I love shooting promos for channels and am always excited when I get asked to do them.
I was approached to shoot a promo for a Racing Channel in the United Arab Emirates that consisted of a Horse racing a Sports Car, racing a Dirt Bike, racing a Camel, well it is the UAE…
I met with Ahmed the Director and Hisham the Producer to go through the storyboard. At first glance it seemed really ambitious especially to do all in one day, plus with the added bonus of shooting in the sweltering heat of the desert……
Challenges and how you approach them are what sets people apart in this industry, so with the mantra of ‘Solutions not Problems’ we broke the storyboard down and worked on a plan of action. Three hours later, the shooting order was set.
Now to talk Kit… They were already planning to shoot on RED, so that was one battle easily won, now to convince them we needed a tracking vehicle and a jib…
TV promos don’t always have the budget of commercials, but Hisham the Producer somehow managed to make it work so we had the kit we needed. Having a Producer who knows and understands equipment makes a big difference.
Ahmed had a location in mind, which was a relatively clear spot in the desert with dunes near by.
Two days later we met at 3.30am and headed into the desert. The plan was to shoot the first shot at 6.00am to try and get as much shot before the sun rose too high and the mid day heat kicked in…
Working with animals brings the aged old quote ‘NEVER work with…’, but I have done quite a lot with animals including the re-branding of Animal Planet which we shot on the awesome High Speed Phantom. That job taught me a lot! Firstly, to speak to the handler and find out what the individual animal can do and it’s temperament, plus find out how the handler likes to work.
Professional handlers know their animals incredibly well and any experienced ones have a good idea how the industry works. So if you clearly explain the shot, camera position and what you need the animals to do, you can quickly work out what’s possible and what’s not without exhausting the animal. Sounds obvious, but it works!
The promo features a lot of shots in the 42second time frame and the Director Ahmed’s idea was for the cuts to be quick and punchy.
Shooting on RED is fantastic and gives a lot of freedom in the edit, especially to push in on shots, add zooms and of course grade. The output was always going to be Standard Definition (SD) due to the broadcaster (never ideal), but still we shot mostly at 4K which is great, not only for resolution but also because the lenses are the true sizes i.e. a 10mm is a 10mm.
If you want to shoot at a higher frame rate (slowmo) you need to drop down to 3K which then makes the lens tighter i.e. 10mm is about a 14mm (more or less) and if you go down to 2K you can push the frame rate up to 120fps, however, when you do this the lens doubles in length i.e 10mm becomes a 20mm.
So when shooting RED you have to weigh up frame rate, resolution and lens size.
Having the tracking vehicle on this shoot was vital. Robert, my key grip arranged a bungee set-up so the camera could be safely suspended. I could then sit on the back of the vehicle and use the camera hand held without too much vibration. We shot tracking shots of all the ‘racers’ individually which were then cut together to look as if they were all racing against each other.
For the shot where you see the horse galloping and the camera pulls out to reveal the racing driver in the sports car racing head to head these were actually shot separately and comped together.
Firstly, we shot the racing driver in a static car against green screen (in the desert), then the horse racing from the matching angle which we did from the tracking vehicle. The two were then comped in post to look like one shot.
To get the shot where the dirt bike whizzes past the horse and the car, this was also another comp. Ideally, it would be great to shoot this live, but then you would need a stunt supervisor to ensure health and safety and much more time. Due to the budget this wasn’t possible so we planned for another comp. We used the crane to get as high an angle as possible, we marked out the edges of frame and gave each ‘racer’ a line to travel. The action was then cut together and the shot was given some movement in post to look more organic and real.
A stylized grade was applied to the promo and a fantastic audio sound design was built to give it some life and energy.
All in all it turned out well, the production team were very happy which in the end is very important. As a DP you would always change stuff and do things differently, trying to strive for some form of personal perfection. But hopefully you learned something so next time you approach a similar project you have more experience and knowledge to make things even better and run smoother.
I guess that’s the whole business, as I say ‘Everyday is a School Day!’