Take me where, Boris?

Boris in a taxiI hope you all enjoy the journey you can find here:


Yes, it’s what is known as a viral campaign, and I will stop right there because it’s got a job to do. Enjoy.

But, dear readers, I thought I’d pass on a few notes on the actual shooting and editing of it. It will spoil the whole experience as you learn how we gutted the chicken you found so tasty, but it’s all about the learning.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE IDEA: First off… viral video – don’t get too ambitious in the cinematic camp. Keep it real. Don’t do full on production values, as people (your audience) get suspicious. Evan was pulling us back from the big picture and pushing us forward in keeping it real and light – and ‘happy’.

MAKING HAY WHILST THE SUN SHINES: We had booked an hour with Boris. He’s a busy chap, has a city to run and all that. We planned well beforehand, booked a spot that’s nearby his office that has lots of different vistas. A private road near some modern offices that overlook the Thames and has a little tree-lined avenue and a patch of grass and a whole vista of ‘Tradional London’, plus some utilitarian spots.

Well, didn’t quite go to plan. On the day, Boris had too many commitments, our filming spot was shifted 1 hour earlier (which turned into 20 minutes, of which 15 was spent reading the script). We ended up sharing our spot with 3 coachloads of children having a really great picnic lunch in the sunshine. We tried to ask the supervising staff for a little consideration, but they were children playing in the sunshine. Whilst the Producer in me wishes for a non-lethal Kid-EMP weapon, the dad in me says ‘mic Boris closer’ so we switched from Radio mic to a COS-11 as close as I dare to Boris’s mouth.

SOUND ISOLATION: if faced with loud surrounding noise, put the mic as close to the sound as possible. It’s just like lighting – the inverse square law is your friend. That’s why pop vocalists hold the mic to their mouth. There’s no way any other sound is going to get a look in. Their sound will be 100:1 louder than anything else on stage. But people don’t like looking at microphones – it breaks the fourth wall and feels a bit ‘keen’.

DISTRACTING BACKGROUNDS: We only got one location, and it had a bright green privet hedge in it, which really didn’t sit well with shots from the many locations we needed to shoot in (no way was Boris going to be driven round London for this). So the simple solution was to pick ‘privet green’ in the the FCP colour corrector as our ‘selected colour’ and desaturate it fully. Suddenly, Boris pops out of the background which we never even see. People wander past, but it’s just set dressing. It’s not Schindeler’s List, merely a trompe d’oeil.

PLENTY OF LOCATION SOUND: Everything was shot with the engine off, and we carefully recorded plenty of engine-on – both interior and exterior – with ‘taxi pulls in’ and ‘taxi pulls out’, plus door opens and closes. Even things like brake squeals, car horns (it’s my car horn you hear, recorded days later). All this covers up a multitude of sins and makes the whole thing believable. Especially because we recorded interior taxi noises, but nobody believed the sound of ‘int taxi’, so we had to trickle ‘ext taxi’ over Boris’s lines as that’s what the audience wants to hear, not what they would have heard if they were there. RECORD ON-SITE ATMOS SFX!

MAKE A LOOK AND STICK TO IT: We shot the external taxi shots one day, and Boris the next. Of course, the weather decided to go from ‘inside a tupperware sandwich box’ grey sky to brilliant sunshine (with occasional storm cloud) the next. So we had to overdrive the dull outside shots to make them really colourful and almost like toytown, then scale back Boris (and that wretched hedge) so he’d fit ‘inside’ the external shots. Colorista helps even out the exposure range of the Canon 550D to the Sony EX1, and Magic Bullet does all the colour, grads and vignetting,

SHOOTING IRON: We shot the external GVs on a basic Canon 550D. We didn’t have time or paperwork in some locations, and so we had to be as non-threatening as possible. You can shoot from public areas, but this fact is sometimes lost on Community Support Officers working for the Police. So, no BFG Zacuto Rigs, matte boxes, tripods, monopods or follow focus systems, just a Tokina 11-16 on a Canon 550D with a Zacuto Z-Finder. I could have really done with a Zacuto Target Shooter support on this one, but fate was agin me and mine is now on order. ‘Just In Time’ ordering sucks rocks through straws.

Of course the main shooting was done on Sony PMW-EX1s – looks like a Z1, better picture than a 570. Everything shot 720p – the Canon stuff was downsampled to 720p too.

EDITING: All done in FCP, pretty quick thanks to Evan’s tight storyboard and requirements. Lots of little nit-picking changes over a few days, changes that you will not see or care about, but they had to be done. So, what made my life sane was the Elgato Turbo264HD USB dongle that accellerates H.264 encoding. Each iteration of the movie required a web and a YouTube version, we may go through 3 iterations per day of 7 movies, so if left to Compressor, I’d be, well, dead. But because the Elgato unit does H.264 in pretty-much-real-time, I was able to turn around changes pretty quickly.

So… Keep it real, use extreme limitations to do your best, remember the basic rules, go for consistency, simple solutions work, and edit for your audience even if your client needs you to change things.

Photos by: Sean Barnes

1 thought on “Take me where, Boris?

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