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Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.

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Simon RoughanFitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 4, 2013 at 9:29:42 am

Hi Everybody.
I would like some input on how some of you plan a commercial shoot. The hardest thing I find is to squash everything I want into the short time frame. I always have so much material left over.
When I plan my shot list, I am always thinking like "I need this LS as an establishing shot, and should hold it for at least 2-3 seconds." But later when cutting, I end up having to absolutely butcher so many shots, trying to fit everything in.
Has anyone got some tips how to more accurately make a shooting plan for adverts?

Thanks in advance
Simon

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling is for fools, but that's the way I like it, baby. I don't want to live forever!


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Joseph W. BourkeRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 4, 2013 at 12:52:41 pm

Sure. You shoot for the script. This tells you exactly how much time you have for exactly which shot. The script gets written first, going hand in hand with the visual concept. You break the script up into the various shots, then time them out, allowing for a little pad if you're going to be doing dissolves or transitions. This way, you know what you'll need when you get to the shoot, and you shoot only enough for the spot, leaving rooming for a few alternate shots, just in case.

A friend of mine used to shoot car commercials on 16mm film. At every shoot, he would do a set number of variations on each shot: pan right to bring car into frame, pan left to bring car into frame, tilt down on car, tilt up on car, rack focus to car, etc.. In this way he knew he'd always have the shot he needed, and it didn't take him much extra time to get all the variations of each single shot. Of course this was for product he could control. With dialogue and people, you might want to shoot a tight shot, and a wide shot. But shooting to the script is the only way you won't go nuts. Insist on a tight, approved script, or write it yourself. There's no substitute for preparation.

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Todd TerryRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 4, 2013 at 5:42:08 pm

Rarely does a post like this come along that is so exactly and precisely up my alley.

I'm not the world's greatest commercial director (although I do think I'm pretty good at it), but I am very prolific. over the past 20 years I don't know how many commercials I've directed (who keeps up with that?), but it's well well up in the thousands. So this is the exact issue I deal with all the time.

In your case, Simon, the issue is not learning how to think like a commercial director... it's learning how to think like a commercial editor, as that is completely the key to commercial directing. The usual "rules of editing" that we normally think of applying to narrative scenes go right out the window for commercials, and you have to direct and shoot accordingly.

While there are always exceptions, these days commercial editing is typically very fast paced. Watch good national spots and do a set-up count. It's not at all unusual for a :30 national commercial to have 25 or 30 shots in it. But they don't seem too crammed full or fast-paced because great editing (following great directing) can make those flow so well that viewers don't even realize how fast the cuts are or how many shots are in there. After a spot runs on TV sometime, ask someone who was watching with you "How many shots were in that commercial." They might say "Ummm... I dunno... eight?"... when actually it was 18...or more. That three-second establishing shot you mentioned rarely exists in the commercial world. Today it's more like a 20 or 36-frame establishing shot, if one exists at all... which often it doesn't.

Watching commercials has changed the language of film that our brains accept. Locations can just be hinted at without and establishing or master shot. Action can be compressed like crazy... you can cut from a hand opening a refrigerator door to a closeup of milk being poured in a glass and no one misses all that "in between" action that you are used to seeing in a narrative film. As long as it visually flows, edits like that work.

There are still plenty of those establishing shots, but as I said often they don't exist at all. Look for them.... that shot of two guys playing ping pong? Hmmm... I thought they were in a basement rec-room. Nope, it doesn't show that... heck it doesn't even show the table, the long-lens shots didn't reveal where they were at all, we just assumed it. This is actually a real beauty and advantage of commercial production.... we can often make a viewer think we are somewhere that we are not, just by simulating a few bits and pieces of a set without revealing the whole location at all.

So as I said, when directing a commercial think like the editor. Usually before I start directing a spot I have the whole thing completely edited already in my head, and those are the exact shots I get. If I'm going to be editing it myself (which I do maybe a quarter of the time), it's easy to get what I want. Usually my editor Joey cuts the spots I direct, but he has worked for me for almost a decade and knows exactly how I shoot and I know exactly how he edits and it's pretty easy for me to get him exactly the coverage he needs.

I don't overshoot. I usually shoot exactly what I need and little else. This makes our shoots go quite fast. The only (rare) downside to that is if we are sitting in an edit session and an agency person asks to see a different setup or angle. Sorry, but that doesn't exist. It does also force the creative decision a bit... you'll always get the director's cut, because that's the only cut there can be. I'm not quite as hard-and-fast about that as I'm making out, but I do usually try to shoot exactly the cut that's in my head, and not a lot more.

It's of great benefit to sit down some time and watch an hour or two's worth of good national commercials back-to-back (hit YouTube) and really watch them with an editor's eye... what cuts work, what don't, shot style, shot pace. You might be surprised at how many of the usual film rules have changed.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mark SuszkoRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 4, 2013 at 8:35:31 pm

Todd, you're really talking my language here. I'm always saying that commercials are like writing Haiku, and I actually enjoy the creative challenge of telling the story in such compressed time.

