To this day, I still remember the little white box that changed everything.
It was several years ago, but I remember exactly where I was when the delivery man showed up outside our makeshift studio.
Inside the box? Two EOS 7Ds – pre-production cameras, that Canon had graciously sent us to test out in the field.
It was those cameras and that opportunity that pushed us to shoot JC and Esther’s wedding film on way too short of notice, with the most basic of crew. It was just me, two cameras, and 4 lenses – but I had a mission to make the most of our time with JC and Esther and to put these new pre-production cameras to the best possible use.
Because my resources were so limited, I couldn’t possibly shoot everything.
At first that felt like a negative, but I quickly realized that it was a massive liberation. I had an excuse to skip everything I didn’t want to cover and could very easily pick and choose just those things that I wanted to focus the story on. As the film was a free offering to them and rather improv due to the pre-production cameras, there was no bride offering suggestions on what should be covered and there was no pressure of exactly what needed to be delivered.
By having a situation where less was being asked of me, I was able to do more than I ever had before.
That film is the same one that, when put online, went viral and wracked up over 200,000 views (for a last minute wedding film).
One of those people who viewed that film was employed by the NFL.
That one view changed the entire trajectory of Stillmotion and started our relationship shooting for the NFL. Our work on the football field led to contacts at CBS, our work with CBS led us to the Emmy’s.
That little white box, my decision to shoot that wedding, and how we approached it, has sparked momentum for us that still hasn’t stopped.
While you may not be lucky enough to find yourself in a situation with pre-production cameras, volunteering to do a film, and blessed with absolutely no restrictions, there are several ways you can go about getting yourself more creative freedom on your shoot.
More creative freedom ultimately means you can tell the stories you want, and if we are any example, that can lead to some pretty special opportunities.
Had we shot JC and Esther without this creative freedom, even with double the crew and resources, there is a very likely chance the NFL never would have seen it.
Flash forward in time to this year…
We’d recently been approached to make a Kickstarter film for a team who had created a pretty remarkable innovation for your iPhone. They had found a way to use the light on the phone to illuminate your finger, then the camera would detect the shade of red in your lit finger, and from that would come up with a close estimate of your heart rate.
An iPhone app that feels the pulse of your heart.
That in itself is pretty nifty, but they went one step further – they used an algorithm they had built earlier that could take this biometric data and turn it into composed music on the fly.
An iPhone app that feels the pulse of your heart… and turns it into music for you.
They called their concept BioBeats and their team was spread across the globe with Nadeem and Sandeep in San Fran, Davide in Pisa, Italy, and David in London, England. From the first phone call, we knew we wanted to tell their story by visiting each one of them.
Visiting each member would allow us to tell this story in the way we KNEW it should be told – but was a rather expensive proposition, something much bigger in scope than they had originally thought when they approached us.
Do we compromise on the story?
Do we wait until additional funds can be raised and allocated?
Neither was a great option. This story deserved to be told right – and deserved to be told now!
We were stuck…
…and then the phone rang.
It was Canon again.
As many of you may have noticed, when Canon releases a new camera they often work with filmmakers to have a piece created with that camera. It serves as a testament to whats possible and gives Canon some real-world footage from their new creation. Win-win!
Canon wanted to know if we were interested in submitting concepts to make a film as part of their C100 launch plans.
There was only one problem…
They were meeting the following morning to make a final decision. They wanted to consider us – but they needed a treatment in the next 12 hours.
We stayed up all night and put together pitches for three separate stories. In our hearts though, there was one that stood above all the rest.
The Canon 100C fit our ideas for the BioBeats story perfectly. Canon’s support would take some of the burden off the company to fund an around the world shoot. And the new prototype would *definitely* be pushed to the limit on something like this (giving us a tangible, clear idea of its potential).
Canon called us back a couple days later.
BioBeats was a go. Canon was excited to see what their new camera could help create.
So here we are with an incredible story to tell, amazing locations across the world, and some awesome prototype cameras to film it with. A ton of buzz and excitement, but also a ton of added pressure.
We knew how many people would see the film and we knew it wouldn’t be easy in the production process. We’d need to learn a new camera, visit 3 countries in 11 days, and tell a powerful story.
Above all of that, for the story to be as strong as possible we knew we would need to tell it the best way we know how, with our approach, style, and vision.
While we all start our films with the best intentions of making them exactly how we want, the reality is that our clients often have suggestions, interpretations, and guidelines that differ. In this particular case, we had much more than one client, we had six.
Each member of the BioBeats team had a different background and would have a unique perspective on this piece. On top of that we had the agency working with Canon, as well as several team members at Canon. Six layers is quite the daunting task to get through and still keep your vision intact.
This is why a treatment matters.
We’ve talked about it at KNOW, it’s in our Field Guide, and we keep coming back to it because it is such a big part of communicating your ideas.
We started with a comprehensive treatment that outlined the BioBeats story, what we wanted to cover, and how we would approach the different elements. By outlining our whole process and presenting a clear and singular vision, it showed that we had really worked through our whole concept and that nothing we were presenting was arbitrary or taken lightly.
Both the agency and Canon loved the treatment – it is a large reason why we and this film were chosen for this project.
The treatment didn’t stop there though, we took the time to send it to all four members of the BioBeats team. It surely wasn’t needed or expected, but it showed them just how much thought was going into their piece.
Sometimes we assume our clients know just how much we are putting into their piece, but in reality they have no way of knowing the countless hours we spend brainstorming, prepping gear, and cutting something together. By sharing the treatment it started to give them a sense of just how much we were putting into this and how much intent there was.
Though our shoots in San Fran with Sandeep and Nadeem were close and rather simple (logistics were easy), we still took the time to send out both call sheets and storyboards. In truth, we could have gotten by without any of these and they took a great deal of extra time to prepare.
But now, by the time we showed up for our first shoot, we had sent in three documents that all showed our approach and intent. For the client, that then showed them that we were prepared, organized, and that we cared.
We weren’t just showing up and shooting, figuring it out as we go. Instead of getting suggestions from the client on what we should shoot, where we might conduct their interview, or which people we might consider covering, we got nothing more than their unconditional support, and they offered to do anything they could to help.
For this film, we came into several situations where we really needed to count on the support of the people we were shooting.
The BioBeats team went to bat for us several times, in huge ways, because they knew we were busting our butts to make this the best piece we possibly could. It’s even fair to say that the film would be much different, much worse, from the one you see now if it hadn’t been for some pretty unbelievable support from David on one of our last days of production.
When we landed in London we had 48 hours to shoot David’s interview, all of his b-roll, and adjust to the jetlag. From there we would be off to Pisa, Italy to shoot Davide for 30 hours before we were off again.
The story of BioBeats, for us, started with David and his experience of flat-lining in an airport from extreme anxiety.
We knew David’s interview was perhaps the largest piece of this film and it had to live up to that. We considered doing the interview in his home but with a train station right outside his window, we were concerned we would need to constantly interrupt our conversation and never be able to get into a natural flow and rhythm.
We tried Google Labs, where much of BioBeats was developed, but the foot traffic was too heavy and unpredictable. We looked for public spaces, coffee shops, design studios – anything that felt right and might work but we just couldn’t get the right mix of sound, timing, and feel.
We then started resorting to the last place any of us want to end up for an interview – hotel rooms.
We located a suite with some rather original design and more than enough room to turn it into anything we wanted. When taking a tour we were told it was scouted as a possibility for James Bond’s hotel in the recent 007 flick. We took our time in preparing for the interview by reviewing all of our documents, talking through our story, and lighting it with precision.
What we hadn’t planned on was just how long it would be.
We started at 2:30 that afternoon and by the time we finished it was well after 5.
Shooting on the C100, that interview length posed no problems at all. However, looking at the light and the change from day to night surely did.
We had all been so engaged in what we were doing that none of us fully recognized the gradual change in lighting that left us with a look and feel that was much much less desirable than when we started.
More than the change in look and feel, such a drastic change in lighting would also present some large challenges in post as we couldn’t cut an end portion of the interview with something in the beginning, as it would look so different and distract the viewer.
Truth be told, we left David’s interview thinking everything was great and we didn’t fully realize just how bad our problem was until we were in Italy the following day reviewing everything.
