An Adumentary for the Manfrotto Befree Tripod – Shooting a traveling commercial series – Part 1

by Lan Bui on June 12, 2013

Manfrotto contacted us to shoot the video ad campaign for their newest travel tripod, the Be Free, back in January of this year. It was an exciting new product and they wanted to show it off in the best way possible… a way that would also be true to the products features and capabilities. We needed to think of a great way to showcase how well the Be Free tripod traveled… and could think of no better way than that great American pastime… the road trip.

Planning all happened via email in the couple months that followed. Manfrotto chose Adam Barker as the costar in this series starring the Be Free, and for good reason. Adam is an outdoor and lifestyle photographer known for his advertising and commercial work, and traveling comes naturally to him.

We had the concept, the subjects, and Lan was assembling the crew… all that remained were the locations. There are many factors that need to be taken into account when trying to put something like this together… and California won out on most of them. California has an extremely diverse range of landscapes… beaches to desert to snow capped mountains to thriving cities to raw clashes between the land and ocean… and we wanted to shoot them all. After some conversation with Adam Lan had the locations narrowed down to 6… and the kicker was that they’d be shot in 6 days with travel via an RV (and a passenger van). California also happens to have mostly predictable weather in many of the locations… which was important on the tight schedule we had.

Gear was also important. We needed to be able to shoot mostly outdoors and on the move, but also needed to do interviews with Adam so we knew we’d have to have some lights, flags and stands. We also wanted to shoot a combination of beautiful footage, super slow motion, time lapses and standard BTS footage in all conditions.

The main camera was an easy choice, the Canon C300. Lan used the C300 as the A camera for the feature film Redemption: The Darkness Descending and it proved itself to be a workhorse and perfect camera to shoot this kind of stuff. For slow motion it’s hard to do better than the Sony FS700 (Amazon link) for the cost… and at 240 frames per second at 1080P it could more than handle what we wanted to do. Those two cameras and a couple DSLRs and lenses were ordered from BorrowLenses. For time lapses we had GoPros (Amazon link) and a Canon 7D on a Kessler motorized slider. And although Tyler had another C300 that he was going to shoot BTS on I wanted something smaller, lighter, faster and easier… so I bought a Canon XA10 (Amazon link). It’s tiny… like small enough to just throw in any bag once you remove the handle and lens shade… the quality is fantastic… and it even has an infrared night mode, which came in handy in the desert. All that plus a Canon 5D mkIII (Amazon link) and a bunch of L series lenses and we were ready to shoot.

The Crew:

Producer/Director/DP – Lan Bui – | – Vu Bui – Producer/Camera/BTS

Producer – Jeff Winkler – | – Lindsey Koens – Prod Coord/AD

Gaffer – Ryan Heuter – | – Aaron Dieppa – Photographer

BTS video – Tyler Gorrell – | – Nate Sorensen – Adam’s Assistant

The Clients:

Manfrotto – Simona – | – Luca – Manfrotto

The Cast:

Manfrotto Be Free tripod

photographer – Adam Barker – | – Mike Ambs – writer/narrator

The Route:

Manfrotto Be free trip map
Some long hours of Google Map searching came up with this route.

Santa Monica -> Joshua Tree -> Death Valley (Mesquite Dunes) -> Mono Lake -> San Francisco -> Big Sur

The RV and van:

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Ryan and the RV

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - The van and some gear

The Gear:

Manfrotto Befree
Manfrotto 504HD MPRO Video Head
Manfrotto carbon fiber 535 tripod

Manfrotto Pump Cup
Manfrotto Pro Microphone Holder
Manfrotto 190 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Q90 head
Manfrotto Black Aluminium 3-Sections Stacker Stand
Manfrotto Combi-Boom Stand HD
Canon C300
Sony FS700
Canon XA10
Canon 60D
Canon 5D mark II
Canon 5D mark III
Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye
Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS
Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS
Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
Canon 14mm f/2.8L
Canon 24mm f/1.4L
Canon 45mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift
Canon 50mm f/1.2L
Canon 85mm f/1.2L II
Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro
Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II
Metabones Canon EF to NEX Speed Booster
Kessler Pocket Dolly
Light panels 1×1 LED panel
Anton Bauer DIONIC HC
R0DE Blimp
R0DE Video Mic Pro
Zacuto Z-Finder
Zacuto EVF

(almost all of the gear you need for a shoot can be easily rented from BorrowLenses)

Day 1: Santa Monica

We all met on the first day of the shoot at 1pm in Santa Monica at Umami Burger. When your Italian clients come to town you must avoid AT ALL COSTS taking them to your favorite Italian place. Burgers, on the other hand, are perfect. Usually when people are about to embark on a week-long road trip together, spending every waking hour in close proximity, they know each other first. Well we had lunchtime to get to know one another, then it was off to the pier to get started!

