Monday, May 21, 2012

Safeway "Tofu"

Click to watch. 

Writer - Daniel Gray
Dir/DP/Editor/Mixer - Woody Woodhall
Producers - Woody Woodhall, Wendy Woodhall
Location Audio - Scott Purvis - Mixer & Jack Major - Boom operator.

Why this script/concept? How does it reflect your vision as a commercial director?
The thing that appealed to me in this script is the comedy dynamic of rough and tumble cowboys talking about tofu and then the tag being - The West was not Won by Tofu Eaters.  It made me laugh out loud so I wanted to run with it.  I like that sort of push/pull in my comedy and this script hit the nail perfectly for me.

What was the casting process like?
The casting was a smooth process.  I used a couple of the online casting agencies and from there picked actors who fit the idea I had in my head for each character.  I had a whole scenario of what was happening beyond what was indicated in the script.  Then from there I called a number of the actors in for an interview and a read.  The day before the shoot one of the cast members had a family emergency and was unable to come.  I went back to the original casting and found my first alternate pick and luckily he was still available on the shooting day.  Although either actor would have been wonderful, the actor who came in at the last minute, Rod James, was fantastic.

How did you search for/lock a location?
The script took place on a ranch and I have shot at this particular location before.  Although it is a full on horse ranch it is very local, just up the hill on Malibu.  It's a very malleable location with breathtaking views of the Pacific as well as the ranch property with horses, alpacas and other animals.  Brian Goldberg who owns the property, called Rancho Miramar, is a great guy and is very accommodating.  I can highly recommend it as a great place to shoot.

How did you select your DP, crew?
It was pretty easy since it was mostly me!  My wife and I co-produce and I have a small group of go-to pros that I use consistently on projects.  I made a few calls and we were ready to roll.

How did shooting go? Any challenges?
It was a great shoot.  The actors were inventive and easy to direct. The horses were friendly and hung out amongst the actors as we shot. The biggest challenge was the manure!  Needless to say there was a lot of it around so I suggested that everyone involved wear boots.  Daniel Gray, the author, also came to the shoot.  He made a couple of text changes during the shoot that made the spot even better.  It was great to have him there to consult.

Tell us about editing and finishing.
I edited and graded the spot myself.  I use FCP 7 and shot on a Canon DSLR.  After transcoding all the h.264 shots I then sync'd up the location audio with the takes.  From there I strung it all out and made notes on my preferred takes.  I assembled a rough edit and then fine tuned from there.  The grading and final picture took the longest.  I wanted to create a "look" for the piece so it took many iterations to make the one I wanted.  I am a professional sound designer and I have designed and mixed many spots over the years.  The soundtrack's biggest hurdle was the music track.  Although I could have ripped off a Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone track I wouldn't do that.  I sourced it from a music library but had a tough time finding a cue that met my needs. Eventually I found the first cue that's in there and I was able to edit it to be closer to what I needed.  I added some additional recordings we made on the set of the animals and the environment and then I finalized the mix and married it to the final graded picture.

In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently?
If it was a paying gig and had a decent budget I would have removed myself from some of the duties!  I would have certainly hired a DP at least.  It's tough to shoot and direct at the same time because you can miss little things the actors are doing in their performance that you can later riff on.  Fortunately even though I was obsessing on the focus and on the lighting wearing the DP hat, I was also focused on the performances wearing the director hat. Thomas Stroppel was doing a great head nod in one of the wide takes in reaction to another character's line.   Later I shot a single of his head nod as a pick up knowing that, wearing the editor cap, that I would be able to cut that in as a reaction shot.  Sometimes doing more than one thing in filmmaking helps and sometimes you can miss the little things when forced to wear too many hats.

Any other thoughts.
I have a lot of experience in several different aspects of filmmaking. The one where I need assistance is in the writing.  As a director I want only the best material and most of the time its not something I've written. Having a resource like Spec Bank is essential for me because I can go to a library of wonderful scripts and then collaborate on something that I know has, at least a chance, to shine because it started with a great script. "Peanut Butter"

Click to watch.

