When you’re working with a cast full of “doers,” it’s not always an option to put their “doing” on hold so you can get your footage — sometimes not even for 10 minutes.
We were constantly challenged by this while working with some very influential (and extremely busy) people on our shoot for “City of Doers”/”Where The World Changes“, a piece that we teamed up with director Rob Baget to produce for the city of San Francisco.
As many of you know, we pride ourselves on being able to shoot lean, under pressure, and in circumstances that would normally be considered unrealistic for a production crew.
But for this piece, we really put that pride to the test!
The cast was composed of the business world’s most innovative minds — some of whom simply didn’t have the time to care about us and our agenda, because they were busy running fast-growing, multi-million dollar companies.
For the director, Rob, this was more of a low-budget project, but one that was close to him personally. We’d worked under his direction on the Callaway series (which we now hold very dear to our hearts), so we responded to his request for help on this project with an affirmative “sounds like a blast — let’s do this!”
Here’s everyone we got to spend (very limited) time with:
- Jack Dorsey – Co-Founder and CEO of Square, Founder and Executive Chairman at Twitter.
- Ron Conway – Special Advisor to SV Angel and major startup investor for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Square— basically this guy is behind everything you love about the internet.
- Heather Hiles – Founder and CEO of Pathbrite, a startup career portfolio platform.
- Lynn Jurich – Co-CEO of Sunrun, an innovative solar power organization focused on affordability.
- Laura Weidman Powers – Founding Executive Director of Code 2040, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for underrepresented minority computer engineers.
- Craig Dalton – Cofounder and President of DODOcase.
- Art Gensler – Founder and CEO of Gensler.
- Dr. Regis B. Kelly – Director of ¼ of the California Institutes for Science Innovation.
- David Lee – Founder and Managing Partner of SV Angel, an angel investment fund.
- Edwin M. Lee – Mayor of San Francisco.
- Kevin Yeaman – President and CEO of Dolby.
With this kind of all-star lineup, it would only make sense to break out the finest quality equipment we could find, right?
For this job, we specifically chose to bring our Canon 5D Mark III DSLRs instead of the Red Epic, because we anticipated set-up time and overall speed being major factors in the success of this shoot.
These people weren’t going to have all day. We had to be flexible — and match the unpredictable nature of their schedules and availability.
And boy did that decision pay off.
We encountered all kinds of challenges throughout this shoot, and they all involved large amounts of pressure and small amounts of time…
Jack Dorsey has 5 minutes… GO!
See how Jack Dorsey is standing in front of that big shiny building that is Square headquarters?
This was basically as far away from his desk as he was willing to go, and 5 minutes of his time was all he was willing to give us.
Jack was very clear about the fact that he didn’t want us interfering with any part of the company’s daily routine. We couldn’t ask the building’s coffee shop to stop working – even for a few minutes – so we could get proper audio. Jack wouldn’t allow it, he simply didn’t want his team interrupted from their normal activities.
So we had to work around them, and time was ticking.
We set up as quickly as ever, and hit record — taping our initial interview with Jack for a longer documentary piece, and getting at least the minimum amount of footage we needed.
However, we knew we still would love to have Jack in the short video at the top of this post. We had no idea if he would be willing to come outside and read from the script, and we had less than a minute of his time left to come up with a pitch that would get him to cancel whatever was next on his schedule and come with us outside.
It wasn’t as simple as, “Hey, let’s go outside for 5 minutes and shoot this thing.”
This man has a massive company to run, why should he care about what we’re doing?
The key was to show him how much we cared about what we were doing and get him instantly interested (at least a little bit) in the project. We had to give him a quick pitch about the shoot, and deliver that pitch with enthusiasm and certainty.
This was the part where we got really jazzed about the project and said something to the effect of…
“Hey, we’re doing this piece for the city of San Francisco featuring some of the country’s top innovators, and we got all of these great locations and compositions and you should see the one we have for you! It’ll just take a few more minutes, and it’s going to be amazing…”
If we didn’t deliver that pitch with energy, Jack Dorsey wasn’t going to see how important it was to us — and if he couldn’t see and hear that importance coming through in our pitch, it would have been easy for him to pass and continue on with his busy day.
And so… he agreed!
But even outside his headquarters, he was still very concerned – and passionate – about making sure we DID NOT interference with the rest of the world.
We couldn’t block the sidewalk. We couldn’t block the street. He didn’t want to delay, obstruct, or in any way negatively affect anyone’s day.
This was yet another instance where we were glad to have a lightweight, flexible, and minimal setup. Jack would’ve had no part of a huge setup with lights, stingers, and stands — it’s just not his cup of tea.
Takeaway from Jack: Time may not be your biggest limiting factor – sometimes how comfortable your talent is with the project – or their demands for giving you their time – require you to be flexible and fast!
Whatever you do… don’t break anything in here…
When we met up with SV Angel investor Ron Conway, it wasn’t so much his employees he was worried we’d disturb — it was his home!
He didn’t have time to leave his house for this shoot, so we had to bring the shoot to him.
Scouting out the inside of a billionaire’s house ahead of time is basically impossible, so we went into the shoot without knowing what to expect.
Once we got in there it quickly became very clear: don’t break anything, don’t scratch anything, don’t touch ANYTHING! Any random item or piece of furniture could easily be worth more than all of the camera equipment we brought combined.
We’re always careful when we are in someone’s home – that goes without saying. But this was a whole other world! It was like walking on eggshells…golden eggshells! ;)
We grabbed paper towels, bubble wrap, the cardigans right off of our own backs — literally anything we could find to put underneath the furniture as we moved it around the immaculate hardwood floors.
