Friday, November 4, 2011

OC Fair "Fair Farmer"

Director: Stephen Schuster

Writer: Dan Sorgen

Producer: Steve Owen

DP: Ezra Migel

Why this script/concept? How does it reflect your vision as a commercial director?

I found this script appealing due to the whimsical nature of the script and the humor I found in it personally. I thought it was somewhat absurd that the farmer grew these deep fried and unhealthy foods on a farm for the fair where as you would normally find healthy fruits and vegetables. The father also intrigued me. The "how" of farming the funnel cakes. Ultimately I think the spot reflects my vision as a director well - absurd and somewhat subtle humor with a mix of the fantastic - the desire to make people laugh.

What was the casting process like?
The casting process is one of my favorite parts in doing commercials. You have the opportunity to meet extremely talented individuals that come close to fitting the part the minute they walk into the room. My friend Yasmin over at Jane Doe Casting did an amazing job at pulling some great selects for me and though there was some great casting choices - I ultimately settled on Daegan and Louis. Daegan came into the room and went for it on every take and from there I tweaked his performance on set so as not to go too hillbilly - just keeping it in the slower speed of farm life. He is also great with inflections in his voice and gave us alot of variations to work with. Louis is a friend that I met on a Alice In Chains video I shot. Great look and super talented and it is always a good combo to have the ability to work with people you have worked with before and know they will give you exactly what you need. I think there is a relationship of trust that can form between a actor and director which makes the shoot that much easier and enjoyable.

How did you search for/lock a location?

I had two friends that were going to help me produce the spot in the beginning but due to scheduling conflicts they were not able to see it through. One of them was with his family for a day out and they ended up at Underwood Farms up in Moorepark. He worked out a possible deal with the farm and then I went up and scouted to see if it could work. That of course was in the beginning of June. The farm was amazing. I found some unbelievable crops to shoot and had alot of details worked out in my head. In the end we shot two months later and all those crops had been cleared and empty fields replaced them. It was a interesting process but I think our team made it work.

How did you select your DP, crew?

Shooting crew? Ezra Migel is a very talented DP that I have known in passing for years. We had actually never worked together before this job and as he was just coming off of a tour for a documentary he had finished, he was going to be in town. We sat down and went over the ideas I had and everything clicked. It felt right. I met Steve Owen, the producer on the spot, through my wife. Ezra brought a few of his normal crew with him and Steve finished out all the rest of the crew - art department, food stylists and catering as well as dealt with all the gear rentals we needed. Both Ezra and Steve were key factors in this spot ever getting shot.

How did shooting go? Any challenges?

Ha. The day started out at 4:30am with clear skies at the farm. We had a crew call time of 6am and talent at 7am. About 545am the fog rolled in and whited the place out. You could not see 10 feet in front of your car.

The fog was the only challenge really - the only unknown. Some days it can last til 2 in the afternoon which would have basically ruined our day.

Ezra and I scouted other possible shots that we might be able to pull while we waited for the fog to clear and each time we found a setup and got ready to shoot the fog moved. By about 730am we actually started shooting. Day went smooth. We had alot of talented pros on set that made the day possible and of course it goes by pretty quick once it starts.

Tell us about editing and finishing.

Dean Gonzalez handled the editing. An amazing editor that I have had the opportunity to work with several times before. Dean and I had cut an animatic based off storyboard frames before so we knew for the most part where things would be going. It was finding the perfect shot for each part and then finessing all those details that Dean is great at.

While Dean was working on the edit, Dror Revach was working on the powder sugar machine. An exceptional 3D/CG artist that has gone above and beyond on every one of my projects he has worked on. We went through a couple of variations and in the end he nailed it - a "believable" and working machine!

Joshua Smith of Hydro74 did the logo for me for the OC Fair. I come from a design/animation/cg/vfx background so I helped with some of the lesser animations but it was Kevin Prendiville on Flame that brought it all together with sky replacements, final composites, and color correction. He tweaked so many details that the viewer may never see.

