DPing a Medieval Headphone Commercial - Chris Adams
Chris Adams is a DP from Nashville TN, who drinks too much coffee.
Today he's been so kind as to share a peek at how he shot two headphone commercials recently for Audio-Technica, which you can watch below.
(Spot 2 at bottom of page)
Evan Bourcier: So Chris, tell us about your shoot! How did you get brought onto this piece?
Chris Adams: I’ve been lucky enough to work with the Director, Sean Davé, on a couple of music videos. We shot two for Pentatonix last year and I feel like we work really well together. So when he got these commercials, he called me up!
EB: That's awesome - what was Pre-Production like?
CA: Sean got awarded the job about a week and a half before the shoot was scheduled so we didn’t have a lot of time. On top of the time crunch the budget was relatively low so we knew we wouldn’t have a scout. We met up once to talk through his initial boards and talk about looks. I think the main thing we talked about was making these spots feel cinematic. He had lots of references to lord of the rings and the like, so we knew we wanted it to be moody lighting and dramatic camera movements. We talked through steadicam vs gimbals vs dolly and ending up landing on a fisher 11 to get all the movements we wanted. The weird thing about these spots is that it was the same spot, but with two different actors doing the same actions. So we wanted to have the ability to quickly reset and do as close to identical moves as possible. Therefore we thought the fisher would give us the best chance at that. We also talked through all the FX shots that we were going to get and what elements we needed for each shot.
EB: What kind of conversations were you and Sean having about the look and feel he wanted?
CA: Some shoots I am hired on and I get very little from directors in terms of how they want it lit and shot, but the great thing about Sean is that he is super technically sound and knows pretty much exactly what he wants. So we really talked through just about every look in detail and had a pretty good idea of what we were going to do going into the day. We had the location for 10 hours and had a hard out at 3pm, so call time was 5am. Gross.
EB: 5am calls are always gross, but a 3pm out is nice! How would you describe the aesthetic you wanted to achieve?
CA: Our whole approach to the look was for it to feel candlelit. We wanted it to feel like a cold blizzard outside and a warm old mystical temple inside. We used a couple LED tubes(like quasar tubes) wrapped in straw and red gel tied to flicker boxes to help accent the candles. And we warmed up the key lights, which were mainly lekos, with 1/4 straw or just by dimming them way down.
EB: What was your biggest concern during pre-pro?
CA: The biggest concern I had during prepro was how hard it would be to black out this walkway location. It was an essentially a covered outdoor walkway with 3 large open air archways. So I talked with my Gaffer, Justin Hughes, ahead of time about how to black those out quickly and efficiently. We ended up spring clamping large sheets of visqueen over all the archways and it worked perfectly.
EB: It's funny how often removing light is the concern more so than adding it. What else did you guys do to light the hallway?
CA: The nice thing about the location was the curved archways - they were perfect for bouncing lights into. This shot has two LED fire lights, one in front of him to the left, and one behind him to the right. They were pretty subtle. His key light is a leko from behind him bouncing off of the wall and a 4x4 beadboard to wrap it a little more. There is also an M18 outside coming through a window behind him to the left for a back edge and a sky panel coming through the windows directly behind him.
EB: It must've been fun lighting in such tight spaces for this shoot.
CA: We were definitely cramped on space in both locations, so we did a lot of bouncing with lekos from far away. We were able to hide them outside of our shots and hit them into beadboard or just the wall and shape that bounce with flags and diffusion. The Lekos were my gaffer’s idea completely, I always forget they are on the truck. I was originally planning on using some kinos on menace arms overhead, but we just didn’t have the time or the room. The Lekos were perfect to keep everything controlled and still get light where I needed it to come from. We also taped an LED panel to the front of the computer screen to make it feel like they were actually playing a game.
EB: Looks great! Side Question - how big was your crew for this?
A: We had a 1st AC, 2nd AC, Gaffer, Key Grip, Grip, and a Swing. We also had a killer art director and a ton of great PAs.
EB: What was the situation in your second location?
CA: The second location was a very long room with a lot of windows. We blacked that out with a 12x12 solid outside the windows and a 12x12 solid inside the room to black out everything behind the camera.
EB: More negatives. Gotta load up the contrast. What problems did you have to solve in there?
The biggest problems we had in both locations was bringing in a green screen to put behind the actors for the dissolve shots and the levitating shots. We didn’t have a lot of depth behind the actors in either location, so to bring in a green screen, light it, and keep it from spilling on the talent was a big challenge. We ended up having to change up lighting a lot to accommodate the green screen, and then relight the shot to match as best we could. It definitely wasn’t ideal and I think if you look closely you can see some spill from the green screen lights in the final spot…but…shut up.
EB: I definitely didn't notice, so I think it's fine. Did you have particular ratios in mind for this shoot, or were you going by eye?
CA: I’m definitely more of a light by eye type of DP. I’m sure I do everything the opposite way you are supposed to. I definitely check the waveform for over/under exposure on certain things, but when I’m shooting on Amira/Alexa, I know that what I am seeing is pretty darn accurate.
EB: I almost forgot to ask the obligatory "what gear were you shooting on" question!
CA: We shot on an Arri Amira, with my Cooke Mini S4s, kept the camera on the fisher all day. The fisher came in super handy, we were able to just lay dolly track down the side of the first location and use offsets to swing out however far toward the middle we needed to be.
EB: Were you involved in post at all?
CA: I wasn’t really involved in post unfortunately. I think I saw the edit after it had been locked, so any changes I asked for weren’t going to happen. But I think they did a great job with them in post and it turned out nice!