Director: Tim Fassnacht
Writer: David Mackereth

Executive Producer/UPM: Minh Dao
7Thirty Three Productions

Peanut Butter Guy: Michael Fallon
Jelly Girl: Jenna Johnson
Dog Walker: Anjuli Cain
Elevator Guy: Mika Saulitis
Office Worker 1: Chaz Treharne
Office Worker 2: Sam Felman
Office Worker 3: Steve White

Production Crew:
1st AD: Adrienne Garcia
Cinematographer: Juan M.R. Luna
Production Designer: Sharmilla Ray
Makeup: Nikki Lee Marrone
Sound: Evan Freeman
Wardrobe: Rich Venezian and Zach Migdal

1st AC: Christ Westlund
Gaffer: Zac Donner
Art Director: Eric Fisher
Caterer: Kellie Healey

Post Production:
Editor: Ben Cox
Post Production Sound: Joel Ouano
VFX: Rusty Ippolito, Make VFX
VFX: Chris Raleigh
Digital Intermediate Supervisor: Glen Phipps
Colorist: Jan Janotta 

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

There was something about it that was just different to me. I'm drawn to this odd type of stuff. As much as I like this wacky single character stuff, I love a good narrative. This one delivered on both. To add tho the awesomeness- David Mackereth, the copywriter, turned out to be a blasty blast. We've stayed in touch since and worked on 2 projects together now. Can't wait to actually meet him in person!

What was the casting process like?

We held a few casting sessions in Hollywood at a dumpy little theatre in a sketchy back room. Since the story was linear, and there was no dialogue, the casting sessions were largely improvisation. I'd pose a few different scenarios to try and flex the actors' ability to show love, but also to show loneliness. Desperation in disguise basically was what I was after. After many auditions, I wound up casting Mike who was a good friend of my first AD Adrienne. He had all the right stuff; the look I wanted, the sensibilities- he was a great choice. Mike and Adrienne wound up suggesting Jenna, who was a great match with Mike asthetically and she had the skills to match. Although her role was small, she's certainly worth her salt in terms of ability to act. The other smaller players were friends and friends of friends who came through in a pinch.

How did you search for/lock a location?

I knew I wanted a big open-airy feel to peanut butter guy's place. I was trying to push the hipster vibe on this one and it was great of my friend Heda to allow us to use her loft in DTLA. From there, all the pieces fell into place. We used my office for the cubicle and elevator scenes and after originally wanting to shoot on a bus for the commute scene decided to "settle" for gorilla style in the subway. 

How did you select your DP, crew?

Juan Luna has become my go-to guy. We both really love working together and his style is completely in sync with my visual preferences. He's a big minimal-lighting/natural-key type of guy which I love. Where there's truth in visuals there's truth in story and that was important to me. My producer, Minh Dao, is my go to guy and is always up for a challenge which this one certainly was. The rest of the crew was an amalgamation of people I've got in my GooglDex. The whole crew was kick-ass as usual.

How did shooting go? Any challenges?

Shooting went alright for the most part. We decided to try and shoot the whole thing in one day. This basically entailed 1 company move and then a skeleton crew for the gorilla subway shoot. The day had it's ups and downs. We were told that the apartment location we had secured would also let us use the hallways and the lobby to shoot the interaction with the girl and dog and also the elevator sequence. Unfortunately for us, that wasn't the truth. We wound up getting kicked out of the hallway twice, but managed to get the scene. 

The lobby was a big no-go. So, as you can imagine, this messed up both the shooting schedule as well as the actor's schedules. It shook me momentarily but I quickly decided to push off the elevator scene till later and to jump in the subway earlier than planned to grab the commute shots. The guy who was supposed to play the elevator dude had a tight schedule and bailed on us when he found out we wouldn't be shooting his scene at that location. We wound up round-tripping back to the office we started at the first part of the day just to catch that elevator bit right before the sun went down. My good friend Mika, who isn't actor, stepped up and played the role of "elevator guy". People tell me reaction to PB guy is their favorite part-- which is a great little nugget. Oddly enough, shooting a strange peanut butter-faced man in the subway with a gargantuan configured Red One was the most fun part. Juan, my DP, and I still joke about it. People were giving us all kinds of looks.

Tell us about editing and finishing.