I usually think about the spot first as a silent visual, and I explore key phrases or sentence fragments, then I work backwards to the complete script. It may seem crazy, but even in a 30-second script, you can often accomplish an entire Campbellian "hero's journey", if you think it through. To make that work, takes a lot of the story to be carried by non-verbal cues in the art direction, the shooting style, the editing style, and music/sound. Key to compressing the story, as Todd puts so very well, is leveraging the audio and art direction cues to direct audience perception where you want it to go: to infer things outside of the frame. And things you never shot.

From an editor's standpoint, I start with it a little too long, like it was a :60, then painfully perform surgery on the thing, a frame here, a frame there, to get to my final time. I throw out redundancies and things that are off-topic. I look for a rhythm of shots, and where I don't know what I want to put something yet, I fill the screen on the master track with different colored solid frames, cut to the beat of the track, so I at least get a feel on playback of the speed with which shots go past. I'm also always looking for visual metaphors: one image that tells an entire list of things.

This is one of those times it pays to have watched the Kuleshov editing effect demonstrated: montage is what communicates more material than you thought you had time to show.

Todd is also right about the number of cuts going up. Here's one of my all-time fave commercials, compressing a lifetime into a few seconds, just like the actual thought it's meant to portray when you spot someone and wonder: "is he (or she) the One?" This is the "60 version, the :30 version moves it even faster, yet loses nothing of the key moment of asking that question.









When it gets down to the final cuts, you hold each shot up to a rule: does it move the story along, and can the story still be told without it? At what cost? By "cost", I mean, does it lose too much emotional power or perhaps humor, to cut a certain shot, or does it rob the story of too much foundation of the situation/problem that the product is going to solve?

I think making a solid thirty spot is, in a lot of ways, like telling the perfect stand-up joke or anecdote: you have only so much time for the set-up, and then the punchline. The setup, and the timing, are usually where the joke goes sour, if they aren't right. That setup has to tell just enough that the audience can fill it in, then the punchline takes advantage of what the audience filled in by grabbing their expectations and personal framework, and twisting it unexpectedly.


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Bill DavisRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 4, 2013 at 11:28:19 pm

Everything said above.

This might be a help.

A :30 radio spot (all talk no images) gives you a MAX of 85 words at a solid (not car commercial "screamer") pace.

That would be a TERRIBLE TV script because the words would try do do all the work leaving none for the visuals. So cut that in half. 43 words.

That's a mere 4 10-word sentences.

Watch some really good commercials that communicate powerfully. Count the words. You'll commonly find word counts below 30. Often below 10.

This is the essense of the commercial. It's got to communicate POWEFULLY enough to cut through the clutter of a 24/7 stream of TV images - and connect with an audience - using a deftly created mix of visuals, sounds words and ideas.

And you probably won't have more than a handful of words and shots with which to accomplish that.

Great commercials look oh, so easy.

But they decidedly are NOT.

I think Mark mentioned Haiku. Pretty good analogy. Poetry cut to it's essence. Wrapped in strict rules.
Done well, it's beautiful.

But it is anything but easy to accomplish.

If you haven't done a lot of this. Just work hard and do your best.

Keep your mind one clear concept: How does what I'm putting in this spot strengthen the message the sponsor needs delivered to the audience?

Focusing on that will keep you mostly on track.

Good luck.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Simon RoughanRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 5, 2013 at 9:06:58 am

Thanks guys for all the incredible words of wisdom.
I learned Picture grammar and building narrative in a formal setting (university), and you are correct Todd when you say to a certain extent that this "Feature Film" style of "General to Particular" shooting/editing can be forgotten. Well perhaps not completely. But I get what you're saying. Although I don't find it easy, hence the post.
Perhaps you read my post from a few weeks ago about spot ideas. I have in production the idea with the Martial Arts fight scene. Like you yourself do, I work the whole thing out pic for pic in my head. When I make my shot list I have 38 shots for 30 seconds. I have broken the story in into 5 phases. The fight scene itself is 2 phases. I realize that the fight will be fast paced, and hope that it comes together how I imagine.
But I'm still worried I will have too much material, and I will land around 50 seconds. I just find it very difficult to determine in my head if I need 30 frames or 60 for a picture.
Thanks again for all the insightful comments.

mfg
Simon

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling is for fools, but that's the way I like it, baby. I don't want to live forever!


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Emre TufekciogluRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 5, 2013 at 3:02:45 pm

Here is another approach for the "30 second" commercial we just did. This is just to show the otherside of putting together a concept in a single take.







And a small behind the scenes without the animations:







You can see all the rules other pointed out applied in slightly different way since this was a oner, but overall it not too far out.

PS: If I remember correctly I think Todd did a similar commercial with a single take in a hallway of a college and a lot more actors that was very impressive. Maybe he can repost that.



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Todd TerryRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 5, 2013 at 4:56:15 pm

VERY nice work, Emre...



