I had just wrapped “Kin” in Montreal and was in need of down time. I had just started to re-connect with my family when a call came in from the production company Smuggler. This call was so extraordinary that I could not say no. Imagine being the supervising Director of Photography to more than 125 cinematographers across our beautiful nation who were asked to capture that magical moment: sunrise on the Canon 5D. A moment that happens everyday but never seems trivial, always special. Our mission was a daunting task for any director and D.P. to undertake.
The concept from the Ad agency was absolutely brilliant. It was so inspiring to walk into the control room on our test day and meet all of the people behind this concept. Here was the Droga5 (droga5.com) concept that they came up and the team behind it.
David Droga – Creative Chairman for Droga 5
Ted Royer – ECD
Kevin Brady – Creative Director
Graham Douglas – Copywriter
Ben Wolan – Art Director
Bryan Yasko – Group Account Director
Emily Brooks – Account Director
Ben Davies – Agency Producer
Here is an excerpt from the director Ringan Ledwidge’s treatment.
Turning Point is how this films taps into the idea of a shared moment. This story gives us that moment of pause, a chance to reflect on how every morning we all share this beginning of the day, and it happens to be this beautiful, awesome experience of a sunrise. There are not many things in this world that can just make you stop and be still the way a sunrise can. Even though it happens every day it is just a joy to sit and watch it.
Part of what makes it special is how you can be all alone but at the same time feel connected to a larger world and greater sense of humanity. In this way, it’s kind of like staring up at a starry sky or reading a really good book. The other part that’s so great about a sunrise is how it feels like a great beginning, a start of something wonderful, no matter how ordinary. There is a great sense of hope and inspiration and tranquility in this shared moment and we want to bring these emotional qualities to this film.
His treatment inspired me and I was so excited to be apart of this history-making event.
Ringan and I were up to the challenge. We reviewed location folder after location folder. Ringan had chosen wonderful cameramen to deliver this vision. Documentarians, still photographers, indie filmmakers, you name it, he found them. We had 22 A units, then the A units had 3 to 8 B units. We broadcasted all of the 22 A unit shots via the internet assisted by the Teradek cube WiFi device to a control room in SoHo where they were displayed on 3-60” color calibrated monitors. This is the reason why the Teradek cube device works with the Canon 5D now. Originally, the Cube would not handle the 5D down converting of the signal to Standard Def. I didn’t want to go down this road unless I could lens all of these images with the 5D, which I feel is the ultimate capture medium in the DSLR platform. Teradek figured out a work around and made it happen on the 11th hour. I never thought that the WiFi feed would be good enough to adjust exposure, color and picture style, but sure enough that is what we were able to do. Imagine 22 cameras in all different locals, talking everyone through exposures, compositions, lens selections and picture styles on the fly. “OK Jersey shore, we need to lower the camera pan left and get those reeds in the foreground, Brooklyn Bridge, roll your window down, the tint is too heavy, Pittsburgh, we are too wide, go to a 50mm and push in, Ohio Valley, which bus is set to move? Omaha, where is the sun? Kansas City, let’s walk up handheld with the subway commuters, keep that sun in the center.” It was controlled chaos, but so exhilarating for a cinematographer.
The design of the spot we felt should be serendipity. It should feel like lightning in a bottle. Every image that I expose has a purpose, a story, an emotional connection, in essence, heart. These images were not just vistas. Ringan and I wanted it to be personal and intimate. We had our amazing team of shooters with a bus driver in Memphis on his morning route, with a farmer in a truck driving in Nebraska, in a car going over the Brooklyn bridge, with a baby and a father at breakfast in a home in Missouri, with wild horses running on the plains, a self portrait of a person’s hand in Monument Valley, with a farmer in California’s central valley inspecting his crop and a person taking a Tai Chi class in San Francisco, just to name a few.
We took a map of America and visually designed which lens would suit the geographic region the best. Urban, ethnic neighborhoods received Zeiss ZE glass for their cool color and contrasty feel; the South, Reno and Ohio valley regions received Nikon AI glass for their yellow and softer look; the open plains of Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah received Leica for their lower contrast and warmer color tone. The Cosmopolitan city centers received Canon lenses for their clean, colorful look. This was our Mantra.
How did we even the playing field? I felt we had hired uniquely talented cinematographers to do what they do best, but I wanted the image to have consistency. I sent out a document that I called the Rules of Engagement. This became every cinematographer’s Bible. Everything they needed to know about how to set up the camera and etiquette the way we wanted it to look.
We employed Technicolor’s Cinestyle on its maiden voyage. This picture style seemed to work well in extreme contrast conditions and we had that in spades. The sun had to be in the center of every frame about 2/5th’s of the way up the frame and a specific size, which required exposing more for the sun then the shade to keep the sun’s size consistent. Imagine those old flip books where the stick figure guy walks across the frame, well Ringan’s concept was the sun rising across America.
How do you acquire this amount of gear in such a short amount of time? I went to my amazing sponsors to help me pull this off. Brian Valente at Redrock Micro supplied all of the Man Cams and Shoulder rigs to smooth out all of the shooters handheld shots. Jill Conrad from Tiffen Filters helped supply all of the HV Tiffen Water White 77mm Neutral Density Indie Kits so that the shooters were able to keep the exposures all around a 4-5.6. To be able to make the Teradek Cube work so that the director and I could see the image in SoHo at Command Central as well as the cinematographer, Wes Phillips at Small HD supplied all of the on-board monitors for the Canon 5D set-ups. Eric Kessler was there to supply his Cine-Sliders to give cinematic movement to specific shots.
Now you have the gear, but who can pull this all together? We call them “The Dream Team.” Moira Hurley, Sally Humphries and Andy Coverdale were the Production supervisors. Along with their amazing staff that shipped lenses, researched filters, arranged location folders till 4 am in the morning: you name it they did it. In 5 words they “helped pull of the impossible.” Allison Kunzman was the Executive Producer on this monolith and she delivered with grace. Here is the Dream Team from Smuggler:
Allison Kunzman – Executive Producer
Sally Humphries- Director’s Producer
Moira Hurley- Production Supervisor
Andy Coverdale – Production Supervisor
Danny Hillman – Production Coordinator
Alexis Del Prete – Office PA
James Coker – Office PA
Kelly Cirpriano – Office PA
Now coordinating this event on the test and shoot day as well as the conference call was all on the very talented Assistant Director John Lowe. I will never forget the speaker phone to all of the units across the country, as well as the 16 hour conference call that John scheduled so that every shooters questions were addressed. It was a rolling conference call from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At one point John handed me the phone and I had another phone in my hand as well, I forgot who I was talking to and what I had previously said. It was crazy, but this long day of prep was worth it on our shoot day. Everything went pretty seamlessly.
The commercial is beautiful, intimate and inspiring, but the story behind it is what is truly unbelievable. One day, one sunrise, 125 cameras across America. This was out of the box thinking at its best. Here are some still grabs from our test day.
I want to extend a huge thank you to the entire A teams and B teams that made this event possible. Without your expertise, instincts, compositional style and experience this would never have happened. You inspired me and breathed life into an incredible commercial event.