Monday, December 21, 2009

Shooting a TV Commercial

Shooting a TV commercial usually involves the following cast of characters:

The Principals or Actors: who will be seen on camera in the commercial.
The Extras: Actors who may appear in the commercial but will not be readily identifiable with the product, either because they are not in sharp focus or are seen only from the back.
The Product Demonstrator or Hand Model: The person who gets to touch or handle the product and/or perform the demonstration that shows that this product is better than its competitors.
The Makeup Man or Woman: who is hired to see that all the talent is properly made up. Often this includes hiding circles under the eyes acquired from the insomnia suffered the preceding night as a result of the anxiety attack directly related to the next day's shooting. Note: I rarely used hand makeup unless the cameraman wanted my skin tone lighter or darker to match that of the principal actor or the requirements of the background.
The Hairdresser: The person whose job it is to keep straight hair curly (or curly hair straight) during the day's filming under unbelievably hot lights.
The Fashion Stylist: Responsible for clothing the actors. She has either spent the three days in Bloomingdale's gathering various shirtwaists, bathrobes and sweaters (the mainstay of most commercials) or the last three nights on the phone with the actors getting them to pledge in blood that they not only own, but agree to bring in, what is required for the commercial.
The Food Stylist: Often originally a graduate home economist who has refined her talents to the degree that she can not only make undercooked pie crust (for the purpose of easier cutting) look luscious (with the aid of brushed-on Kitchen Bouquet), but can also duplicate a perfectly cooked rib roast or artistically browned chicken breast for the endless number of takes required of the director (to say nothing of the acting mistakes of the talent).
The Director: who tells the actors where to stand, what to do, how to do it. Responsible for making the commercial come to life. Some directors specialize in slice of life (or real people) commercials, while others are masters of the tabletop commercial, which deals mainly with the close-ups of the product, such as foods. The director tells the actor where to stand (where the marks are), what to do, how to do it, and (best of all) gets to yell Action!
The Assistant Director: (or A.D., as she is called), who sees to it that the cast and crew are ready and available to the director when needed. I've always suspected that the A.D. , upon receiving her union card, also receives a mimeographed sheet of ten phrases to be memorized and screamed out at various times throughout the shooting day, and guaranteed to jar the ambiance of the room (or set) at any time. Among these are: Quiet on the set!; Makeup!; Hair!; You're late! (screamed to an actor upon arrival three minutes after the appointed call time); Bells! (which signals that a sound recording is about to be made); and, by the way, sneezing during the take will be countered with extermination of the guilty); Cut! (which means Stop the camera. The actor has eaten all of the product , or the beer is spilling over the table); Slate! or Sticks! (the clapping of two wooden sticks together to synchronize the sound with the film). The commercial A. D. often gets to read the slate for the sound takes, e.g., Take one, Scene one. Very Hollywood: One hour lunch! (or pay a union penalty to cast and crew). And finally, It's a wrap! meaning that the shooting day is over. This is not infrequently uttered thirty seconds before the cast and crew would be eligible for overtime pay.
The Cameraman: The director of photography, who determines how the shot is lit, and how the camera will move to get the desired effect. Also makes sure that each shot is framed correctly, i.e., that it includes in the picture exactly what is intended (and no more, excluding in frame a boom mike which often has to hover above the actors' heads, or the hand model's head or hair, when only hands should be shown.
The Assistant Cameraman: who assists the cameraman in the actual shooting. Determines the proper film exposure and actually executes the needed focus changes.
Gaffers: The electricians who move the lights and electrical equipment.
Grips: Move the cameras and sets.
Set Designer: Present to see that the plans are properly carried through. Often a series of commercials for the same product will require three entirely different kitchen sets as each spot will have a different family cast, and therefore, advertisers reason, can't live in the same home.
Soundmen: One or two people who record the commercial if dialogue is to be recorded along with the filming of the commercial.
Property: The one who sees to it that all the props and products are ready. A hand model's best friend or worst enemy.
The Script Supervisor: who carefully times each take and makes sure that each successive shot can be properly edited into the final commercial. This includes checking that the hand model's sleeve and jewelry match those of the face model.
The Client: The owner of a company or director of advertising of the large corporation that manufactures the product being sold. The one who is paying for the whole extravaganza. When they want to produce a commercial, they go to the advertising agency.
The Agency Writer: who has come up with the concept as well as the actual dialogue for the commercial and will see to it that each filmed action is appropriate to his concept and words.
The Agency Art Director: who designs the visual concepts for the commercial and determines the look of the commercial, as it is translated to the storyboard (a series of drawings of little TV screens that depict the action as well as the titles (or supers) that will be incorporated into the finished commercial.
The Ad Agency Account Executive: The person who attempts to maintain a happy marriage between the agency and the client.
The Agency Producer: The person who casts the commercial, finds the appropriate film house, director, editor, etc., and in general the one who is on the line if the various elements don't bring new meaning to the word sales, or at least, art in advertising.