How We Made Our First TV Commercial
After a long hiatus, I'm determined to revive my YouTube channel and blog, starting off with talking about I produced and directed my first TV commercial spot.
If you haven't already, check out my update video to catch up!
What TV Commercial?
As I mentioned in my video, I started working at a company called Design Pickle back in May 2017 as a video producer. Our team in AZ is fairly small compared to other companies and I was the first video producer they had hired. To start off, I started making videos for their social media advertisements, promotions, website updates, some scripted content, and other goofy videos we'd come up with on the fly.
In the summer, Design Pickle decided to sponsor the National Pickleball Championship, which would be hosted in Casa Grande, AZ in October. The sponsorship included 3 30-seconds TV spots on CBS during the replay in November. Having never produced a TV spot, I was eager and excited to get going, but nervous at the same time!
Coming up with an idea was both difficult and easy. Design Pickle is a graphic design company that offers unlimited production level graphic design with subscription based pricing. Basically you pay $370 a month and have a graphic designer complete as many design requests humanly possible for you with unlimited revisions. It's a pretty sweet deal and it almost sells itself, but how could you take a simple concept and convey that message in 30 seconds?
I had several ideas flowing in and not sure where to start and I'll be honest my boyfriend came up with the idea we ended up using for the commercial. He said something along the lines of "what if you had a guy painting like Picasso on the floor and the camera is circling around him and when he finishes he looks at his masterpiece and it's SHIT! But he takes a picture of it, uploads it to Design Pickle and his graphic designer takes his inspiration and turns it into a cool graphic for his business."
The idea pretty much writes itself. There were just minor details and characteristics that needed to be added to the script but with such a simple idea as that, I wrote up the script on Celtx and in less than a day it was done. With a grand total of 1.5 pages, we had a script!
Just like any film, pre-production included storyboarding, assembling a crew, casting, location scouting, and equipment rental. Some of these sections were more fun than others but nevertheless all were necessary.
After writing the script, I started sketching up a storyboard. It's pretty messy and not the best drawing, which gave me an idea! It's sort of meta now that I think about it, but I uploaded my drawings to Design Pickle and had my designer make me some PROFESSIONAL ASS STORYBOARDS!
Now that I had a legit vision for the commercial, I began crewing up and casting. Finding crew was simple, I turned on the batman symbol for a skeleton crew and got my friends to fill them up. My skeleton crew included a DP, Grip/1st AC, Production Designer, a PA, and me (producer/director).
I posted a casting call in a few places. I posted on Durantcom, which is a local AZ casting agency. Backstage offered to post my casting call for free, which I accepted! Lastly, it was also posted on my Facebook. I also asked all my co-workers to share the message and help me cast for the main role and extras. I was looking for about 25-30 extras, which felt like an outrageous goal. I've casted for several short films and trying to cast extras always seems difficult.
Finding the main actor happened fairly quickly. I casted an actor I had worked with before and knew could do the job. Extras slowly came in and up until the last day, I was signing people up to be extras. The final number I had signed up was 25 extras, and the day of, we ended up having 20 or 21 people actually show up.
Simultaneously, I was location scouting. The original script called for a warehouse, restaurant, and office. Filling the office location was easy, we just used the Design Pickle office. Finding the restaurant was also pretty easy. A co-worker of mine immediately mentioned he had a friend that owned a cool restaurant in Downtown Phoenix. He contacted him and agreed to film there. The final piece was finding a warehouse. We reached out to a few people we thought had access to a warehouse looking place or even extended the idea to an art studio. All our efforts fell short and with filming coming up, we decided to do it at a nearby home garage!
All we needed was an open space to film a maniac painting away and fill with a lot of painting decor. The garage worked fine.
Besides other organizational bits, the last main task was to rent the right equipment for the shoot. We went with ReelMen, which is a local film equipment rental company. I asked my DP to give me a list of what he thought we needed to make the shoot happen, and it was like letting a child loose in a candy shop. Well, to be fair, no it wasn't, but I know he had those child like sweet tooth tendencies. He gave me a solid list and after talking through how the shoot would flow and what shots we were both thinking of getting, we narrowed it down to the bare essentials. Even though this was a commercial, we definitely treated it like an indie film for sure!
We ended up renting a set of flags, some grip equipment, sand bags, stingers, and other nick knacks to make sure we had what we needed. We used my Design Pickle camera which is a Sony a7s, and my set of lenses. We also used my DJI Ronin Gimbal for pretty much all the shots. So we were able to save money on a lot of the usual pricey items in equipment rental.