My friend Ben Cox did the cut and really got the vibe down with the music track that I picked. I was super stoked on how fluidly all those shots I planned cut together. There were a few challenges that held up the project in post for a few months. It took some time to animate the computer screen and then composite those shots in. A friend of mine at RG/A in NYC helped with the compositing. He did a bang up job. 

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

Yes. I would have made sure that the locations I wanted were completely secured and not relied on friends and their word. Big no-no- especially when you're spending money on other things and have people on tight schedules. Additionally, I would have re-thought make-up and pushed for a test. Unfortunately for me, I made the decision to shoot jelly girl as strawberry jelly. It's impossible to tell, but she was red on the shooting day. We fixed it in post ;)

Any other thoughts.

Don't be afraid to do something that you personally think is rad. Theres a lot of people that have told me it kind of grosses them out. For me, being able to make people uncomfortable at first, then resolve with an 'ah-ha'  "that was cute" moment within 60 seconds made the risk worth while. Go with you're gut- someone will take notice eventually. Big words from a guy that hasn't made it yet, I know- but I'm keeping the faith.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Family Place "Blindfold"

Click to watch.

Director: Joshua Traywick

Copywriter: Alex Harvey
Producer: Jon Michael Kondrath
Director of Photography: Jon Peter
Production Design: Pam Chien
Editor: Kevin Ray
Sound Designer/Mixer: TC Spriggs
1st AC: Erin Olesen
Gaffer: Emile Hanton
Make-Up: Mara Rouse
Set Dec: Rebecca Wentz
Father: Jim McKendrick
Mother: Heidi Dene
Son: James Hoag
Narration: Linden King
Storyboard: Zach King

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

I was looking for a darker spot, but I also wanted something that was emotional.  Alex Harvey wrote a great 
script that was emotional but not overly sentimental.  I feel that PSA’s are tough, because they can feel like Hallmark movies or have too much shock value.  This script hit the balance just right.

Visually, I wanted a voyeuristic look.  We shot on old Russian anamorphic lenses to make everything feel slightly off.  Handheld camera.  I deliberately shot actors from askew angles... instead of the normal straight on close up.  Ideally, I would have shot 16mm and chosen a stock with a high level of grain, but the budget is what it is, so we had to shoot digital.  

What was the casting process like?

Even though the actors only appear on screen for a few seconds, I needed to make sure those seconds felt authentic.  I gave them a concise back story about who their characters were and what the relationships were like.  

When auditioning, I first I had them read it cold with me.  If I could, I had the male and female actors read together, and I would have the man read it angrier, in order to get a strong reaction out of the female.  

The toughest part was casting the child...  He had to have the right look but also be able to act.  I only felt like I saw one kid who could pull it off and luckily I got him.  Before the final take, I told him to imagine his dog died, which worked.... even though I feel somewhat guilty for manipulating a child.  

How did you select your DP, crew?

The DP, Jon Peter, is a friend of mine from film school at USC.  We always had the same sensibilities and I love working with him.  He always has great ideas and is great to work with.  Pam CHien, the PD, is also an excellent designer.  The producer is another friend from USC who operates a production company in santa monica.  I really feel lucky to have them all help out.  

How did shooting go? Any challenges?

It went pretty smooth.  Since I knew we would find a few shots that weren’t storyboarded, I left a little bit of extra time in the day.  I shot the child first because I knew that would be the toughest and he did get a bit tired.. but he did a great job.  
Tell us about editing and finishing.

I worked with a great editor, Kevin Ray.  He fit me in between editing a Danny Glover feature and he’s great to work with.  

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

I might have changed the VO in the beginning of the spot.  Other than that, I’m pretty happy with it. 

My site is

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Children's Bureau "New Home"

: Matt Holwick
Writer: Dan Sorgen

Dan Rink
Gaffer: Derek Bazan
Producer: Matt Holwick
Cam OP: Casey Todd
First AC: Amir Rakib
sound: Edman smith
Production design: Natasha Fravel/Mike Kelleher
Makeup: Cauline Pedro

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

This script caught my eye because it is hard to have an audience feel a connection to a character in thirty seconds. This commercial is a challenge because it is one of many where I must pull out the raw emotions from a kid actor.

What was the casting process like?

