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Telling Life Stories

Insurance company customer testimonial promos tend to follow along the same path. It’s either one long talking head video or it’s a combination of the talking heads and cutaways in which an incident and the aftermath has been dramatised using photos or enactment by actors.

The brief for ‘Life Stories’ was to go against this standard and create something more visually arresting and engaging, whilst being short enough to get the key messages across in an overloaded online world. Agency Future Kings came up with the idea of leaving the talking head out completely, and instead, to use a series of mostly metaphorical and point-of-view images to tell the story.

Shooting the pilot

What was really nice about this job is that I worked closely with Future King’s creative director on the shot list. Also, I knew I had been selected for this job based on parts of my reel – the parts which happened to be amongst my personal favourites to shoot! We used reference shots that were both a mix of practical answers to what we were after and cinematic references to what the story needed. After we established the shot list I was then free to fill everything in around the main concept of each shot.

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The whole ad is made up of bokeh shots, extreme close-ups, silhouettes, POV and macro shots and I was briefed to make it as cinematic as I could. The budget didn’t allow me to get a lens/camera package which would have almost instantly added a cinematic feel, but I pushed my Sony FS7 and Canon lenses as much as I could, before finishing the look in the grade. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 has beautiful bokeh. It was instrumental in getting the shots from the car. The 100mm macro doesn’t come out much normally but was a great lens to get the extreme close-ups, shooting 4K and then cropping in to get an image that was up to twice the size, seeing as the piece needed to be delivered in 1080p. The 24-70 f/2.8 gave me good coverage for most other shots. I sometimes used a Tiffen Digital Diffusion filter to take the edge of the digital image and one shot uses some atmos in the form of smoke from a smoke machine too.

Most of the shots were captured in available light, including the use of practicals. Sometimes we brought in my Rotolight Nova Pro and Rotolight Neo. Where those lights came in really useful was for a shot in the car where I had to simulate a POV of someone who had just had an accident with the lights of an ambulance projected onto the window and door. These lights have a special effects mode which includes a ‘police’ setting. I jelled one of the lights red, the other blue and synced the frequency to get the right effect. I then overlaid a bokeh shot of a real ambulance we encountered on the road in post-production to finish the idea of disorientation we were after.

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Sound

Josh Brown composed the music based on references I sourced. I then did the sound design using stock sound effects from various sources, going in subtly, as per the brief, sometimes having 4-5 tracks overlapping each other. I loved working on this part, really experimenting with different sounds to get the effect I was after, especially around the first part with the accident.

Grade and vfx

The grade was performed in DaVinci Resolve Studio and is based on Kodak Vision3 50D - 5203 film stock. There is a 2.39:1 crop through letterboxing to help sell the cinematic feel. 35mm film grain breaks up the digital footage even further. The client’s brand colour is yellow and some shots were tailored to that, which is most obvious in the bokeh at the beginning and the hands of the watch, which were recoloured.

Shooting a coastal sunset in mid-October was always going to be a challenge here in the UK. Part of this was timing (and luck), but I also have some of it to thank to Red Giant’s Knoll Light Factory, a plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro.

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Conclusion

This was one of my favourite jobs of 2017. It was low budget, but I was able to expand on certain techniques I learnt on passion projects, take my time building shots, experimenting with layers and light and practice my skill, in general, to get closer to getting the aesthetics I prefer. It couldn’t have been a better match to my style, skill level, approach and preference and I really thank Future Kings for giving me the chance to direct and shoot this.

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Credits and technical information

Directed, shot, edited, graded and sound design by Remco Merbis
Production assistant / AC: Dan Billinghurst
Music by Josh Brown.
Voice-overs by Bernie Hodges and Sally Bailey.

Camera package:
Sony PXW-FS7
Metabones Speedbooster Ultra
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
SmallHD 702 Lite

Shot at 50 fps at 4K.