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.
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!