As I wanted every piece of the spot to better the whole, the final clincher was Mic Brooling who scored the spot for me. I knew I did not want to use any stock music as wallpaper though there are some great tracks out there. As soon as I showed the spot to Mic - he had the same idea for music that I had but much more elaborate. The score is amazing as the guitars work really well for the initial misdirect and then we plunge into a more Danny Elfman type machine sound - bridge into orchestral for the 3 food reveals and then wrap it up again with the guitar. The audio really adds to the humor - it doesnt just fill a void.

In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently?

I think with any project there are things that could have been done differently but the project got finished and its getting a lot of great feedback and in the end THAT is all that really matters to me.

Any other thoughts.

A big thank you to Dan Sorgen, the writer on the project, who allowed me to interpret his script and to Specbank for making that connection possible.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Carl's Jr. "Hunger Inside"

Watch the spot here.

Director: Tyler Leisher

Director of Photography: Jon Meredith

Editor: Liam Johnson

Copywriter: Dan Sorgen

Producer: Lex Edelman

Sound Design: Stephen Janes

Time from Concept to Finished: 2 months

Why This Script?

The concept was the most important thing to me. I have to laugh in order to know that my audience will laugh when they read it. Especially when working in comedy, you have to remember when you got that first laugh. After a while you get so used to it and it stops being funny to you but if you can remember the first laugh you know you are good.

While trying to develop my reel I had to choose what type of spot I wanted to become known for. I spent a lot of time going over scripts and genres but what really clicked for me was Comedy-Dialogue driven spots. I feel like comedy and character driven spots are what most people remember when they get back to their show or movie, and I just like to make people laugh.

Lastly, and I learned this after the fact, but Hunger Inside was written by the writer of my first spec, Dan Sorgen, so getting to work with him again was a big bonus in my book.

What Went into the Location?

We scouted a few locations but ultimately decided on the room we were in because of the amount of extra space around the table that we had to work with, plus, above the table was a small metallic lighting track that had some standard 60 watt lights in it. My director of photography, Jon Meredith, had the idea to build a rig out of PVC Pipe that would fit between the metal rigging and the ceiling.

The location is the board room at the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo, it's actually the same hotel that my wife and I had our wedding reception in, so we had some previous connections to the room and that allowed us get in for a good deal and a lot of flexibility. We owe a lot to the owners of the hotel and the manager for being so gracious with us.

Lighting and Production Design?

The lighting was done completely with china balls, we had about four 30" balls that were hung from the ceiling via a custom made PVC rig that Jon had hung, around the china balls was a curtain of black plastic that cut off a lot of the light from hitting the outside areas of the room. It's actually a very ingenious way to light the room and I have to give my DP a lot of credit for designing the look of the spot.

One of the problems we ran into was the color of the wall, which was a horrible coral. I hated it, and I wanted to keep it out of frame for as much as possible. So my designer had the idea to hang some white cloth that was pleated from a drop cloth rig and we moved that up and down the wall as needed to make it look like that wall was a window or just simply curtained off area. This worked out really well and kept most of the color from the wall out of sight, we had to have it in some of the shots and we were lucky enough to have the turn out to be a little more of a tan color in the final color grade.

The color scheme was chosen early on. We wanted to keep all of the executives in black and white and have the speaker be in a pale, very submissive, blue. I wanted to get a lot of contrast between the executives and him to make him stand out. Ultimately the room kind of dictated the colors as well, we had to work around the color of the table and the wall, but after the grade it ended up looking very nice together.

What went into casting?

My producer, Lex Edelman, and I held casting calls for three weeks. A lot of no shows, but a few interesting people. A lot of the guys who came in to audition for the role of the speaker ended up working better as an executive, including Vinnie Van Hinte who turned out to be a great looking executive and a very talented actor.

After three casting sessions and still no speaker (but a lot of executives) I had a meeting with one more actor, Jason Moatz, who came out to the location during a scout and auditioned for us. He wasn't perfect at the time but he had the look and he understood the character more than the others, so we chose him. A few rehearsals later and Jason and I were on the same page, he brought a lot of interesting quirks to the character as well that I think really made it come to life. Jason was a lot of fun to work with, and I'd jump at the chance to get him back on my set.