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Santa Monica burger lunch

Santa Monica Pier offers a variety of looks and locations all within a few hundred feet. Adam chose 2 main shots and went to work, with us behind him shooting the entire time. This first location was a good way for us to get some gorgeous sunset shots as well as set up how we’d all be working together as a team to create the main ad videos, Adam’s still photos of each location, the behind the scenes videos, the product photography and the behind the scenes photography all at once. There were a few catches… the main one was that Adam would be shooting the photos on his own camera, but for the ads we were using a 60D which was more suited to the audience. He used the Manfrotto Be Free tripod with both cameras, but when the light was best and he was getting his shots… we needed to get ours, which involved switching cameras. Luckily with the quick release plates that job was quite fast.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Santa Monica

We wrapped up our shots, had a quick Mexican dinner then wheels were up and we were off to Joshua Tree.

(a note about RV travel: It might sound like this awesome thing, sitting and relaxing in the back of an RV instead of being cooped up in a little car… but that’s only because you aren’t taking into account the fact that it will be completely TERRIFYING in the beginning, especially if it’s night, and especially on twisting turning bumping roads.)

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Santa Monica RV

Day 2: Joshua Tree

The day mostly consisted of scouting. Joshua Tree is a HUGE park, so driving around took up lots of time. Adam and Lan settled on a rock formation location for sunset, a spot for a night shoot, then the well photographed and loved Cholla Garden for sunrise. Bigelow Chollas are not nice cacti. Their needles may look like soft fur from a distance, but they are ridiculously sharp and have barbs so once they are in something (shoes, pants, Aaron) they don’t want to let go. Almost all of us were using my Leatherman to pull Cholla balls from our shoes… but only Aaron took a full hit through the leg. Not fun. But funny.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Joshua Tree sunset

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Joshua Tree BTS The Bui Brothers

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Joshua Tree BTS Lan Bui

Day 3: Death Valley

Death Valley is the lowest and driest area in North America. It also holds the record of highest recorded natural air temperature ever recorded. A fun place to visit for sure… but we were luckily coming during the cooler part of the year. We headed straight in and to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. They are beautiful and if not for the mountains in the distance you’d believe you were in the Sahara instead of the Mojave Desert.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Death Valley Mesquite Sand Dunes walk

One of the important things for us on a shoot like this is to stay as mobile as possible. Although we had the RV and van and could bring a ton of gear, some of our locations weren’t accessible by car and we’d have to hand carry everything we needed. With the help of some unreleased Manfrotto gear bags we were able to create our mobile kits that would go with us when we needed to leave the accessibility of the vehicles.

All of our tripods on this shoot except the Be Free were carbon fiber Manfrotto tripods, which are really lightweight, so most of our weight was in lenses and cameras. Watching Ryan carry the massive Canon 400mm f/2.8 in its case across the dunes reminded me of the scene in Spaceballs where Lone Starr pulls the GIANT hair dryer out of Princess Vespa’s matched luggage they are carrying across the desert and says, “What’s this? I said take only what you need to survive!” And, similar to what Lan would have said of this GIANT lens, Vespa replied, “It’s my industrial strength hair dryer, and I can’t live without it!”

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Death Valley Mesquite Sand Dunes

We finally caught up to Adam where he’d stopped during his scouting, and started to shoot. We did a few scenes, Adam shot some beautiful photos, and then someone jumped off the edge of a dune.

When you notice someone doing a flip off the edge of a sand dune there are many things you can do in response… but in this group there was only one correct one… grab the FS700 and shoot some slow motion captures at 240 frames per second. We did a few with Lindsey and Nate, then Simona and Luca said they’d do a jump… and like any responsible people would tell their clients in the middle of the desert far away from emergency services and cell phone signal… we said hell YES!

