera from the TV, rather the setting was just an unidentifiable blur. Furthermore, during this test shoot, we discovered that, whilst this bottle looked great to the naked eye, it was a nightmare to light and film. With so many reflective surfaces, began to get a better idea of how much effort it was going to take to pull off this project.

The feedback we received from facilitators during this trail run was to ditch the digital backgrounds and try using printed ones. Additionally, they suggested we create a real Katy Perry music video vibe for this project. Following this session, we went back to the storyboard and made the necessary alterations and incorporated more VFX (an aspect of editing that I am not overly strong in). On the day of our actual shoot, there were a few hiccups. Firstly, our printed backgrounds were too small for the lens sizes we were using and the desired depth of field. I had this resolved with new, larger backgrounds delivered however we ended up deciding to use that glittery material background that had been recycled from our experimental film. By the time we had set the scene, camera and lighting, half the day had disappeared. We struggled a lot with reflections and the bottles shape and in turn lost a lot of precious time.

Coming away from this project, I have a new-found appreciation for production designers. Storytelling in camera with the use of actors, costuming, sets and locations is one thing, but storytelling with nothing but an inanimate object and the limited amount of space in a macro frame for props and production design takes it to a whole other level. And, while “fix it in post” or “just add some VFX” can help to elevate some faults in filming such as a lack of props, these (not so) quick fixes will never outweigh the importance of good cinematography.  What is captured in camera matters to mood/ vibe of a production and, while this is not necessarily a new insight, it is a storytelling tool that I now understand can never be replaced.

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In regard to improvements I feel our team could have made to better our production, there are a few things that come to mind straight away. One: it is better to be over prepared than underprepared in the realm of set and production design. Two: you can never have too many variations of shots. This was particularly evident when we got to the edit and realised that we basically had only four differing shots. Overall, it was an interesting experience and next time I will be choosing a product with four flat sides and no reflective surfaces!

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Acting Masterclass

I have always believed that the relationship between a director and talent/ actors is undoubtedly unique. Having never been on the receiving end of acting directions, I had never really put too much thought into how one interprets what is being asked of them. Based on previous workshops and projects that I have undertaken, I did have some preconceived notions regarding the way in which a director communicates with their subjects. Throughout my studies, there is one director whose approach really stuck with me and helped me to understand just how important this relationship is, and that is Peter Weir in the production of his film, Dead Poets Society. Through interviews with the cast and crew members, it was made very clear that it was Weir’s connection with the actors which empowered the success of their performances. In addition to such researches, I also come into this masterclass with the knowledge of action verbs and beats which was taught during Studio 1 and recapped leading up to this class. From these various sources of information, I feel that the best performances are achieved when the director knows every detail of the story and is able to direct the actors in a way that is relatable to their own experiences and/or life events. Furthermore, there needs to be a level of understanding and trust between the two parties as a director will need to tailor their approach depending on the actor and/or scenario.

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Prior to this workshop, the importance of a director’s ability to identify and understand beats within a script was apparent to me though only to a limited extent. I thought that a scene and/or characters objectives and motivations were superior to the story, emotional and character beats in terms of directing a successful performance from an actor. I formed this assumption base on the script analysis process which we have previously used to determine the motives and objectives that drive a particular scene or character. I did not realise how these three elements could all be used simultaneously in the productions process, rather than separating them- i.e. The script analysis undertaken in preproduction is solely for the purpose of identifying the beats to determine motives and objectives, and only the motives and objectives are taken for direction in the filming process. With this said, I think it is clear the importance I placed on directors understanding of objectives and character motivation. In preparation for this workshop, I focus motives and objectives in relation to the list of action verbs provided and the given script, not so much the beats. In that sense, I suppose I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been.

Having now experienced the workshop and gaining a greater insight from both the stand point of a director and an actor, I can see just how imperative it is for a director to be able to understand and use beats, objective and character motivation concurrently. I have since realised that the idea of any one of these elements being ‘forgotten’ about in the actual directing of actors within production is misguided. This was a significant ‘lightbulb’ moment I had during the workshop when the objectives and motivation of my scenario were changed, and I had to identify different beats on the spot. Identifying the somewhat new beats dramatically changed the result of the scene I was directing. Hence, any changes to these key elements have a domino, or flow on, effect.

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When reflecting on this masterclass, I think the biggest challenge I faced was my scepticism of the process and my anxiety toward the thought of having to “act” in front of my peers. However, in biting the bullet and giving it a go, I was able to see firsthand why it is an absolute must for the director to know exactly what they want from a scene, the ins and outs of the script and have a mutual understanding of the story and character with the actor. I found that, in a few of the scenes I was in, I had to ask a number of questions as the director was either unclear or unconfident with the directions that they had given.

