TV Production Breakthrough: The Canon 5D

January 25, 2012

Just a few years ago, only the big guys could afford to shoot their commercials on 35mm film, while smaller companies had to settle for the harsh, cheap look of video tape.

Not anymore!

The Canon 5D Mark II Digital Camera evens the playing field by delivering stunning, film-like images for 85% less. This Hi-Definition camera does it all from producing shallow depth of field to delivering rich, realistic scenes under low lighting conditions.  The camera is so amazing, so film-like, that the Director of Photography for the award winning TV show “House” shot the entire 7th season on it!

And with the Canon 5D, you can do a lot more with less. Gone are the days of 15 person crews… lugging lights and equipment from scene-to -scene.  A shot that took almost two hours to light for a film shoot, can now be lit to the same exact standards with a two-person crew in less than 45 minutes!

There’s little doubt that the Canon 5D has brought affordable, high-end TV production to the local advertiser.

Here’s hoping it won’t be wasted on the same low-end concepts?

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TV Production Terms: Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask.

September 15, 2009

Picture for Post #23Hang around on set during a TV production and you’ll likely scratch your head once or twice wondering what a “Best Boy” is. In TV, there are lots of unusual names for the people and things behind the scenes of each commercial being brought to life.

Having been on set hundreds of times, I often hear the same questions again and again from clients who are also attending the shoot. 

I’ve compiled a list of terms here:

DP: Director of Photography

AC: Assistant Camera

AD: Assistant Director / PA: Production Assistant

Gaffer: The chief lighting technician for a production who is in charge of the electrical department.

Key Grip: The chief grip who works directly with the gaffer in creating shadow effects for set lighting and who supervises camera cranes, dollies and other platforms or supporting structures according to the requirements of the director of photography.

Best Boy: The assistant chief lighting technician or the assistant to the key grip.

Slate: The identifier placed in front of the camera at beginning of a take.

Key Light: The main light on a subject. (Lighting)

Dolly Shot: Any shot made from a moving dolly. These may also be called tracking or traveling shots.

Pan: A horizontal movement of a camera on a fixed axis.

Gate: The aperture assembly at which the film is exposed in a camera, printer, or projector. This should always be checked before moving on to a new shot to make sure no hairs or dust particles got inside the camera. These things can ruin a shot.

Apple Box: A box built of a strong wood or plywood, which is capable of supporting weight. These may be of various sizes, the smallest of which is also known as a ‘pancake’ because it is nearly flat. (Lighting/Grip)

Rough cut: A preliminary trial stage in the process of editing a film. Shots are laid out in approximate relationship to an end product without detailed attention to the individual cutting points.

Food Stylist: An artist who works on set to perfect the look of food being shot.  This is a specialist, who concentrates on food preparation and presentation.

MOS: A term in TV commercials when you’re shooting subjects but not recording sound.

VO: Voice Over. The narrative voice you hear in TV spots.

Super: Refers to type on screen that supports a sales offer.

There you have it. Memorize these and you’ll impress everyone on set next time. Again, these are some of the most commonly terms used. If you’d like to learn oodles more – and by oodles I mean hundreds – click here: Filmland

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Giving Retail TV Commercials the “Film” Look Without the Film

September 14, 2009

Companies who want their TV commercials to look national often hone in on the “look.” And the biggest commonality among commercials produced by major brands comes down to a four-letter word: FILM.

Major advertisers overwhelmingly choose film for their commercials for all kinds of reasons. Ask the country’s top commercial film directors and they’ll go on and on. Film has warmth. Film makes ideas seem more credible. Film makes a commercial seem more important to the viewer. Film provides a glow and softness that makes the viewer forget that there’s a camera and crew in the room.

Problem is, not everybody can afford to shoot on 35 mm film or even 16 mm film. Fortunately, there are viable options that didn’t exist a few years ago.

First up is the Veracam, a video camera that simulates the look of film. This one has been around and works beautifully.

Another option is the “Red” – one of the newest cameras on the market. This camera is entirely digital and simulates the look of film. And many say it’s the best at doing so. 

The Red also comes with another plus. Because it shoots everything digitally – and at a VERY high degree of quality – the images can be used in print applications like ads and brochures. (Do that with film and everything’s fuzzy.)

In both the Veracam and the Red, there is no film stock to buy…and no expensive telecine lab needed for color correcting. However, final shots selected for your commercial will still need color correction, which can be done easily by the editor or the director.

Without getting too mired in technical data, why not judge for yourself.  Can you tell which was shot on film and which was shot digitally (Red Camera)?  If you can’t … do you think you customers will?  

Picture for Post #22

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Three Stages in the Life of a Retail TV Commercial

September 11, 2009

If you’re wondering why it takes longer to produce some TV commercials Picture for Post #21than others, it helps to know some of the nitty-gritty “behind the scenes” stuff.

There are usually three stages in the life of a retail TV spot:

1) Pre-production

2) Production

3) Post-production

And the level of complexity in each varies greatly. While EVERY production is unique, the following offers a brief glance at the kinds of things that happen in each stage:

Pre-production

In this stage, it’s all about planning, planning, planning.

The production company (and sometimes the ad agency creative staff) meet with all the venders needed prior to get the ball rolling.

  • Timelines and budgets are finalized
  • Prop people get the proper specs so they can gather everything needed to stage the set appropriately
  • Castings are held to choose the right actors
  • A wardrobe specialist is consulted so the appropriate attire and accessories (and sizes) can be gathered for the actors
  • A location scout is sent to find an ideal place to hold the shoot (if it’s not in a studio).
  • If a custom music score is being written, the composer is briefed during this stage so that the music fits appropriately with the creative vision and is ready in time for Post Production.
  • If animation is being used, animators may begin their work, sometimes showing up on the shoot day to take proper lighting measurements depending on the animator’s needs.

All the while, the agency’s creative director and the commercial’s film director will collaborate closely to supervise and ensure a unified vision.  Prior to the shoot, the film director will compile a shot list so everyone is on the same page come shooting day.

Production

This is where the film director, creative director and film crew come together to bring the storyboard (the script and accompanying visuals that were used to explain the idea) to life.

Sets are constructed. Actors arrive.  Scenes are carefully lit. Performances are tweaked. And because every moment counts, a detailed shot list and schedule keeps everything on track. Subsequently, a composer may now be elsewhere working on a custom music track, and animators may be on set taking lighting measurements (or at their studio bringing additional components to your TV commercial to life.)

Post-production

If you’re shooting on film, this process begins in a telecine lab where the film is color corrected. From there it goes on to editing where the shots are laid out and the commercial gets its rough shape (called a rough cut). Often, any animation will also be added into the commercial during this process.

Then it’s off to sound design where the voice over is recorded and the music (stock or original) is added in along with any sound effects. Then it’s back to editing where everything gets married together.

It isn’t always this intense. In a “graphics commercial” with little more than price supers and still photos, it may be a simple matter of the ad agency giving definitive direction (and a tool kit) to the edit house along with a voice over and music track.

But don’t be fooled. Even the smallest of projects require thorough planning.

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