We were pressed for time, but also had to move deliberately and slowly throughout the house — especially when hauling gear. We had to get in and get out, and it needed to look like we were never there.
Once again, our minimal setup, light gear, and flexibility paid off big time. We quickly developed our plan for the shoot and executed every step without question or contemplation. There was no excess, no gear we weren’t familiar with, and nothing we couldn’t easily move around and handle.
We all let a collective sigh of relief as we exited the home with our footage captured — and without a single scratch or dent left behind.
Well, except for the antique elevator we thought we had broke at one point — but that’s a story for another day!
Takeaway from Ron’s house: Be flexible and ready adjust to your environment when you’re unable to scout the location first — especially if the couch is worth more than your car.
The sun don’t wait for nobody…
The pressure you’ll face with shoots like this one won’t always revolve around busy schedules or a billionaire’s personal home — in some cases, it might just revolve around the good ol’ sun.
In order to have the San Francisco skyline as a backdrop, we knew we wanted to shoot Heather Hiles on a balcony with buildings behind her. As we set up, we realized the shot would only work when the sun would be shining through neighboring buildings in just the right spot at just the right time. We had a very small window of time to shoot before we lost our light!
So not only was Heather busy, but the sun was giving us a limited amount of time as well…
See how crappy that looks?
If we didn’t catch the sun peeking between those buildings, we had no shot – no way to use a great backdrop for our piece.
Not only did we need to capture the light at just the right time, we had capture it in a very confined space with limited resources.
So how’d we pull off this miracle?
- We mapped out our time. We used a sunseeker app to track the exact window of time in which the sun would be hitting between two very tall buildings behind her. If the sun went behind either of the buildings, we would have no light source.
- We used what we had. Once the light came through, we had a diffusing net on one side to cut the light down, and a 4’x4’ reflector on the other side to bounce the light back in. We didn’t have the time or the space to work with any equipment other than this.
- We used every inch of space. On a very small hotel balcony we had two light modifiers, one camera, and our talent. We had to ask Heather to lean as far back over the railing as she could just so we could get the right shot in this tiny space.
We waited until we knew the sun would come back out – and we were ready for it!…
Let there be light!
We finished just in time for the sun to disappear back behind the skyscrapers – and several high fives later, we were ready to head to our next shoot.
Takeaway from the balcony: When you’re under pressure and a problem is thrown at you, take a deep breath and consider your time, space, and resources on hand — what’s the best way to make use of what limited resources you DO have to pull off the miracle you need?
Crappy audio ruined your shot? Not so fast…
On one of our last shoots, we really wanted to get Lynn Jurich up on this roof for her segment of the video.
Lynn is the Co-CEO of Sunrun, an environmental power company that focuses on accessibility. It made sense for what Lynn and Sunrun represents to have her up on the roof overlooking San Francisco.
As with our other shoots, we had to set up quickly and efficiently. We captured a nice long shot of Lynn on top of the building… it looked great!
But there was a major problem… it sounded like shit!
There were HVAC units, generators, and other crap on the roof making all kinds of noise that we could do nothing about. We tried to find the most quiet spot we could, but it did little to help us.
Hums, beeps, boops, and hurrrrrrrs. Our audio would be ruined!
We weren’t going to find another location like the roof – especially on the timeframe we had with Lynn on this piece. We could have shot her in a room somewhere inside – but that would be the easy, mediocre choice. Shooting in a room wouldn’t fit with the vision we had for the piece. It wouldn’t be in line with Lynn’s personality or the vision of her company.
So we devised another plan.
We finished the shoot on the roof, and on our way back down through the building we nonchalantly asked Lynn if she would be willing to pop into a quiet room and re-record the audio for us.
She’s was more than happy to step inside of a room for a couple more minutes and give us one more audio-only take.
In order to get the new audio to match the original as closely as possible, we had her recreate the same posture that she had while standing on the roof. And, we didn’t fully tell Lynn what we were up to. She knew she was helping us with another read – but she wasn’t aware we wanted to dub this over her audio from the roof.
She gave us several reads – at a couple different paces – and we called it a day!
Later, we worked through the clean audio and dubbed it over the noisy audio from the long shot of Lynn on the rooftop. We even matched her clean audio to the her closeup shot from the roof!
If we hadn’t told you it wasn’t the actual audio from the rooftop, you’d never know! ;)
Takeaway from the noisy roof: Don’t be afraid to consider unconventional options and always be ready to think on your feet. Asking Lynn to quickly pop into a room as we were on our way back from the shoot and re-record her audio was quick and of little inconvenience to her – and it was the only way we could pull off the shot we needed in our limited timeframe.
Bottom Line: When limited by time… make yourself flexible.
In each of the situations during our shoots, one thing continually saved us. Our flexibility.
But what we want you to realize is that flexibility is not just a personality trait – it’s a choice.
We were shooting some of the most innovative and busy people in the world, but we CHOSE to do it in a manner that would keep up flexible.
We could have pulled out thousands of dollars worth of lighting, modifiers, and staff – but we did the far majority on one DSLR, with less than $500 in modifiers or equipment, and with a team of 2 or 3 people.
Other camera and lighting choices may have made Jack uncomfortable on the sidewalk, extra gear could have increased the risk of damaging Ron’s house, fancy lighting set-ups could have made us miss our limited natural light on the balcony with Heather.
Every choice you make to bring additional gear comes with a cost.
Sometimes that cost is worth it – you have the time, it’s low pressure, and the extra gear adds to your story.
But when you know you’re be going in a situation that will require you to shoot busy people, or be under time pressure…
…do yourself a favor:
Stay light and lean.
And be ready for anything!