The day of filming was upon us and the first scene of the day was at the office, filming our actor submitting his "masterpiece" to the website. While this was a pretty simple scene, we quickly ran into trouble. Some of our rental equipment was there, while other equipment was waiting for us at a different location. We had all of or lights, our camera, and our people, but were missing our flags. We were filming in front of a large window in the early morning facing the sun, and having those flags would have probably saved us time and hassle.
Regardless we pushed through and set off to our second location, the restaurant. Well, not to call him out, but my boyfriend who was also the Grip/1st AC, navigated me to the wrong location. Let's be clear-- the location on the call sheet was correct, but there so happens to be TWO Clever Koi Restaurants, and he navigated us to the one in Gilbert rather than the one in Phoenix. Long story short, we were late to the location and had about 25 confused and anxious extras waiting for us outside of the location.
We started the day off pretty easy with the office scene, but the next two scenes were pretty high pressure. At Clever Koi we were filming the scene were our main actor enters his business and sees a long line of customers waiting to get in and try out the food because the were enticed by his newly designed sign outside. This scene is meant to show the fruits of his labor and show how great design can lead to great business.
Well, this scene required a perfectly executed one shot, with a few other shots mixed in there if we had time. This scene also became the most changed scene from conception. We had access to a cool walkway and an awesome window shot, and a lot of other views we hadn't considered before, so we tried them all out!
Rallying the extras was the hardest part, and I had an awesome co-worker and at the time PA, help me out with release forms and getting them to their marks.
Essentially it was the same action for them over and over again for a few hours while we tried to get the right shot.
The last scene of the day was the warehouse scene where our actor creates his "masterpiece." We all headed over to my co-workers house to film this scene in his garage. My Production Designer started setting up the paint and artwork around the empty floor while the rest of us were setting up the shot and talking about the logistics with the actor.
This scene was probably the most intensive for my DP, since his entire job was to run around in a circle for about 5 revolutions and come to a complete stop right in front of the actor and slowly and smoothly pan to a specific spot. This was difficult, and sweaty.
After a dozen attempts we got the main shot we wanted and then started on some additional shots, including this over the head shot which was rigged SUPER sketch! Actually it was probably pretty safe, but it just didn't look so nice.
We wrapped up a bit earlier than anticipated and were off to drop off equipment and call it a day!
The next Monday, I got in to start editing. I was a bit nervous to start editing because I had yet to receive the video specs for the TV spot. I had a brief understanding of what they required and it didn't seem like they were going to let me know any time soon, so I began editing as normal.
I finished up my first fine cut and showed my team members. We all agreed it was missing something. While the commercial had some voiceover, we didn't feel like it had enough to convey the message we were trying to. We spent a few hours hammering out the exact verbiage for the new voiceover, but still didn't have it down. The next day a few of us had to go to California to film an interview and on the plane ride back I had a spark of inspiration and jotted down on my notes app the new voiceover.
After sharing it with my co-workers, they suggested I do the voiceover. I'd done some voiceover for a few other videos we've produced, so I was comfortable doing so. With the new edits and voiceover, we were much closer to a finished video.
The final bits were adding music and finishing up the color. Coloring has always been a difficult area of filmmaking for me, so it took me quiet a few passes to finally be okay with it.
Now here is where the foreshadowing comes into play. Remember how a few scrolls up I said how I had no idea what specs to use for the video? Well I finally received them and after looking at my project settings, I WAS LOSING IT!
The aspect ratio was off! The FPS were wrong! And so much more I couldn't even wrap my head around. But this was final, and if the commercial didn't fit these parameters, it couldn't play. I HAD ONE WEEK. ONE. WEEK.
While I'm a huge advocate for Google and YouTube tutorials and what not, they did not come in clutch. I was frantically texting any video wizard I knew, contacting broadcast services, and just praying for someone to help me export this video in one piece. In one TV broadcast acceptable piece.
I'll never suggest you export in a different frame rate than you recorded in but apparently the video gods heard my prayers and it exported fine in a different frame rate. My biggest issue was exporting in Beta SP, which if you Google looks ancient, similar to a VHS. After days of stressing, it turns out Adobe Premier Pro can export in HDCAM and it works for broadcasting. There's no way of testing the HDCAM export with a regular video setup, so we were waiting to hear back from CBS. The commercial also streamed during commercial breaks during the livestream of the National Pickleball Championship, and that export was a simple mp4. and I know worked fine.
The commercial aired on December 23rd and was hopefully a great time, to be honest, I didn't catch it live. But here's your moment to watch it. Thanks for reading and letting me share this experience with you. I hope you enjoy!