Getting your style shot quickly.
By Mike Pecci
The challenge over the past few projects has been to make sure my visual style can be done quickly. One was a commercial for the Boston Celtics directed by McFarland & Pecci and the other was promotional material for my upcoming sci-fi web series. Both required a tiny crew, minimal gear, and for us to shoot as fast as possible.
Ian and I were hired to direct a new TV spot showcasing the new team for the Boston Celtics. The client wanted high contrast portraits of the players on a white background and they had designed a specific look in mind. It was left up to us to add life to the shots and try to convey a hard working and “driven to succeed” vibe from each of the players. The challenge was shooting the athletes during press day, which meant we were set up in the team’s practice gym with a dozen other production crews and news outlets covering the event. We had a small space, 20ft x 20ft – couple that with the fact that we only had each player for 10 to 15 minutes.
The lighting in the gym was definitely going to be a problem and we were unsure if the halogens would pulse while shooting at high frame rates. We had to build a tent for the set. Anytime you start dealing with 20x black out gear and larger grip equipment it means you have to add more men to the crew just to tackle lifting. Jason and Tom at Quixote helped me design a package that could be handled by 4 people. It’s harder than you think. Filming the players on a white background also proved to be a challenge based on the fact that these are pro basketball players, the shortest being 6’ and the tallest 7’. Giving these men room to move around and dribble isn’t easy in a tight space. The longest white seamless you can buy is 13FT long and we needed it to be it at least 15 feet tall to work.
Lighting in the tent was a bit of a process. Firstly, real estate was scarce and we wanted as wide of an angle as possible for some shots. Using wide-angle lenses was an issue because we didn’t want to see the edges of the seamless, so the widest we could shoot with was a 25mm and that required the player be a certain distance from the camera. You also don’t want the player right up against the background so he isn’t affected by the backdrop lighting. So the 20ft was gobbled up pretty quickly. We were also provided with a certain amount of power that we had to run all of the lights, the video gear, monitor, and charging station. This meant we were looking at LED and Kino units.
We got three 4ft Kino banks to light the background. They are the perfect choice for a soft light that falls off quickly. That helped us contain spill. To light the players, I used the IKAN IFB1024 LED panels on battery power. They are dimmable, and have the ability to change color temperature with the twist of a dial. They are also incredibly lightweight so I was able to have a technician on each unit and move them quickly to sculpt the light on a player’s face. That was essential because we only had each player for about 10 minutes! That included the hello, explanation of what we were doing, lighting, and camera adjustment. Add to all of that the list of actions and lines of dialog we wanted to capture. Needless to say it was stressful! I was determined to make each shot look like one of my photographs and spent most of my time at the monitor shouting out brightness values and light positions to the crew. The final piece was going to be black and white, so we dialed in the monochrome setting on the VX17e IKAN 17 inch location monitor.
The results were great, and when you watch the spot you can definitely see our style. We couldn’t get our hands on the edit or the color grading for the piece, but that happens sometimes in advertising. The post is out of our hands.
My next adventure was a last minute promotional shot for my new Sci-fi project. One of the lead actors (Nick Apostolides) was in town last minute and I figured it was a perfect opportunity to shoot a photo for the promo packet. We jumped into action trying to find a last minute location. For the shot, I wanted a high-rise view of downtown Boston at night, and Nick would be standing in front of a large glass window staring at his own reflection. Where the hell would we find that?!
I spent a few hours on the phone with hotels in the area but everyone was booked. Turns out that it’s convention time in the city. Shit! So I changed strategy and reached out to real estate agents, asking for lofts or condos in the financial district. Most were not helpful, especially when they heard that I had no budget, but one nice agent in particular gave me the insider scoop on a brand new building in Chinatown. He told me to call up the building manager and see if he could help us out. It turns out that the building was called the Kensington, a brand new condominium building - and it is gorgeous! I spoke to Drew, the building manager, and he was completely accommodating. I expected him to need at least a day to figure sort it all out, but I was greeted with “We would love to help you out! Wanna come down right now?”
I called up Nick, grabbed a few pieces of gear, Tony came along, and we were there in 20 minutes. The timing was perfect too because the sun was going down. Drew hooked us up with our choice of penthouse apartments and we took the one with the best view. Tall light up office building right out of a Michael Mann movie! We only had about 25 minutes to get the shot before the building office closed so I had to be quick. I wanted to be portable so we brought along the IKAN LED 3 point light kit and the Nikon D-800. After hunting for the right angle on the glass window the next trick was exposing to the city ambience.
The sensor in the D-800 is great for low light and I was running it at about 800asa and wide open on the Nikkor 85mm 1.4 lens. We used two of the IKAN LEDs to illuminate the image. One was used to front light Nick so we would see his reflection, and the other to add a separation edge to his black suit. After some tweaking, the final shot came out fantastic! So good in fact that I switched the camera into video mode and shot the pieces I needed for a video promo and an animated GIF. The entire thing was shot, planned, and completed in three hours. Thanks to everyone who helped and if this is a sign of how this new series will go, we are in for something special.