Concept, Planning, Props, Direction, Cinematography, Camera, Editing, Graphics
Concept, Props, On-Screen Talent
I got a call from Molly, one of the violinists from Orchid Quartet, a Los Angeles based group of stage and studio musicians, asking if I’d help with a last minute music video project. She mentioned that the group had arranged and recorded a medley of Disney Pixar theme music and were looking to release the song in advance of the Toy Story 4 movie release. It was a few months away, but members of the group would be leaving on tour in a week, so they were only available to shoot for a brief window before then.
Molly described an idea they had for a concept which involved playing along to the track in a living room setting and integrating props and toys from the related movies throughout the video. The idea struck me as adorable and fun, but it also sparked some further ideas and I quickly offered a few ways to grow the scale of things, while staying inside their strict micro-budget. If we could expand the visuals for each of the movie segments, we could turn it into a quirky and cute, choreographed one-take video, ready to engage their desired internet audience.
The first move, and biggest use of our budget, was to upgrade the location to something that gave us more room to work. I suggested a space I’ve shot projects in before, a clean white, industrial studio with a bright natural light window and a lot of space to work. We booked an 8 hour daytime shoot for just a week from the initial call.
Next I hopped on a call with some of the other members and we started solidifying ideas for each of the movie theme segments. I pitched options that played with scale by switching between smaller close camera action, mid-field movement, and larger background effects, each playing at the low budget nature of the project, hoping to encourage a more fun over serious vibe.
Days before the shoot I found myself crafting in my garage, cutting, painting, gluing various props between phone calls with a few of the musicians on runs to Jo-Anne’s or Michael’s. Thankfully it all came together just in time and after we loaded into the location we started to get unpacked and shared all of our hard work with one another.
Due to the quick timeline, we didn’t have the chance to plan how all of the props would be used or any of the choreography and transitions between sections. The quartet had invited a few of their friends who volunteered to help perform in the video, so I got to work organizing the group and getting everybody jobs to best make use of our limited time. Some people would put necessary finishing touches on the props, others would help set up lights and equipment, while the remaining prepped the space.
It was at this point where we hit a major snag. It turned out that two of the members of the quartet had scheduling conflicts and wouldn’t be able to make the shoot for another four hours! This meant that, allowing time for tear-down, we would only have 3 hours to shoot the entire video. I immediately refocused our efforts on the direction and choreography with the volunteers, since we would have such a limited time to do takes. We rehearsed and rehearsed, hammering out each section as we went until we liked it, and all that was left to nail down was our timing and transitions. The final members arrived and we got ready to start running takes.
I had the main camera locked off and lined up straight down the room shooting at f/2 to create separation and give us a chance to rack focus to the foreground elements. For each take, I placed a second camera in various positions to capture different angles, often including a more ‘behind the scenes’ view. During the final two takes I took a camera on a gimbal and followed action through the scene. The goal was to create a challenging one-take look, but to use multiple takes to get more detailed camera coverage and help cover any potential mistakes.
We were able to make it through seven complete takes before running out of time, with the most difficult section consistently being the chair lift during the ‘up’ section. By the end of the shoot, everybody was totally wiped, and riding an adrenaline high of racing through it.
I offloaded the footage for edit and started by syncing the various takes as best as I could and then picking ‘selects’ of the best moments. I worked to weave together a cut that captured the most fun moments while still sticking to the proper continuity. I highlighted the behind the scenes shots throughout the cut to help the audience see the speedy and DIY aspects of the video as opposed to a more elaborate and refined production. In the end I delivered the full edited cut as well as the best continuous take to the quartet for their release, so that fans could also enjoy seeing everybody race to nail the complicated one-take video.