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Mesquite Sand Dunes

Day 4: Mono Lake

We drove out of Death Valley in the morning, picking up along the way a cool shot that Lan happened to notice of Adam walking down a long stretch of road, and headed for higher elevation.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Death Valley long shot

Mono Lake wasn’t at all what I’d expected, not because I hadn’t seen photos of it before, but because those photos were mostly taken during a different time of year… namely spring. The landscape we came into was dry… and the shrubs around the lake were a pale gray. There was no color in the landscape except for the blue, cloudless sky. We walked around and scouted a little bit until the sun was getting close to the mountains then scrambled to catch the last bits of sunlight. That’s when it got really interesting, though. After the mad rush to catch the last rays of sun before they disappeared I actually looked up and saw that I wasn’t even on Earth anymore.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Mono Lake BTS

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Mono Lake BTS

It’s amazing what you can do with an iPhone… even years after I started shooting on one daily it still amazes me. This photo was done with the iPhone camera app, just put in pano and pan it! This topic came up a lot during the week, and although we all shoot photos and post amazing (but tiny) landscape photos to Instagram… there is still no substitute for a proper DSLR on a tripod if you want to share your photos any larger than about 1000 pixels square.

We shot until it was dark, then left for the only dinner in the area, good ol’ American diner food.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Mono Lake at night

Day 5: San Francisco

We headed to San Francisco with big goals in mind. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge shot, some travel shots on a trolley, some travel shots at a bus stop, a dusk shot at Twin Peaks with car taillights streaking past, and some amazing sushi. Noble goals, and all attained.

The Golden Gate shot happened on the way in, followed by a bus stop we just happened across. We then made our way to Twin Peaks and after a brief scout Adam had his shot location and we set up the time lapse cameras and started shooting. The Be Free tripod is also great for timelapses. It’s small and light and fit anywhere we needed it to, and whether we put a 7D or a GoPro on it, it was easy and perfect!

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - San Francisco Twin Peaks

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - San Francisco on the trolley

After getting the shot we took Ryan’s suggestion and went off to Goemon sushi, and it was AWESOME. A fun atmosphere, fantastic sushi, sake enough to drown in and great company all made for a memorable dinner. Tipsy and tired, we called it a night.

Day 6: Big Sur

The day started at another San Francisco location, actually. We hadn’t had time for the trolley shot the day before so we wanted to grab it first thing in the morning. I set up the FS700 with the 400mm on a Manfrotto NAME tripod so I could get a long shot of Adam on the trolley and the rest of the team jumped on the trolley to ride with him and get the rest of what we needed. It’s one of my favorite slow motion shots of the entire shoot.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - San Francisco happy clients trolley shot
this is the look you hope for on your clients face during the shoot

After nabbing the trolley shot we took off out of town and down the coast. If you’ve never traveled down the California Coast then you haven’t been making enough progress on your bucket list. It’s breathtaking. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop every 10 minutes like we would have if we had ample time… and had to settle for 2 main stops. One was at a light house Lan just happened to notice which had a parking lot right next to a nice small field of flowers. It was the perfect spot for a few shots.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - California Coast

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - California Coast

After that we headed down to the final main location… McWay Falls in Big Sur.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - McWay Falls Vu Bui

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - McWay Falls

It was beautiful, not crowded, the weather was nice and we were in good spirits. A fantastic end to a productive shoot. We milked the falls for all they were worth… photographically at least… and when the light disappeared so did we.

Day 7: The Drive Home

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Interview setup

The morning began with an outdoor interview setup right where the RV had been parked all night. It was perfect for the look we wanted and after a little reparking and lighting gaffed by Ryan, we were ready to shoot. Afterwards we took a nice group photo to commemorate the trip and hit the last stretch of road.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - The Crew

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - The silly crew

We thought we’d take it easy on the drive home… but it started about as hard as an RV day can start. Up until this morning the RV had been on some rough roads, but none as steep and bumpy as the driveway up from the little RV parking area we chose in Big Sur. And after a week of use… the toilet belched a little… and we all scrambled to the windows to try and keep our breakfasts down. A quick turnaround and emptying of the tank later… and we were back on the road. Less in love with RV travel than ever.

Manfrotto Be Free Tripod ad shoot BTS - Poop

The coast was wonderful… but we had our shots and we were beat… and wanted to make it to LA in time for dinner… so we didn’t stop much and just gunned it down the state. We stopped at Lan’s house to clear some gear then went out for our final dinner together as a team. It was a bittersweet celebration… the shoot had been awesome, for some of us the best trip in a long time… but now that it was ending we were all going to be splitting up and heading home. Me to Stockholm, Adam and Nate to Salt Lake City, and Simona and Luca to Italy. A week on the road will make you into either great friends or great enemies, and we counted ourselves lucky to have landed on the former.

