Sometimes as a filmmaker, you are forced to shoot in spaces that pose challenges. Your job as a filmmaker is to find a way to shoot the space in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. One such way to accomplish this is to work in close-ups. In the video above, Brett O’Bourke used this technique to help tell his story. We had a chance to talk to Brett about the experience. Below is an excerpt of the interview.
Kessler University (KU): Tell me a little about yourself.
Brett O’Bourke (BO): I’m the founder and creative director of Common Machine, a collaborative of filmmakers, strategists and new media pros providing creative and production services to brands and agencies. We turn a company’s story into compelling video and we help plan and execute social media campaigns built off that video content. We also make independent documentaries, mostly for PBS. We won a regional Emmy last year for Hecho a Mano, which was a story about the work of making art with your hands. Our next doc, Plastic Paradise, hits the festival circuit this spring. On the personal side, I live in Chicago, however, I still spend a lot time in Miami where our original office is located. I’m a husband and the father of three ridiculously great kids. I also recently got seriously hooked on Cyclocross racing.
KU: Would love to know a little more about the film. I love the look you created for the product shots. How did you decide to approach this project?
BO: Due to budget and scheduling, we didn’t have a chance to visit KA-BAR, which is in Olean, NY, until we showed up to shoot. As a result, coming up with a clear aesthetic concept based on the location/space wasn’t an option. But as with everything, the set of variables you do have, allows you to come up with a clear concept. Because of a previous project we did for Oak Street Bootmakers, we knew the kind of factory floor environment we’d be dealing with.
Factories are very utilitarian spaces and aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing environments. We knew the best way to deal with this issue was to work in close ups using shallow depth of field — focusing on making the knife-making process as visually stunning and interesting as possible. We also knew there wouldn’t be a ton of *action* in the process, so we’d need to inject that movement ourselves — by using subtle slider moves. That’s where the Kessler Pocket Dolly was brilliant (more on that below). Once we got into the edit, we basically had four parts of the story to tell in about 2:30 (we find this is the sweet spot for web video). We needed to tell people what it was they were seeing (the famous Marine Combat Knife), backtrack to a quick company history (to reinforce their 100+ years of knife making), bounce back to the fact that today they are still making the baddest knives in the business and tease the full product line.
Admittedly, we hadn’t really thought through the product shots in advance. We first tried shooting them on the raw concrete floors in our office, but those came off dull and lacked depth, so we hit Home Depot and just grabbed a bunch of stuff we thought might make for interesting backgrounds, then mixed and matched until we found something that worked. Once we had the visuals/edit sorted out, it was about creating energy, which I think we did well with the soundtrack (created and performed by our incredibly talented editor Jorge Rubiera and a couple of his bandmates) and the color grade. We wanted to make sure we captured the spirit and attitude of KA-BAR and we also wanted to make sure we weren’t repeating ourselves from the Oak Street video, which helped us land the KA-BAR job.
KU: Noticed you used some Kessler products. How did you use them to help tell your story?
BO: The space in which we were shooting was a working factory, so while they went out of their way to accommodate us, we didn’t want to interrupt the daily functions of the factory. In total, we probably only had about 4-5 hours to shoot, so I knew we were going to need to move fast and light. Our entire kit was a Canon 1D on the Giottos ball head, two lenses (50mm and 85mm Zeiss), two sets of sticks and the Kessler Pocket Dolly. Tight spaces and tight shooting made the sweep of the pocket dolly even more dramatic. It was the absolute perfect piece of gear for the job. We’d show up at a station, watch that particular part of the process, figure out the shot, set up the dolly, nail the shot and then move on to the next. The speed, flexibility and smoothness of the movement of the pocket dolly gave me exactly what I needed for this video. We’d used it for inserts a lot over the past couple years, but this shoot was really built around the strengths of the pocket dolly.
KU: What was it like working with the products?
BO: The best compliment I can give a piece of gear is that I didn’t have to think about it. It just worked — exactly the way I wanted it to.
KU: What can we expect next from you?
BO: In November we’re shooting two more short films for KA-BAR, which will be released in December and January respectively (warning: there will be zombies). We’re putting the finishing touches on our most recent documentary Plastic Paradise, chronicling the rise, fall and resurgence of tiki culture. The film will hit the festival circuit in the spring and summer before airing on PBS. And we have a ton of other stuff cooking for our various corporate clients GE, Aflac, the Miami Design District and others. We’re expecting 2013 to be another big year for us.
If you would like to see more from Brett, make sure to check out his website, http://commonmachine.com.