Here is a basic process of how I approach a new project.
This is a case study of how I usually work when I approach a new project. I think it can be clarifying for possible clients to know what my workflow is and what I consider the essential aspects of filmmaking. Many of those don’t necessarily involve the use of a camera.
Something you will also see is that I don't tend to talk too much about gear. It changes depending on each project, so I will focus on the relationship with the client, the creativity and the storytelling. Ok, let's start.
Local Surf is a surf shop that now centers its activity in the design and construction of surf boards. The man behind it is Pepe Nuñez, who opened the shop back in 1989. He is a surf pioneer in Tarifa, in the South of Spain, currently one of the best spots for kite and windsurfing in the world. We had been talking for months until our respective work schedules matched and allowed us some spare time to develop this project.
First, here is the final result:
1. Briefing and Preproduction
When I meet a client I am automatically working in an unconscious way to get their essence. We talk about the project, about their needs and what they want, but apart from that I try to stay open and aware to read between the lines and get to know them better. Before meeting the client, I research the company through the internet, previous videos they may have, their history... This is essential and one of the most important parts when working for a client: get to know everything about them.
I love this process of discovery, listening to people. Pepe was talking about him, the situation of his company, how hard it is to stay competitive against big companies these days… and his need for a video to boost sales. Those were the subjects we talked about, but after observing and listening to him I had other things clear: Pepe is really passionate about what he does, he is clear, he talks straight and treat his clients in such a way that most of them become his friends.
Pepe did not know what kind of promo they wanted to do. He was clear about the channel (social networks mainly). I think that was a great idea because surfers are an open community who like to share stuff, and that is important in order to reach new clients. I think people want to know more about everything nowadays. With all the information social networks can provide, many of us want to know not only a product or a company but the people who are behind them. We want to feel near them, to know what their story is.
With all that information and insights I thought the best way for Local Surf to reach potential clients was to talk about the man himself, about his honesty, his attention to details, his authenticity. A portrait showing the process of making a surfboard, what he feels when he makes it and his motivation to do it. I did not want to show the shop because I did not want to give the message of selling. I thought that if prospective customers knew Pepe, what he does and how he does it, they would want to have one of his boards even more than if I just showed them on camera. For me, this was the story of a romantic guy who believes in garage workshops competing in an industry where big companies rule. And I thought that the surf community and their lifestyle is all about this romanticism, this freedom of spirit Pepe has. As the rest of surfers, Pepe enjoys travelling with his caravan and practicing surf. He is a real surfer, he is one of them and he knows what they need to ride the waves.
When we agreed on the kind of promo, the tone, mood, music and budget, I began to write the script. Due to the spirit of the piece, I decided to keep the crew small. So, I called my friend James Small. ;) He is great doing production and a terrific shooter with terrific ideas and a huge film culture. We visited Pepe's home and workshop so we could bounce ideas to each other.
2. The production.
When doing a piece based on an interview, I try to break all the barriers beforehand, get myself involved in the discovery process and make the client feel that I am really interested in their story, their activity and their company. That way, the interview becomes a spontaneous conversation, which is my goal.
I usually go with some guidelines, but I always let the conversation flow. Although I have my questions and points to make, I always let a tiny window open for improvisation since great things can happen if you respect the momentum. Pepe was not used to interviews, so I thought I had to earn his trust and boost his confidence beforehand.
Regarding the shooting style, I decided to use a tripod to film Pepe when at work and when he is at home, in his controlled environment. His delicacy while working, his attention to small details... I wanted to shot all that with an stable feel in contrast with the handheld shots when he gets into his van and go outside in search of freedom. Besides, Pepe is a relaxed guy and I thought that decision would work to communicate that.
I wanted to show Pepe in silhouette, in a darkness which becomes light when he starts what he loves: shaping boards. I had to be careful with this, composing elegant silhouette shots without being too ominous. There, the contrast with the tone of the music would help.
I like to light the locations but this time we needed little or no extra light. Pepe's workshop has an adjustable door and window, so we had control over the natural, diffused light that the sun was giving us. We used only a kicker to separate Pepe from the background and another shaped light to emphasize some tools or finished boards.
We used mainly the Canon 60D for this project. We didn't want this film to look like highly produced, so we stayed small in that sense too, knowing that camera can deliver great results.. We wanted it to feel close to the audience. We used the Canon 70-200 and Macro 100mm for the closeups. For the interview, we used the 50mm 1.4 to have more light since the 60D adds a lot of ugly grain when you push the ISO.. Finally, the Canon 28mm 1.8 for the handheld shots on the beach and the car.
We shot everything in two days, one for his home/workshop and another one for the beach scenes.
I usually start creating an audio skeleton with the interview, no images at all. I want to listen to a well edited audio story with the interviewee's words and thoughts. There I work with dramatic structure, changing the order of things, looking for the climax, the opening, the plot points and all the stuff which makes a story interesting. The timing will be changing while editing the images but the structure is already there.
I don't want the talent talking about what we see. I like using the audio track to make the piece grow, to help imply new and deeper meanings when mixed with the images.
When I finish the rough cut I take a break, usually one day when I have the time. That way, when you are back to the editing room, you can see all the possible flaws with a fresh mind and start the final cut with another perspective.
The color grading process is another of the main important and overlooked aspects in my opinion. The color grade starts in the preproduction stage. I put a lot of attention in the art direction and color correction. In some pieces you can do little about it, but you have always tools like framing, wardrobe and other things that can make a big difference. Pepe's workshop is blue so I loved the idea of looking for complementary colours which could contrast with it and transmit Pepe's earthly nature. We found that in his skin tone, a table, the coffee he was drinking, the sand... I used colour as another tool for storytelling, to emphasize the contrast between his meticulous work while shaping surfboards and his more relaxed, laid-back nature when he is out of his job.
The last touches were adding a bit of film grain to give a retro feeling to the piece. I also added a letter box since I shot with Magic Lantern with the cropmarks. Here you have a before and after video:
I used Vimeo with a password to show Pepe the final result. I normally agree on two reedits with the client by contract. However, Pepe didn’t need any of them. He decided that the first edit would make the final version. He loved it! And what's more important: his customers loved it! Once the video was broadcasted online, they started to share it with their friends and followers through Facebook and Twitter. After a few days, new clients approached Pepe to get one of his surfboards and his sales have finally started to increase.
He is happy, we are happy, and we have a new friend (and possibly a loyal client) thanks to this project.