Cinematography Breakdown: Proper Coffee Commercial
Hello, my name is Chris Weatherly and I am a director from Evansville, Indiana. After finishing school I worked as a photojournalist, but crossed over into filmmaking when working for a non-profit as an creative director. Filmmaking became my favorite way to communicate stories of life change. I am is now a full time freelance director and cinematographer working with Wavelength Films. My work ranges from commercials to narrative short films and my unique style blurs the lines between narrative and documentary storytelling.
In an ideal world I prefer not to direct and DP the same project. I want to really focus on one job and do it well and not fight splitting my time between roles. Sometimes you just don't have the budget to hire a cinematographer. So when I started working on this project I tried to keep things as simple as possible when it came to production. We had to shoot while the shop was open due to scheduling. Another reason I wanted to keep our set ups simple. The reason I could get away with minimal lighting was because the store front was completely made up of windows that allowed in some great light. The biggest challenge was not what lights to use, but what do we use to shape the existing light.
To start the day I wanted to get the most complex shots out of the way, and these were two dolly set ups. We used a 12x12 quarter grid to slow the light coming in the far background window. Then we added a 4x4 quarter grid on a C-stand so we could move it around our hero just to soften the light on him a bit.
We moved in for close ups next. Basically my plan was to move the camera counter clockwise around the room. I was trying my best to be efficient with our set ups. We had a small crew, but skilled. Here we added a Quazar to increase the reflections off of the espresso machine and back light the steam. We didn't need a ton of light so we only used one.
This set up was simply modified from what we already had going on in the room. We moved the 4x4 quarter grid in close to our subjects to create a softer look and then put a 4x4 floppy on the opposite side for negative fill. The key was not to nudge the camera because I wanted a very quick locked down montage of differnt people and drinks.
Over the Shoulder
We moved our 12x12 quarter grid to the other side of the room for the slo-mo, handheld, over the shoulder shots. We used the 4x4 quarter grid with a Quazar to supplement the existing light. We were further from the windows now and needed a bit of punch on our talent. Not shown in the lighting diagram are a couple of floppies outside which were used to block light on the back wall to slow its exposure. See the pic below. We also turned the 4x4 set up about 45 degrees on the reverse angles to better light our hero.
Finally we ended the day with a series of high speed (120fps) macro shots. I knew our crew could start packing up gear not in use as I shot. I used the 100mm f/2.8 Macro Canon for these, built a small on location studio in the corner of the shop, used a couple of Quasars to top and side light the drinks I was working with.
Here's a list of what gear was used during the shoot:
WHY DO SPEC WORK?
At the suggestion of my friend Dave Docimo I created this 60 second commercial for my reel. In his words, "people won't buy what they can't see." Basically he was saying if you want people to hire you to do high quality work you have to show them you can do it.
Directors don't really have reels. It's really just showing your latest projects to potential clients. I will say this spec commercial did land me two jobs that I know of. So it was totally worth the time and work that went into making this spot.
I chose Proper Coffee Grinders for several reasons. First, I knew the owner, Noah. If I was going to do something for free I wanted to help someone I knew and believed in what they were doing. Secondly, the actual coffee shop looks amazing. I knew I wouldn't have to do any art to up the level of the production. That was already done thanks to Noah's good taste. Lastly, I wanted to help promote a local business in Evansville. We have an incredible community and I wanted to highlight a new business that was up and coming.
The first thing I did to figure out the story was I did a preinterview with Noah. I wanted to share his passion for coffee with others. Noah is a well spoken guy and when I talked to him over the phone I knew I just need to use him as the voice over. He's a very authentic person. I learned a lot about third wave coffee and the process by which good coffee is made. It can be very scientific. But I wanted to convey his passion and the "why" behind Proper. Why did he want to move back from California and start a coffee shop?
Once I got a sense of what his shop was all about I started planning the look of the project. I then scouted the location. I took reference photos to help me come up with the shots I needed. Plus, the scout helps my figure out what needs there are on the day of the production. I ask a lot of questions. Can we turn off these overhead lights? Where can I we tap into power? Can we shoot while the shop is closed, or does it have to be open? Can I put the camera here? This sort of planning really helps the actual production day go smoother. You can't predict everything, but if you come prepared your chances of success are much higher.
We shot only one day for this spot and spend a second half day working on audio. Since it was only one location I felt we would have the time we needed to pull off all the shots I had listed. I had some help on the day as well. Matthew Martin gripped for me and Garrett Burton and Nicholas Corra were production assistants. I had seven setups planned on the day.
Because the entire store front was windows I took advantage of the natural light pouring into the shop. We used a 20'x20' rag of quarter grid to diffuse the light to give it a nice soft feel. We also used a couple of quazers lights and negative fill to supplement things inside the shop.
I ended the day shooting the macro shot you see at the beginning and end of the spot. I knew I would need less space to do this. Since the shop was open the entire time we shot I wanted to minimize the production interrupting their business as much as possible. Plus, with ending on a smaller set up it gave the crew time to tear down other things and get gear back on the grip truck.
Putting together the edit was the toughest thing. I had a plan in my head, but sometimes those things change. It became evident I needed a couple more shots of Noah at home making coffee. It made since with the voice over. So I arranged to shoot Noah at his apartment for a couple of hours for about three shots. It was just me and no crew. I took large black plastic sheets to black out windows for light control. I used some window light to pull off the look I wanted.
Sound was a big part of this commercial. Coffee shops have very distinct noises and I wanted to be sure that was present with the visuals. I spent three hours just recording sounds at the shop with Drew, one if the employees, on a Sunday when the shop was closed. Sound design just brings a whole new level to any project. Sometimes you end up using sounds that aren't even related to the topic you filmed. The first sound you hear is thunder and then next is a wave. The rest of the sounds you hear are ones we recorded separately on the second day.
Dave Docimo did the color grade for the project. I love the look he gave it. The skin tones were very warm, (it also helped that Noah had just gotten back from a tropical vacation).
This was the strongest project I directed last year. It won several Addy and Telly awards, which are always nice, but the biggest deal with this commercial is that I was happy with it. When you do spec work you have complete control over every aspect of what you are producing. It's very freeing. I've found that most directors do spec work for this reason. It's usually the strongest work you do.
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