In Part 2:

the music video version

Day in day out, we all read about what gear to use, what the best new cameras are, what cameras and rigs to use… and we all seem to be concluding the same thing now. The cameras are pretty much all good enough. We (The Bui Brothers) want to start talking more about actually booking more work, how we book work, and how you too can book more work. There are plenty of people talking gear. Lets start talking about making a living from this stuff. We will answer the following questions in part 2…

  • How did we book this?
  • What was our pitch?
  • How did we pick the locations?
  • Why did we make so many videos for one product?
  • Adumentary? Why the cheesy title? What does that even mean?
  • What should the budget be on a project like this?

  • the time-lapse and slow motion version

    more behind the scenes

    Part 2 – How we booked an international advertising campaign with Manfrotto

    • drew gardner

      Hey Guys

      I just want to say a big well done, a really great job.

      It looks like you had no fun whatsoever :)

      It is always a difficult line to walk to convey the message without coming over as cheesy but I feel you got it just right.

      I Love just about everything about this project apart form Vu’s coat (only kidding Vu!)

      Can’t wait to see your next project…..


      • Lan Bui

        Thanks Drew!!!

        Like you said, it was no fun. I hope one day there is fun to be had!!! HAHAHA! You said it best “This beats working for a living.”

    • C.C. Chapman

      What a great and detailed behind the scenes recap.

      I remember seeing the shots on Instagram and wondering what you were up to. Especially with that huge lens on the road.

      Now I know! Loved the final commercial(s) and can’t wait for the second part of the behind the scenes.

      • Lan Bui

        Thanks C.C.

        It’s pretty funny how all the instant photo sharing changes the perception of blog posts like this.

    • Steve Garfield

      Loved this. Would like to see Adam’s photos too.

      • Lan Bui

        Oh yeah… Good idea!!! Hahaha, funny how I completely forgot to post about that.

    • Libby Stack

      Hey it’s been quite awhile since you guys posted. Wonderful pieces here and great BTS stuff. The Mono Lake stuff is just wonderful. Look forward to your Part 2.

      • Lan Bui

        Thanks Libby! Mono Lake was my favorite.

    • Steve Crow

      What an awesome, awesome posting, full of details and I love the bts stuf too, really excellent! I am looking forward to reading the further behind the scenes info you promised as I just happen to be preparing to pitch a very similar type of road trip project…could you share whatever you can on budget and expenses? You guys brought along WAAAAY more gear than I ever would but I am sure things like hotel, food, gas, misc fees and so on added up quickly. I would just like to get a head start on my planning with some real world budgeting – again thanks SO much for taking the time to do this! :-)

      • Lan Bui

        Thanks Steve! We will be sharing a lot more quite soon…

    • Misa Garcia

      Awesome post. I’m waiting for Part 2.

      • Lan Bui

        Thank you Misa… it is being written…

    • Bill

      I read every word, looked at every picture and watched every video, twice. It was a marvelous story and i’m looking forward to the rest of it. The one question that I have is: how did you choose the lenses and why. I’m thinking primarily of focal length. It’s one thing to choose a focal length for a still, but it’s quite another to choose one for video.

      • Lan Bui

        WOW! Thank you so much for watching, reading and leaving such a wonderful comment!!!

        We chose our lens selection to try and cover any situation we came across. We knew we wanted to stick with Canon lenses because we love the way the look and they woudl work natively on the C300 and easily with the adapter on the FS700. The one lens we knew we wanted to get special was the 400mm one. From our initial talks we wanted a long shot in the desert with the road behind Adam. I also wanted to mix it up with some tilt shift and the rest are just covering the range. In the end… if we just had three lenses we would have still had a great shoot… a 24mm, 50mm and 100mm…

        • Bill

          Thanks very much. I can see where the long lens made the road shot special. Did you have that shot framed in your mind before you got there or did it develop as you saw the location?

          • Lan Bui

            Yes, that shot was part of our storyboards. We didn’t have the location specifically picked when we make it, I just knew we would come across it on the road at some point.

    • Anonymous

      did you get to use the Befree tripod for shooting video ?

      • Lan Bui

        We did a bit… but the Be Free is a still photography tripod. So pretty much everything was shot with Manfrotto video tripods.

        • Anonymous

          thanks! do you think its suitable for semi-professional outdoor DSLR video? (no panning, just stable footage)

          • Lan Bui

            It really is made for still photography. Of course it will work for video, it just isn’t made for that.

    • Pingback: Gardner Creative A fine video by the Bui Brothers- plus an interview with Lan

    Previous post:

    Next post: