In a few days the TV commercial we shot for J!NX will air on TV. We (The Bui Brothers) shot the entire commercial on a Canon 5D Mark II. In this post we want to talk a little about the good, the bad and everything in-between that we encountered while shooting a TV commercial on a DSLR.
Taken from www.JINX.com:
“J!NX is a clothing brand heavily influenced by gaming and geeky interests.”
First, we want to thank Steve Woolf and Zadi Diaz from Smashface for bringing us on to be the directors of photography and sound for this TV commercial. We also want to thank J!NX for being so awesome, Tracie Cotta for providing excellent makeup and style, and Sarah Atwood for keeping things together!
Here is a look the team that made the first US TV commercial shot on a Canon 5D mk 2:
Let’s start by talking about the good. The good actually started with excellent planning by Steve and Zadi… they had a great script written and a very thorough shot list… also it didn’t hurt that Zadi was the main subject of the commercial… and we know each other and have shot together (photo, not video) before. Also, we decided to bring along a 26″ HDTV as an external monitor. Although bulky and not that easy to move around the set, we were able to focus extremely easily on such a large screen. Pull focus is not easy, ever… but it’s really difficult to nail any kind of focus at all on the 3″ screen on the 5D mark II. All we needed was the TV and an HDMI cable, and we had a giant monitor.
Of course another part of the good is that the files that come out of the 5D mark II are AMAZING. While reviewing footage on the huge monitor… we were always very pleased. This helped move the shoot along well as everyone was literally stoked with every shot we reviewed. Using the 100mm macro let us really get in tight with ridiculous shots of minute details… able to focus in on words on a MacBook Pro monitor to the point where you could see the pixels on the screen. Of course, with the larger scenes, it was all about lighting. Colored gels, a hallmark of Smashface/Epic Fu style… really have the background some interest… and of course… color.
Another amazing thing is that even at high ISOs the footage is still fantastic. This means that if you are lighting your sets on a budget, you have a lot more flexibility. We were lighting most everything with a couple Arri 350s and an Arri 600 fresnel… which would actually be tough in some situations with, for instance, an HVX200 which we’ve also shot with. You just don’t need that much light, and our travel kit will now include just a bunch of Lowell Omni lights and a Tota or two. Small, light and more than bright enough for the amazing and wonderful light-sucking sensor in the 5d mark II.
Then there was the bad. First, worst, and FIXED NOW (thank you Canon!)… at the time the 5D mark II didn’t have any manual control… so we were going from shot to shot trying to match exposure of the last shot… which was pretty much impossible. It was frustrating enough while shooting… I can only imagine how tough it was to edit. Not only did we not have manual control, but we were sticking ourselves with wide-open because attempting to control the aperture with the set, DOF preview, and unlock lens method just wasn’t worth it… so we just went with the wide-open unlocked lens solution.
So the shutter speed and ISO pretty much changed itself from shot to shot… we were able to lock it with exposure lock, but not set it.
(NOTE: now that the manual controls have been fixed with the Canon 5d mark II firmware update, this is not an issue at all. We have since shot another television commercial, and it was a perfect experience)
Another issue has to do with the way the 5d mark II handles its HDMI output. I am not sure what Canon was thinking… and whether or not this can be fixed with another firmware update… but basically you only have the proper aspect ratio while reviewing clips you’ve already shot. While setting up your shot everything is super squeezed, and while actually recording it’s stretched. This isn’t a huge issue, especially once you’re used to it, but if you’re working with clients who aren’t able to visualize what things are going to look like when they are perfect… it may be tough for them to approve and like a shot without you shooting some footage and playing it back for them.
We also had a couple cases where there was something in the frame that we didn’t notice because it was covered by the overlaid display data… something to note.
Using the giant HDTV was great when it was already in place and we were using it to focus, but not so good when it was time to move to the next shot. Bigger isn’t always better… and we actually had a much better (and EXTREMELY economical) solution for our next commercial that we’ll talk about in that post.
Audio. Yes, audio is an issue with the 5D mark II. There is no way to disable the auto-regulation that goes on… and the only solution we’ve heard of is by Beachtek and has to do with outputting a continuous tone into one channel in order to keep the levels… well… level (UPDATE: We have learned about a few more solutions, a follow up blog post will be made about this). If you are shooting something for the web… and the audio isn’t that important or is going to be well masked by other sounds or by music… go ahead and do it. If you are shooting a television commercial as we were… find another option.
We opted to record audio through a Sennheiser MKE-66 shotgun microphone into a Firepod into a Macbook pro into Final Cut. We recorded into the ADR module, because it was easy to set up and use… and it worked perfectly. Luckily we only needed audio for the “talking head” segments, so there was minimal syncing that was needed. This went perfectly… but we also now have a much better solution for this that we’ll talk about in the next post.
The Canon 5D mark II was literally perfect for the television commercial shoot (if you don’t count the exposure problems which have been fixed)… we just needed to learn a little bit about the things that need to be done surrounding the camera to get the best out of it. The commercial looks fantastic and will air soon and be available online, at which time we’ll post it on this blog as well.
We shot all of the talking head shots tripod mounted and locked down… and most of the B-roll (which is most of the commercial) either handheld directly on the camera or on a gorrilla pod which offered a small amount of stabilization but left the real-life movement we were looking for.
There were quite a few challenges we ran into, and some minor inconveniences… almost all of which have been completely solved for us. We’ll talk about all the new devices, software and workarounds we are using now in the next post… which took our next commercial shoot to the literal next level.
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