We over-booked the amount of executives, because this is LA and people flake all the time, but everyone that we booked actually turned up on the day of the shoot and we had way more then I thought we would. I really ended up with a great group of talented actors and actresses who really brought the concept to life.

Post Production

On the post side of things I worked with a new editor, Liam Johnson, for the first time. I came from being an editor for the past few years and it was really tough for me to let go of the editing reigns and let someone else come in. But ultimately I feel like, as a director, you need to be able to give up at some point and let other people come in and give their creative eyes to it. A lot of filmmakers out there try to be a one man band, and I have a lot of respect for them, but that's not for me. I love collaborating and I love to see what new creative ways people see the same project that I see.

Thoughts on directing it?

I had a blast directing this. From the moment I read the script I had this demonized hunger interrupting a meeting in my head and with the help of Jason, Jon, Lex and the rest of my cast and crew I was able to bring it to life in the same way that I envisioned it, which is always a great validation as a director.

There were really no big problems that came up, we had our share of hurdles to over come but we got in early and hit the ground running, wrapping early. So early that we were able to go and scout a location for my next spot.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Virgin Mobile "Double Date"

Director: Tyler Leisher
Why This Script?

The concept was crucial for me. I think that you can really judge a director based on what concepts he chooses to direct as well as how he directs them. Finding a solid concept that worked for me was important. The script for this commercial made me laugh out loud when I first heard it, and I think it's important to do the things that make you laugh. Dan Sorgen had written a fantastic script and come up with a great concept, and that's what drew me into directing it.

I thought long and hard about what type of director I wanted to be, I watched and studied other commercials until I found what niche I wanted to specialize in. It was a matter of finding a script that fit into that niche, comedy dialogue with multiple characters.

The type of comedy in the spot really resonated with me as well, I'm a big fan of reaction comedy and situation comedy. I don't think that what an actor says has to be funny. The laughter should come from the situation and reaction of those around him. That's what makes me laugh, and this concept had that.

I had previously directed four commercials that I felt were not my best work, the concepts I was doing were much too large to fit a 30-second spot. I decided that I wanted to focus on one joke in 30 seconds and this Virgin Mobile spot fit into that box very well.

It wasn't until after I read and optioned the script that I found out that a similar concept had already been produced with much success by Bo Mirosseni, a director that I respect very much. That only solidified my choice.
What Went into the Location?
The location was really the toughest part, I had envisioned the spot taking place at a nice restaurant at night. Something fancy, with people dressed up in suits and ties. The location could make or break the concept. If not done properly it could look cheap.

I set out to find a location that could accommodate the concept, and I found it increasingly hard to find a legitimate restaurant that would let us shoot there. When shooting inside a real restaurant, you have to completely shut down that establishment for the day because you can't tell people "Okay, shut up, we're rolling" and expect them to listen, they just won't do it. You have to shut it down, which usually costs a lot of money.

I scouted a few locations, but none of them had the amount of space, ability to close for a full day for our budget and had the look I was going for.

I decided to find an empty room that we could dress to look like a restaurant. I found a few locations like a Masonic Lodge, an events hall, and a few churches that had meeting halls. The Masonic Lodges typically only cater to their members, so that was out. The events halls were rentable but were extremely costly and out of the budget. The churches seemed to cater more towards the small budget and crew that we had, so we decided to go with one of them.

We shot inside a medium sized room that they typically use as a daycare or Sunday School room. In fact, a lot of the Sunday School furniture and decorations were still in the room while we shot and were just moved off to the side.

At the last minute, the church called and told me that they had double booked that room for the day we had scheduled, and that the only time available was at night. So we ended up changing to a night shoot last minute. We loaded in around 8 PM at night, and had to be out by 7 AM the next morning. Luckily my cast and crew worked extremely fast and we wrapped at 3 AM.

[You can see in the photos some of the decorations]

Lighting and Production Design?

On the topic of the location, I wanted to touch base on the lighting and production design choices.

