West Virginia University Healthcare is the largest medical facility in the State of West Virginia. "WVUH" treats some of the most complicated medical cases in the state.
WVUH wanted a series of TV commercials whereby former patients would share their experiences directly with the home viewer. The commercials were to be completely unscripted, allowing patients to tell their stories in their own words.
This concept sounds deceptively easy, but it's far from it. The two biggest problems are that "real people" who have never been on TV, can't comfortably look into a cold, black camera lens and "pretend" they're talking to a friend. The other major problem is condensing complicated stories to 30 seconds.
I decided to use a technique that I first employed way back in '87. It uses a camera mounted, thru-the-lens teleprompter. Instead of seeing the words of a script, the talent sees live video of an interviewer's face. The on-camera talent talks directly to the interviewer, creating almost perfect eye contact with the home viewer. (In '87, I first used this production technique with producer, Art Greenwald on a major promotion for Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV. Today network news interviews are often conducted this way.)
Although I was the director/cinematographer, the interviewer played a very important role in the production. From pre-shoot interviews, we knew the gist of each story long before the shoot day. These stories were condensed into 4 or 5 key points. When a key point was made by the talent, I quickly re-framed the scene and we shot it again as a close-up.
During pre-production, Heidi Specht, WVU Healthcare's Director of Marketing stated that she planned to use the audio from the shoot to create radio spots. Both the TV and radio soundtracks would air "clean" without a music or sound design mix. Needless to say, the audio recorded in our open warehouse space had to be very good.
I shot all the footage with a Canon 5Dmk3. The 5Dmk3 doesn't embed live audio into it's HDMI feed. This is a pain in the ass. I used my Alphasonics viewfinder to convert the camera's HDMI output to HD-SDI. The live audio from audio engineer, George Simpson's mixer was fed through a 3.5 frame RANE delay unit. A BlackMagic Designs "Audio to SDI" mini-converter was then used to embed the delayed audio into the HD-SDI stream before recording on HyperDeck Shuttle 480GB SSD drives.
A second Canon 5DMk3, operated by Rich Waters, was setup to shoot hand and face cutaways at a 45 degree angle from my primary camera. Both cameras used Canon 70-200mm F2.8 zooms and the Marvels Cine picture style setup. With controlled lighting, I prefer the Marvels setup to the popular Technicolor picture style. It offers good detail in dark areas while using more of the 8 bits of DSLR video. In stylized TV spots, I often prefer a smooth roll-off to white rather than maintaining detail in very bright areas.
The lighting design created an light, open-air feel to the location. The point of interest and focus had to be our on-camera talent. Gaffer, Ed Letteri, used two large Chimera diffusers and ARRI HMI lights for the basic talent lighting. One was the soft key, the other produced a large, soft backlight. 4' x 4' beadboard bounce surfaces were used as fill. Three additional HMI's helped fill the distant background which was over 75 feet from the talent. Of course, everything was daylight color balanced.
I edited the campaign in FCP7. People are often surprised that I still use FCP7… Although I have Premiere Pro, it doesn't interface perfectly with our BlackMagic Design video cards. Also, as a commercial; production company, we're constantly asked to update or re-edit commercials from years ago. Most of the plug-in filters that I use in FCP7 are not usable in Premiere. In the real world, this requires maintaining 2 separate edit systems and raid arrays… one for FCP7 and the other running Adobe Premiere Pro.
On 5Dmk3 video, I always use the FCP standard sharpening filter set to "12" plus Colorista II. On this project, I also used the "Color Glow" plug-in filter that's part of the "Joe's Filters" package.
The 5 spot commercial campaign currently airs in HD throughout West Virginia.
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