Director Jeremy Pinckert of Explore goes behind the scenes for the making of commercials in the Covid Era. Explore is a full-service commercial production company located in Chicago at 311 W Superior St, Suite 218.
When we embark on a new project we always feel a sense of excitement. A little necessary anxiety for the unknown. And a healthy dose of levity knowing every new commercial production has the potential to be a fun, amazing process from beginning to broadcast. But then there are projects we know, deep down from the beginning, are no brainers for success.
This is a about one of those projects, and how our production team thought outside the box, were flexible and nimble, and ultimately were able to produce a spot during our Covid-19 reality with a crew of 10 people that amazed the creatives & the client.
We were fortunate enough during the Covid-19 stay at home that put much of our industry on the sidelines to have already completed two shoots already. The first was a :30 commercial for a large bank who needed to send a message of calm security to their clients. This was very early on in the process, in fact so early we directed, shot, and edited this using only one person.
Using only natural light, Director Jeremy Pinckert of Explore, was able to capture honest, real life performances from actual bank employees from behind the barriers of Covid as a motif. He used windows, glass and doorways to create a subtle feeling of separation, before ending the piece with the Zoom grid which soon after he utilized this as a creative device was soon the staple in corona productions.
The second project was quite different in the message, but no less poignant. A large grocery chain who employs many high school seniors wanted to tell the story of how Covid was impacting their graduations. “The Graduates” uses real seniors talking about the loss of their proms, their graduation ceremonies, and the last rite of passage moments spent with fellow classmates to create a beautiful, and not-surprisingly, resiliently inspiring commercial.
But the third shoot we embarked on was quite different from the first two, and we soon knew this would be the experience of our 2020.
FIRST THE PREMISE:
People in the city are restless. Stay at home has tapped them physically and mentally, and someone needs to send some positivity straight from the 80’s. Enter an approaching fleet of DeLorean automobiles delivering New Belgium Brewery’s “1985” VooDoo Ranger IPA to save the day.
Yes, you saw that correctly. We were asked to produce a shoot centered on a story involving DeLoreans – the same car made infamous by the blockbuster franchise “Back to the Future.”
And not just one DeLorean, but three of the gray stainless steel bullets. The brainchild of Creative Director Rob Lewis from Boulder’s Fact & Fiction agency, the creative was as juicy as the unfiltered hazy beer, and we couldn’t wait to jump in.
SECOND – THE PROBLEM:
In late May, Illinois was still under a stay at home order, and the creative specifically called for the beer being delivered in Chicago. We developed many different strategies along with producer Kristen Del Calzo from Fact & Fiction, and the location superstar Kate Levinson of Levinson Locations. Waiting for the city to lift restrictions, shooting in the suburbs, and using the Amstutz Highway of Batman fame were all explored. Ultimately Illinois just wasn’t ready to host our shoot, and we weren’t ready to test the limits of our insurance, so we quickly adapted our focus to just across the border, to a location in Indiana.
THIRD – THE SOLUTION:
The look the creatives and director were going for was a warehouse-lined street, a big industrial skyline, and the grittiness, dust & rust of a post-apocalyptic landscape. The Calumet / East Chicago area of Indiana, once known for steel mills and smokestacks and now populated by natural gas & refinery companies, fit the bill perfectly. But then the waiting game began. Because locations aren’t requested enough to have a natural pipeline, location scout Kate Levinson worked all of the unusual angles. Her tenacity and persuasion paid off as she had the Sheriff on board for the road shutdown. The final approval needed to come from on high, with the Mayor of the city signing off. Keep in mind, this was in late May so many local municipality employees were working from home. On the last day we had to make the call on our production date, we finally got the OK to move forward and do the shoot. On May 29th, we and a crew of 10 plus 3 DeLorean drivers, embarked on an epic shoot day.
FINALLY – THE IMPLEMENTATION:
Now that attaining the OK to shoot legally was out of the way, our production team had to focus on the plan to shoot in this Covid-19 atmosphere, in what we call “The New Reality.” This is roughly what it looks like:
- Crews need to be limited to a smaller size.
- Person to person contact for items like HMU & wardrobe need to be dressed individually, leaving time to wipe down stations in between.
- Craft services and catering need to be adapted and given serious considerations. In what effectively used to be an all-day buffet and then a second buffet for meals, items need to be individually packaged and distributed in a collated fashion.
- Creatives & their clients getting a look at the footage in video village will often need to be remote when travel or larger groups are involved.
Watch the finished product below!
HOW TO PRODUCE COVID ERA COMMERCIALS
Luckily our producers put real thought and empathy into each leg of this new reality, and there will likely be many innovations in upcoming shoots due to Covid, but here’s how we did it, and some things we would add to the equation given our further knowledge time has brought.
- Our crew size was limited to 10 people.
- Each crew member brought their own PPE, but we also had backup just in case.
- Shooting outdoors provided fresh air and the space to build camera, equipment, and driving vehicles.
- We rented an RV for our office staff & bathroom, and divided the motorhome into 2 sections accessible through separate entrances.
- Luckily, as we were shooting DeLorean vehicles driven by their actual owners, we didn’t need HMU or wardrobe. If we did, I would suggest doing makeup & wardrobe one talent at a time.
- For craft services and catering, we took orders before and one well-disinfected PA created crafty bags for each person on set. Then breakfast & lunch were delivered in individually-wrapped take out bags.
- Video village was our biggest concern as we were shooting both outdoors and in mobile shots car to car, but DP Mark Jacobs developed a workflow where his ARRI Alexa could output a signal straight to a computer. Then line producer Damien Huck used Zoom to conference video village straight to our clients – in the comfort of their homes!
- Plexiglass can be a wonderful thing, and having spare plexiglass hanging from a C-stand arm is a wonderful barrier to insert in between takes between crew members, between Director and Talent, between Talent themselves, and between production staff.
- Having a Covid safety consultant on set can really make life easier as a production company. We did not have one for this shoot, but with the certifications begin given – generally you can find this through your location management company – we will be using one in the future. Let’s face it, we’re all production professionals – not health care experts – so having an expert on set who can be the authority when it comes to taking crew temperatures and enforcing PPE compliance can free a production company up to do what they do best: create visual advertising.
Summing it all up, embarking on a Covid commercial production can be a little scary, but as we move forward in the near future, we’ll all need to find solutions to advertising agencies’ creative briefs. This may take a little more nimbleness, a little less comfort for those accustomed, but for production companies like Explore – right in our wheelhouse. We thrive on making sure creative comes first – safely & smaller.