Our reaction started with “we’ll need to make the best of it”, which quickly changed to “we’ll need to try and show as little of this as possible” and ultimately ended with “this won’t work, we need to do better.”
With that, we found ourselves in Croatia (the location of our next shoot), with a flight leaving to take us home in about 18 hours, and the need to get together with our main character and redo his interview from scratch.
The first thought was to try and change our flights and get a connection in London that was long enough to let us shoot the interview. That would get us to David and then we would need to sort out another location (the suite was too expensive to rent twice) and make sure David could fit us into his schedule.
We looked into the change and it ended up being almost $3,500 for our crew of 4 – certainly more room than we had in the budget.
Then Ray came up with the perfect solution – instead of flying four of us to London, why don’t we ask David to fly to Croatia? It would minimize expenses, time, and then let us focus on finding the right location.
It did mean we would need to find the right spot in less than 6 hours that would be open from 12-2am that night and offer a warm and intimate feeling while looking close enough to something you might see in London.
Before we could even get there, we’d need to see if we could convince David to get on a flight to Zagreb, Croatia in the next 3 hours so he could do an interview with us, which would need to happen at well past midnight that evening.
My text to David…
“Hey – Are you busy tonight? We could really use your help. This is a big one, get ready.”
“No worries. I am going out with Elise but it’s with a bunch of other people so I can sneak out if needed. What can I help you with?”
At this point he is thinking we need to chat for a couple minutes – far from our actual request of leaving the country on 3 hours notice :)
“Can we put you on a plane to Croatia tonight and fly you back in the morning? We could really use more for your interview and it looks to be much easier to fly you here instead of flying all of us there.”
It took only a few moments for him to say yes.
He was in, canceling his night out and instead, driving to the airport to board a last-minute flight.
That night we were re-shooting his interview in a local coffee shop we had convinced to stay open for us so we could totally rearrange their furniture and shoot.
Every production has challenges, and as unpredictable as that always will be, the more prepared you are and the more support you’ve gathered, the closer you can come to the story you had hoped to tell.
Heart builds action, and when everybody involved can see just how much you are putting into their story, they naturally want to help in any way they can, especially when they are faced with a seemingly unsurmountable challenge.
Had we not flown David to us in Croatia, the story wouldn’t be the same, and this is just one of many examples of how our story was helped tremendously by those involved.
Of course we’d be lying if we suggested that sending in these documents before every shoot guarantees you can tell the story you want to tell.
You’ll still always face challenges, objections, and revisions.
The key is to set yourself up to minimize objections and revisions and gain support for the challenges you might encounter. The best way we know how to support your story getting told in the way you’ve dreamt is to push yourself to know as much of what you want to say as possible, and then share that with everybody involved.
We did that here through a treatment, call sheets, and storyboards.
If you are having a challenge getting the creative control you would need for your films, consider putting in the extra time to build out your story and present that to the client. Whether it is for a commercial client or a bride, the thought and heart comes through and can quickly get you much more freedom in your productions.
We are so excited to get to share ‘Pulse’, a film shot entirely with the C100 in 3 countries over 11 days, with you today.
If you didn’t watch it yet, scroll to the top of the post and let us know what you think!
So how did the new Canon C100 work out for us?
Honestly, we were blown away that we could pull off this diverse of a shoot on a camera we had no practice on. That says a lot about the design, function, and power of the C100.
For our full thoughts on our C100 experience (what we liked most) – check out this great Behind-The-Scenes video we helped put together:
Many thanks go to Canon for making this possible. Their support over the years has changed who we are as filmmakers and as people.
Canon just launched PULSE on their Vimeo Pro account, which you can find here
You can find Pulse, the behind the scenes, and other great films supported by Canon on their media gallery.
Also, thanks to the BioBeats crew for believing in us to share their story with the world (and fighting along side of it to make it the best it could be).
As a storyteller, you know the pulse of your story.
Protect it. Fight for it.
Go the extra mile to share your vision with those who can make it possible.
Your stories deserve it.
What did you think of the BioBeats story?
How do you fight for the stories you tell?
Let us know in the comments below! :)