In my own experience as the director in this workshop, there is one specific criticism that I gave myself, which I believe the facilitator also picked up on. I noticed that I put so much thought into the scenario I was going to create and the action verbs that I was going to give my actors that when they performed the scene how I wanted the first time, I didn’t have any variations up my sleeve. Looking back on the very little directing experience that I have had, I can now see where my approaches had faults. These are predominantly due to the way I communicated with the actors and the words that I used. Rather than giving action verbs, I was giving result actions/ direction- telling, or even showing, the actors what I want from them.

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In Future, this knowledge, criticism and challenge, will be in the back of my mind when I am directing or even just working with an actor. Next time I am given such opportunities, I am going to pay greater attention to the way in which I communicate with the actors, using action verbs rather than result action/ directions, and ensuring I have a firm understanding of the character, emotion and story beats. A key tip that will assist me in correcting these things that I learnt and found most useful from this whole masterclass experience is to always have a “what if” or “as if” in mind. These hypotheticals will provide the actor with more direction without being told or shown exactly what to do. This approach makes for a more natural and successful performance.

Major Project

For our major project, Dark Horse Productions presented a 30 second television commercial for Hugo Boss’ men’s fragrance, “The Scent”

This project was an eye-opening insight into producing client-based work. Having originally selected the production of a music video for a local band, we were able to experience a taste of the delicate balancing act that is the collaboration of two creative parties. Unfortunately, due to scheduling and conceptual differences, we were unable to move forward with this project. Following this decision, we reconceptualised and came up with a television commercial for Hugo Boss The Scent, initially pitched by Henry. As his pitch was rather unachievable given our short timeline (of which we had already wasted weeks planning for the music video) and our low budget, we dedicated a considerable amount of time to reworking the core ideas to come up with a small scale, achievable project. Having narrowed our idea, we had to put a lot of thought into how we were going to accomplish the same classy, sleek look that the Hugo Boss brand prides itself on. This is one of the biggest realisations I had about client-based work and the largest difference I found from the projects I have previously produced in my studies. Confining your creativity to the specificity of a brands guidelines is the key to success in these projects and working relationships.  

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As already motioned, we faced a number of challenges throughout the major project process. The biggest challenge was the transition between the music video and the television commercial. However, each one of these projects had their own set of events and issues. In the lead up to the decision to move away from the music video, we went through three separate treatments, each building on the other to overcome the potential of creating a “boring” film as suggested in WIP classes. With the improvements we were making to create visually interesting elements, the band was starting to become restless and uneasy about the direction we were taking as it was not what was first pitched. We did take steps reassure them that the changes we were making were for the best, meeting up with them to discuss ideas though they were somewhat indecisive, and their feedback was less than productive. This brought on a fair amount of stress within the group as time was starting to get away from us and we were still struggling to lock in a date for filming. The stress of this further impacted our team work and communication with one another.

In preproduction for the Hugo Boss commercial, we had a much tighter timeline to work to. We managed to scale the shoot down to one location and settle on a smaller idea. In the next WIP class, we presented our new idea and it was suggested that we scale it down even further from three models down to just one. This simplified the casting process and we were able to lock in a male model from the Gold Coast whom we found on Instagram. While we did have to offer him more money than we had planned for the talent, we all agreed that it was well worth it.

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In terms of meeting the brief and client expectations, I think we did the best that we could with what we had. Generally speaking, an official Hugo Boss commercial is a significant production with an extraordinary budget and featuring an A-list celebrity such as Chris Hemsworth or Theo James. I think we did extremely well to cast a model who was able to look the part. While our approach to locations and production design will never be seen in an official Hugo Boss television commercial, our choices were solely situational and based on funding, or our lack thereof. However, I believe we were still able to achieve an adapted version of the brands classy, sleek style through our lighting, cinematography and editing.

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Regarding the brief for this project set by SAE, we were successful in creating a client-based television commercial according to the brief set by our facilitator acting as the client. We have delivered a high-quality product that I believe reflects admirable production values.

In hindsight, I think there would have been a vast difference in our final product had we have chosen the Hugo Boss pitch at the beginning of this whole project. Having to change projects more than halfway through the trimester was a large hindrance on our preproduction. Had we have had that extra time to work on the Hugo Boss commercial, we would probably would have produced something very different and more typical of the brands marketing. Furthermore, the group could have improved on the major project process in its entirety through better scheduling our time and priorities as well as through our communication as a collective.

Overall, this project and its process was a great experience and an interesting insight into the world of client-based productions. One thing I take with me coming away from this, I think I will try my hand at producing in future projects as it was a role that I assisted in a lot throughout the trimester and have never considered before.

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