Sony Bravia 4K HDR TV Commercial – behind the scenes
Not many months ago, I’ve been appointed by Sony HQ and asked if I want to be the photographer on set for a new TV Commercial (short TVC) for the new 4k Bravia HDR TV. Imagine my answer:
Hell ya! Especially hearing about the location of the shoot
Out of aprox 60 locations worldwide, they’ve shortened the list to 5 locations in Europe, and the lucky winner was this one
The Casino in Constanta, Romania
Inaugurated in 1910, it was built according to the plans of Daniel Renard. It hosted the Russian Imperial Family in 1914 and during the Interwar period (la belle epoque) it witnessed the most beautiful time of its entire “life” – most fashionable wardrobes swirled in the ballroom, restaurant or in the lobby and people were playing huge amounts of money. Fortunes were made and lost and some even threw themselves off the sea. On the promenade of Constanta, in front and near the Casino, love stories were born and tragedies occurred.
During the Second World War it served as a hospital and after, during the Comunist era in Romania, it became a party’s restaurant. It was closed and abandoned after the revolution due to its massive operating costs.
Today is the abandoned beauty, the symbol of the city of Constanta, decaying every day. Public cannot enter due to the dangers inside (falling roofs and walls) and its inhabited by a huge family of pigeons.
Just to get an idea of the location, here is a small 360 tour I’ve created on set
The plot of the TVC
The abandoned Casino is invaded with small and big perfect round white balloons which fills slowly every room. They enter shy and then multiply until they completely fill the Casino, which in the end, explodes in colours and glitter, leaving people that were walking the promenade with open mouths in amazement.
But for a better understanding of the “behind the scenes” let’s first see the commercial:
So, how did they do it?
The most important aspect of the entire shoot was that Sony (the Client) wanted all effects and SFX be recorded on camera and not generated on computer, for more realism. This implied a huge behind the scenes force.
On the shoot days there were 130 crew members. Most of them were locals from Romania (DigitalSpirit), but the Director was from the US – Andre Stringer, the DoP (John Lynch) and the chief lighting gaffer (Harry Wiggins) from the UK.
The SFX team and the production company Tempomedia were from Germany.
The actual shoot of the TVC took 4 full days (12+ working hours) and it was huge!
Interesting fact No. 1
Everyday started with safety instructions from a specialised person and everyone where required to use helmets inside. I was amazed how well people were organised, everyone knowing when and what to do all the time. Dangers were properly marked, rooms were instantly emptied or filled with equipment, getting ready for the scene to be shot.
The schedule of the next day was promptly available to everyone on set, with proper instructions, art works (storyboards) for every scene to be shot, contacts and phone numbers of everyone, starting hours, breaks, everything. For me it looked like a logistics nightmare, but for the professionals involved in this was for sure “the normal”.
Set! Speed! GO! Day 1
First scene shot was the first balloon invading the Casino. The room chosen for this was a former lobby/bar as far as I can tell. The mood was dark, smoky and mysterious. Doors opened and out of light appeared the first round, white floating balloon.
Seems easy, right? Not really.
First the room was freed of equipment stored there. Then, light was setup by the gaffer and his team. Then, a guy was directed where and when to wet the floor, in precise spots for perfect reflections. Doors where connected with wires and two guys from the SFX team pulled the strings to “automatically” open them for the ballon to enter. Ulf, the chief of SFX team, was pushing the floating ballon inside.
After every take, the footage was analysed and approved by the director, producer and client. Only after everyone was happy, they proceeded to the next scene. So for the first one they didn’t like how the ballon entered the room.
Interesting fact No. 2
So plan B of the SFX team came into play. They’ve attached thin wire to the balloon and started fishing. I must note here the absolute patience of Ulf, the SFX guy, who saw it’s wire being broken multiple times by not so careful people on set, while getting the shot ready. If it was for me, I would have started crying after so many re-setups 🙂
I’ve shot some small making of videos during all days and from time to time I’ll insert them here. I don’t need to mention anymore I’m not a videographer, so please accept the video as it is 🙂
From this room, the ballon took right towards the big staircase and hallway, bumping around the beautiful interiors. Only the camera angle changed.
In the next scene shot (they might not respect the final TVC scene order), the lonely balloon reached the big staircase. This is the most beautiful part of the Casino’s interior and they’ve shot it from different angles, because from here on, the balloon is not alone anymore, he is joined by its fellow companions. More and more balloons are filling the interiors, space becoming more crowded.
First camera position was on the middle of the stairs looking down the arriving ballon. Ulf was again setting his fishing rod and wires, pulling the balloon towards the camera. The view was breathtaking.
Of course the next frame seemed obvious. The balloon was filmed from behind, using a steady cam. Master of the steady was Roman Mullegger, a super nice and friendly guy who explained me a lot of tricks, including how he creates his own filters to obtain better flares.
Nothing stopped on the set, not even when a new scene was prepared. Everybody had something to do, getting ready for the next shots, inflating balloons or installing huge nets to catch the glitter outside for it not to contaminate the Black Sea waters. Speaking of this, the glitter used outside was Bio glitter 🙂 What does this mean? Well, it is bio-degradable so in case the little particles somehow reached the sea, they will dissolve and degrade in the water.
Back to our scene, Ulf had more work to do on replacing the broken wire than to prepare the scene for the shoot. Did I mentioned I would have cried?
So as you could see in the small clip above, after one balloon, there comes tons of them. The start was given and more and more balloons invaded the casino.
Again, the SFX team created big packs of small, medium and huge balloons, connected and glued together. These packs were then connected to each-other using fishing line and in the end this was pulled by two “fishermans”.
There was no easy task to pull all these balloons to the upper floor, since they were required to travel over two rounds of stairs. People were also hidden behind big patches of balloons and they were pushing them over the stairs at the same time with the fisherman 🙂
Interesting fact No. 3
They were custom made from Latex and the big boys (the 220 cm ones) costs 50 eur each.
All balloons used in this commercial were harmed in the end :), none survived. Plenty died in explosions, others were shot and at the end of the shoot, they were all stung, sadly.
This was the last scene of the day shot inside the Casino. Then we moved outside and more interesting stuff happened. First of all, talents appeared in the shots: people walking on the promenade in front of the Casino and a handyman that together with a girl walking her dog, were the main characters in the TVC.
First of all, the pavement needed to be wet to hold all the glitter being thrown in the air and over the scenes being shot. Also, big nets were installed to catch particles and prevent them reach the sea.
The scene shot wasn’t chronological to the action in the TVC, so careful steps needed to be taken. They’ve shot the amazement of the handyman when the Casino exploded in colours and the falling glitter over him and the pavement. Almost all exterior scenes where shot at the same hour, just before the sunset (golden hour).
First day concluded with the first explosions of glitter and balloons escaping the Casino through the main door at the arches hallway. I’ve used my iPhone to shoot some slow-motion too since the Sony F55, positioned just in front of the canons shooting glitter outside the Casino, was set also on high speed shooting (240 fps if I remember correctly).