[Emre Tufekcioglu] " If I remember correctly I think Todd did a similar commercial with a single take in a hallway of a college and a lot more actors that was very impressive. Maybe he can repost that."

Yeah we did... which is unusual for me since personally I usually have a pretty high shot count for a :30 spot, but there have been a couple of instances where I did single-shot spots...

.



We had one slight issue with that, in that our fake rubber prop pizza actually looked a lot better than the real pizzas they were giving away.

Here's behind the scenes, if anyone is interested...

.



Those single-shoters usually have tons of pre-prod, but the shoots themselves go pretty fast, and obviously the edit sessions are not very taxing. In our case it was just a little color grading, some sound design, screen replacement on the laptop, and throwing up the end graphics. Easy breezy.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Sareesh SudhakaranRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 6, 2013 at 5:46:05 am

Excellent advice here. Thanks for sharing everyone!

Get the Free Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera - one guide to rig them all - DSLRs to Reds to the Arri Alexa.


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Joseph W. BourkeRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 6, 2013 at 4:09:35 pm

Simon -

The "art" side of the commercial conceptual and editing processes has been discussed extensively here. Don't lose track of the fact that it's called a Commercial for a reason. You can end up with the greatest creative piece ever seen in :30 seconds, and if it doesn't sell something, you've lost the battle completely. That's why it amazes me that there are creative awards for commercials - the awards should go to the agencies/producers who get Results for the client. Don't get me wrong - I love to watch the creative awards reels, but bear in mind that most companies whose agencies win creative awards in one year, move on to another ad agency or production house the next year (according to Adweek) because the expensive, creative spot didn't generate squat for business. A commercial is, above all else, about the message and the sell.

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Simon RoughanRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 8, 2013 at 10:49:39 am

Thanks again for all the responses. I have gone over the shots again, and whittled it down to 34. I hope that it fits.
In regards to your point about selling, Joseph, I tend to treat TV ads as just purely a brand recognition tool. If you can get people somehow talking about a commercial/product, that's the best you can hope for, in my humble opinion. To sell a product, you need more information than can realistically or interestingly presented in the short time frame. I think commercials should first and foremost be entertaining. Leave it to websites, printed material and salespeople to fill in the blanks about what the product does, how it benefits you etc etc.
Look at that cool levis ad that Mark linked to, for a good example. Cool story, great photography and an interesting and fast moving cut. But how much do they cost? How are they better wearing than other jeans? Where can I get a pair? Theres no sales information at all. Just linking good feelings with the brand name Levis.
And as someone who has studied this theme at uni, it is almost impossible to gage direct selling results from a TV spot. Unless you do something like show a telephone number that is to be seen nowhere else but the ad. But then, in all honesty, has anyone ever in their life written down a phone number off a TV spot?
I'm dubious...

Thanks again
Simon

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling is for fools, but that's the way I like it, baby. I don't want to live forever!


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Joseph W. BourkeRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 8, 2013 at 4:06:09 pm

Hi Simon -

I'm with you on what you say, but the only useful purpose of a television commercial is to drive a result, whether it be purely brand recognition, sale information, web response (many tv spots have a specific web page address dedicated to tracking the results of various media). They are all looking for a result.

Using the Levi's commercial as an example is flawed - everyone who's not living under a rock knows what Levi's brand is about - this commercial is merely targeted (and believe me, it is) at making people who were thinking about buying jeans already choose Levis because they wouldn't be cool if they bought anything else. It's going for the lemmings.

A world brand advertises in a vastly different way than most television commercials. You might want to take a look at this website - not for learning, necessarily, but to get a handle on what's working and what's not:

http://www.adweek.com/adfreak

I'm not throwing stones at your education, but there's a vast psychological science behind advertising that a couple of marketing courses wouldn't cover. I've worked in television advertising for almost thirty years, and I'm still learning. If the production company/producer/agency doesn't get results with a TV ad, they don't get a second chance.

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Simon RoughanRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 9, 2013 at 8:48:48 am

Yep, Joseph, thats all true too. With marketing, advertising etc everything hangs on psychology, and therefore has no absolute answers or solutions. There is no right or wrong, only what is perceived to be right or wrong.
But thanks for the link, its seems to be quite a valuable resource. You can also check out http://www.thinkbox.tv They also have lots of good tips, studies etc.
Thanks again for taking the time.

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling is for fools, but that's the way I like it, baby. I don't want to live forever!


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Joseph W. BourkeRe: Fitting A Story Into 30 Seconds.
by on Jul 9, 2013 at 8:02:24 pm

And thank you for the link, Simon. The problem with there being no scientific system for grading results (look at the joke that is Nielson ratings in this country) is that it's always easy for the client to place the blame on the creative when it doesn't work. Many of the spots I've created over the years were truly cringe-worthy, and never went on my reel, but they got results because the client aired them so often. Sometimes sheer frequency wins out over the creative concept in getting results.

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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