Directing a TV commercial is usually a lesson in frustration tolerance, budgetary compromises and cutthroat deadlines. It can be a really nasty job. Sometimes though, a project has such a positive vibe during its production run, that you forget all associated pains and enjoy the ride. The lack of an ideal budget has no importance when you are surrounded by excellent collaborators.
The project's concept was developed by NASA (New Age Solutions for Advertising), an agency full of talented nice astronauts. The first indication that we would have a smooth sail was when I was given very early access to the scripts. This allowed me to consult with the agency on a technical/visual level before the clients were exposed to them. We planned early our visual FX approach and knew from the start we could deliver on budget any of the scripts the client might have chosen.
NASA had really interesting ideas for the product. I prepared some concept imagery and drew rough storyboards for them. That helped us evaluate how they would work in a visual way and communicate them easier to the client.
De'Longhi avoided the most surreal ideas but luckily, the chosen script, included some cool visuals too. I had already storyboarded it before it was picked but we had to revise it 4 times due to the creative process and additional shot requests.
The production was handled by Avion Films. That's were we had our PreProduction Meeting (otherwise known as PPM). This is when all groups (clients, agency and production) gather around and finalize everything before principal photography begins.
During the PPM we were asked to add yet another shot. Sometimes, depending on how a sequence is planned, adding a shot late in the game could mess with a carefully balanced structure. However, I think that we managed to include all requests in an effective way. Having a storyboard, always helps when you need to make changes as it is easier to visualize how new elements would fit in.
Casting decisions in TV commercials are not made in the same way as in narrative work where i would (usually) have the final word. Although i am responsible for the primary selection, the client/agency's opinions outweigh mine during the final pick. For that reason, I must carefully filter out from the start, talents i might sense would not be a good match to what is required for the video.
For this project we had no talking roles so it was a relatively easy process. During the PPM we showed our selected few to the clients and let them gravitate toward the ones they preferred. I already knew I could work with anyone they might have selected so I interfered as little as possible. Our fictional family was selected and we were ready to go.
We shot the video in a single day. The art department had already modified the interior of the house before i arrived on set so we only had to make some minor adjustments before filming.
I try to be very focused during that time (before cameras start recording) because besides the fact that i have to constantly answer questions about everything to all, i also have to view with my mind's eye how all the required action will be staged and shot. Even though everything was storyboarded, when you are in the actual location you always have to make little changes. Changes that might solve potential problems before they appear later during the shooting time.
I find the process of fine-tuning performances during rehearsal really satisfying. Unfortunately in TVC production, you meet whoever will be in front of the camera on the shooting day. Conveniently, TV commercials don't require deep and complicated performances. The way i counter the lack of rehearsal time is to take 20 minutes with the talents before shooting starts so i can explain them the overall action and mood. Other directors that i know, prefer to do this shot by shot (with good results) but i believe it is better for the talents to get the big picture from the start and only do refinements during individual shots.
During shooting we also gathered footage for the visual FX process. Green screen elements, HDRI maps to be used on the CGI water droplets and reference images of props that would be recreated in 3D during post production.
The toughest VFX shot was the fishbowl's liquefaction. The fluid simulation was handled by Gregory Glezakos from SUB-PIXEL. He run the simulations for days and days until we had something that matched the look and timing we needed. It must have taken at least 25 different iterations before we got the one we liked.
While Gregory was working on the fluid sims i worked on the other shots that could be finished without them. I used simple particle set-ups in Fusion and compositing tricks to simulate huge numbers of water droplets attracted by the product.
Color grading is usually done in Davinci Resolve but almost all shots in this video required some kind of visual manipulation (VFX/Clean Ups), so i ended up doing all grading in Fusion.
The sound design was fun to do. It was a straightforward sound edit and stereo mix. There was no need for elaborate sound filtering so almost all sounds are organic with a lot of sweetening. I recorded my self playing Geometry Wars on PSVITA and synced it with the kid playing in the video. The recording is mixed very discreetly so it is barely heard. A funny thing about the sound is that the Voice-Over was pitched down 2 semitones so it would sound heavier by request of the client. We got so used to it during post production that when we heard again the original V.O it sounded like the chipmunks to us.
We tried to polish the final video as much as possible until the day it aired on TV. There is always room for improvement no matter what you do so the broadcast date is usually when the video escapes and finds its way out in the wild.
Client: Delonghi / Agency: NASA / Production company: Avion
Production: Vasilis Lanier / DP: Kostas Triantafillou / Art Department: Haris Stathatkopoulos / 3D: Gregory Glezakos
Casting: Aggeliki Beligianni (Mom) / Konstantinos Danias (Dad) / Yiannis Katsaros (Kid)