I saw over 1000 headshots and did not pick any of the people. I called a person I knew, Martine, over at Barron Entertainment and he helped me out right away. I told him exactly what I was looking for in an actor and he was on it!

How did you search for/lock a location?

The location was at Brooks Institute, a film school in Ventura, CA. They have affordable studios and film equipment on site.

How did you select your DP, crew?

I decided to shoot on Super 35mm and Dan was the only DP I knew that worked with film the most. He was amazing and communicated with me throughout every shot and made suggestions on how it could be better. Most of the crew I had worked with in the past and I knew they would be solid workers.

How did shooting go? Any challenges?

Murphy’s Law seems to linger around set and there is always something that goes wrong. Our biggest problem was that we had to shoot the entire commercial in four hours due to child labor laws. The day before the commercial shoot I rehearsed all the scenes without the actor in order to make sure that any kinks that could arise would not affect the DP in any way. We were working with 1200 feet of film so we only had about 5 takes per shot to get it right. That’s about 12 minutes of film to shoot a 30 second spot.

Tell us about editing and finishing.

The most simple and small things kill me. I cannot sleep when it comes to putting the final touches together. The commercial could look great to most people, but if one little thing was off, like the graphics not being completed, I go crazy!

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

There are a couple of things that I would have done differently. First, on the first two shots, I would have gone hand held on the dolly. Second, I would have kept the organization’s logo a second longer at the end and third a thousand other things.

Any other thoughts.

I can’t wait to turn other writers' thoughts into something visually.

Barbecues Galore "Too Many Cooks"

Click here to watch the spot. 

Why This script/concept?

To me, it's all about story. I love story, and it feels like a lot of spots don't have much in that department, anymore. I also love a dry sense of humor. Daniel's script completely delivered, and he's a heck of a nice guy, too. This is the first spec script I ever "reserved" on SpecBank, and I remember meeting Daniel- I was so nervous! He set me at ease, and we got along great. Back to the script, I made only one small change, with Daniel's blessing: I changed the "final straw" character to our hero's wife in the story. Daniel's script had everything, and I knew when I read it that this would be a fun shoot. I was right.

What was the casting process like?

Casting was awesome! I'd just finished casting for my SAG short film "Unlaced", which is a very intense drama. This was a great project to cast right after that- it blew all the seriousness out the window. I'd always had a specific actor in mind for the lead, and got him- Matthew's been on TV in a show called Diagnosis X, and he's starred in a couple of indie features since then. He's an "All-American", "Everyman" kind of guy, and I built the cast around him. I knew from the start I wanted an actor exactly like Maurice, too- the guy whose eyes bug out as he finds out our hero isn't using foil. Maurice nailed it, from the start. I think I offered him the role on the spot, during casting. Our other two male actors were surprises to me, I wasn't exactly sure what we'd get, although I had a pretty set breakdown for them. Randy and John delivered our "grill geek" and "grill jock" roles perfectly. And of course, I can't forget Liz, our hero's wife. She, too, was awesome. The whole thing was an ensemble piece, and a ton of fun- that's another thing you rarely get with spots these days.

How did you search for a location?

I shot it in my backyard. My neighbors are industry people, so they didn't call the cops.

How did you select your DP, crew?

I DP'd. I almost always do, I'm very hands-on as a filmmaker. My crew was basically the same 2-3 people I'd been working with on "real world" gigs for a couple of years.

How did shooting go? Any challenges?

It went great! LA weather is crazy beautiful most of the time. I threw up a nice big butterfly to cut the sun a bit, used some lights and reflectors, and that was our lighting setup. It was a lot more about cutting and controlling light than adding. We did spend a fair amount of time on the production design- that was a big part of my producer's second hat she had to wear. Kathi's just an excellent producer. Full disclosure, she's also my wife, and we work together on projects all the time. As far as actually rolling, so much of this spot was about timing. With Kathi and me also being musicians, that came pretty naturally. 

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

Nope. I know that sounds a little cocky, but no, I wouldn't. The spot looks like a million bucks, and I made it for a couple of grand. I've been hired as a commercial director already thanks to this spot. Daniel wrote a great story, and I think everyone involved really hit it out of the park.