We wanted to design the room to look like a restaurant, which meant stay as far away from the bad looking carpet as we could, while bringing in as many tables with tablecloths as we could. We ended up bringing in folding card table and dressing them with a white tablecloth. It had the look we were going for, and unless you looked close, you couldn't tell.

I made the choice early on to have the jerk character (the one on the phone) stand out a little more from the others, this meant casting someone that looked a little out of place and also to dress him to catch the viewers eye early. This is why he is in blue while everyone else is in purple.

The color pallet was analogous colors of purple to signify the romance in the air. Purple has always been a very romantic color to me.

I spent a lot of time on the color pallet, production and set design. I wanted to make the foreground actors stand out more, so I dressed them in purple and blues and kept the background in all black and white. This desaturated the background and kept the entire frame looking nice. Even the color of the wine was a choice we made, it's a purple to match the dresses. (Actually, it's grape juice.)

I had my wonderful costume designer, Joyce Tom, shop for the costumes and pick out three outfits for each character. We didn't have time to look at them before the day of production, I've always had the upmost trust in her after working with her on numerous films in the past few years. She didn't disappointment me this time either, and picked out two incredibly sexy dresses.

My director of photography was Jon Meredith, a incredibly creative and smart cinematographer. Luckily, the church had a drop ceiling, so we decided to light the foreground with china balls. The entire foreground scene was lit with two 24" china balls. The background was lit with a few very low wattage lights hanging from the ceiling in a very smart way that Jon came up with (using the legs of the light stands to open inside the ceiling.)

Those china balls can get VERY bright and spread around easily, so Jon hung some sheets next to them in order to stop the light from spreading to the background too much.

What went into casting?

Casting was fairly straight forward. I had met Michael Vinton a few years ago when I cast him in a short thriller film I produced in 2009. He had been changing the direction of his career to comedy, and I felt like he was perfect for the role of the fake doctor.

I had worked with the girl on the right, Laura Saggers, in the past as well. She is magnificently talented and had the look I was going for. Plus she is incredibly easy to work with, which made my life so much easier on set.

The girl on the left was a last minute addition, I had cast a girl for that role but she had to back out when we changed the time of the shoot from a day to a night shoot. Her name is Tanya Camburn, and she is very talented and understanding both in the time of the shoot and on the set. Her part was entirely based on reactions, so she wasn't able to really stretch her range but the reactions that she gave me really made the spot that much more funny.

Lastly, the jerk character is actually my brother, Matthew Leisher, who is an incredibly talented musician and stand up comedian. I felt that he could pull off the dirt bag character really well. The jerk is such a crucial character that I didn't want to cast that character without looking around first. I actually had Matthew audition for the part with a few others from an open casting call, and he blew them out of the water.

The background casting was primarily friends or friends of friends who had the proper clothing and could come down and stick around for 10 hours, which I am incredibly grateful for. All of the background actors were dressed in their own clothing, and everything they had brought was perfect.

I really like to focus on the characters, and I feel like I cast actors that were able to portray them incredible well. This is a very character dependent spot, and I am very proud of my cast for their performances.

Thoughts on directing it?

I absolutely loved directing this spot. The concept was brilliant and the comedy was really fun to work with. I like to make my sets as fun as possible and this concept really allowed me to do that. It allowed me to keep the laughter rolling, even between takes.

Part of the process of this concept was rewriting the script. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my dialogue. When I read the concept I felt it was funny, but the dialogue could have been improved. Dan Sorgen, the genius copywriter, and I spent a lot of time--arguably too much time--working on the dialogue until it flowed the way we wanted. We went through a lot of iterations and rewrites until we both came to a place that we liked. Dan was incredibly patient, helpful and creative when it came to the rewrites and if not for him this spot would not be as funny as it is.

The actors were brilliant and great to work with, Laura and Michael's reactions made this spot what it was and I am so grateful to them for being a part of this.


My crew was great, I have been working with some of them for a few years now. I'm very grateful to my assistant director Joseph McPhillips, my location manager and associate producer Lauren Peters, my incredibly talented director of photography Jon Meredith and the always clutch costume designer Joyce Tom. Without them (and, of course, my wife) I could not have made this spot as well as I did. I am infinitely in their debt.