I love shooting commercials that make a difference and give back to local communities. Hurlbut Visuals recently collaborated with Vaughn Wedeen Kuhn to lens the next set of Department of Transportation spots for New Mexico. The agency’s storyboards were visually unique and compelling, and we could not wait to bring them to life.
The first, Aftermath, was a DWI spot that showcased the random tragedy caused by a drunk driver. What began as a wonderful graduation celebration for a budding surgeon instantly became a nightmare. Our concept wanted the look and feel to take place at dusk, right after the disaster. We had one day to shoot this commercial that had to take place in a 30 minute period of dusk. We set out to use negative fill and large solids to control the daylight, block the sun and create a mood that felt like dusk.
I had an Arri Alexa with Leica glass and pushed the underexposed envelope to create that wonderful fragility of light experienced at dusk and or dawn. I cranked the camera to around 4200 K so that the daylight had a coolish tone and used several stops of Tiffen Water White Neutral Density filters to get us around a 2.0. I have found that the Arri Alexa has about a 1.2 worth of IR filtration on its sensor. Anything above a 1.2, I use an additional IR filter. An example would be if I wanted 7 stops worth of ND, I would use a 1.2 straight ND and then a .9 IRND to add up to the 7 stops. The look and feel of the spot was inspired by the photographer Todd Hido. I love his still work of dawn and dusk. His earth tones mixed with muted cyans rocks.
The tone of this spot was about silence, that dead calm which slowly puts you on edge. These intimate lock off frames show you an intimacy, an uncomfortable, personal moment in time. We chose to shoot with a mixed format approach with the Arri Alexa, Canon 5D and the C300. I used each format to its advantage. The 5D was used for its shallow depth of field on Macro CU photography. We chose the Leica 60 and 100 macro lenses.
The Alexa was our A camera, shooting all of the graphic wides as well as the medium shots of destruction.
Our third camera would be the C300, which was used for the final twilight shot of the drunk driver being loaded into the car and the empty liquor bottle in the foreground. We capitalized on the high sensitivity of the Canon sensor to extend our dusk light.
The boards for this spot were in the development stage when we got the job. As co-directors, we loved the idea of the concept, which was Jekyll is a nice guy who develops a Mr. Hyde temperament when he gets behind the wheel. Our vision was a single lock off shot positioned on the hood of the car. This lock off would showcase Jekyll’s crazy driving habits in a comedy of jump cuts.
I chose the Arri Alexa as the A camera for this lock off because of its dynamic range ability. I knew we did not have the time to light the car’s interior, so I would have to go with available light. This would be problematic with other cameras because of the necessary 14.5 stops of latitude, which is what you need when you have the burning light of a New Mexico day and the dim interior of a Honda Civic. The final footage had a unique hipstamatic look and feel. Mounted on a hood mount and using a 19mm Leica lens to add to the interior comedy, we embarked on a mission to shoot at all times of the day and night that showcased Jekyll as a crazy man behind the wheel.
Many thanks to Morgan Estill for shooting all the great BTS stills and video.
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