Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to make a commercial in 48hrs

The Dhaka media industry is all about one thing really...who gets the TV commercials for any one of the 4 top Telecom companies. I've never been "lucky" enough to work for any of these projects. Sure there was a music video for Airtel and a little graphics work for BanglaLink, but not much apart from that. The reason these ads are so high up the chain, is because everything from their budgets to the QC are the only thing the media industry can compare to foreign counterparts. Mostly, they are shot on 35mm, rarely, do they shoot on digital, and almost never on a DSLR.

After the craziness that was the India trip with my fellow Trojan, David Milburn, I needed a few weeks to recuperate. Fat chance. Maasranga called me up as soon as I landed about a commercial for Robi, another telecom giant. As soon as I went in, I was told that they needed the product within 2 days. While I smiled and nodded and accepted, every bone in my body yelled the F word....really loud. MediaCom was providing the script, with the commercial itself being about the cheap nightly packages the carrier provides during Ramadan. It was about young boys from a colony playing "front desk" by giving wake up calls to everyone via their cell phones, since the rates were so low. The ad starts off with a static shot of a window as lights up then goes to different other windows in the same and adjacent buildings being lit up, showing people waking up to a phone call and get ready to fast. The next few shots would show the young boys of the colony doing this service to the fellow colony dwellers, in the festive spirit of Ramadan.

So we went head on. Met the CMO, who is from India and only speaks English, hence I acted as a translator for my team, explaining the shot division that was drawn up. He seemed a little skeptical and just wanted us to give him something that wasn't verbose and linear like the script. Luckily, we had MediaCom's Asif Akhbar Khan (or Asif Mama, as I call him), who's kinda the best creative directors in the land. He assured the CMO that we weren't going the way with it. Handshakes and "good luck" comments were exchanged. Oh and we were reminded that the guy who made the previous Robi Ramadan ad did a marvelous job and we were stepping on a landmine, if we couldn't provide results.

So lets get this straight. A 48hr timeframe, a script the CMO is skeptical about and someone else's unfinished project. And since this was my first telecom ad, if I messed up....deathwish.

We started the day of the shoot with hordes of models, all being screen tested. By we I should say me. I knew I didn't have enough time, so I just had them run through the entire script with the 2 already selected actors from the previous ad. I literally just graded them, Bs or above gets to be in front, C's and below, get to be at the back, when I was doing my blocking. Once I was done with that, I rushed to the shooting spot, a colony situated in Mirpur.

Olivia, my 5DMk3 was entrusted for this one. DSLRs! On a telecom campaign ad that was previously shot on 35mm!! By the time we got everything ready and started shooting it was already 8pm. After shooting nonstop, we finally finished by 4am.

While the rest of the crew went home, the director NI Razoo, me and the ADs went straight back to edit. By 10am the next day, we had a proper first cut done, with a color grade and a scratch music track. By 3pm the clients got the first preview. Even though I was passed out by that time, I heard that collective jaws were dropped at how we'd achieved such a feat within 24hrs. By 10am the next day the final cut with the final color grade the final audio track was released. I just saw the ad on TV 5 mins ago. There are also murmurs that we are getting 4 more ads now. I met Asif Mama the night before the release and he congratulated me on the DSLR (!) footage, that apparently looked just as good as the 35mm ad shot before this one, something even the Robi clients voiced. I suppose miracles do happen, not often enough though....hehe. Anyways, heres those screen grabs we love so much.

So I suppose by making a telecom ad I've finally done it, and by "it" I mean make it big...just kidding. Now I look back at the madness that was. From quitting big time jobs to starting a post production panel (by which I mean just a Mac Pro) at my mom's boutique after she was done with it, to getting Dhaka's first 444 workflow and Dhaka's first external camera recorder, to introducing DSLRs as B Cams in my shoots so clients can use them as A Cams now, to completely shunning 35mm and spreading the digital revolution, hoping everyone I've worked with embraces it as well. Yup, its been a good trailblazing life....Shane Hurlbut would be proud.