The latest laundry detergent commercial begins and you notice something: the ad seems so simple. A panning shot here. A slow zoom there. All seemingly basic pieces of a 30-second commercial. Before you know it, the jingle comes to an end and that now-happy soccer mom and stain-free kid fade to black.
It may then seem ridiculous to learn that it took weeks—possibly even months—for that commercial to reach completion. Were those people slacking, or what?
In fact, they were doing the complete opposite. The creation of a commercial goes through many stages and sub-stages of video production before the final product reaches your screen. The trick is making it look easy.
Pre-Production: Hard Work, Smart Work
As we all know, “easy” doesn’t come easily. It comes from working hard and working smart.
A big dose of hard work is required during the pre-production process, with budget consideration, market research and an insightful understanding of the target audience. Asking the right questions in order to take the learned information and use it to mold concepts and copy—that’s where all the hard and smart work come together to form the initial script.
From there, cross-departmental collaboration comes into play. Meeting with the production department to tighten the script, setting up a detailed shot list, hiring makeup and lighting professionals and scouting locations are but a few elements that must be thoroughly completed before the filming even begins.
And when everything is sorted out and ready to go, it’s time to prep, prep and prep again.
Dollies And Boom Mics And Extras, Oh My!
Whether a commercial shoot takes six hours or spans six days, it’s actually the phase with the least amount of time invested in the whole process. However, this is the moment when all the days, weeks or months of preparation come into play.
Being on a well-planned commercial shoot has been likened to a machine; there are many parts moving at once, but they move in harmony with one another to create an impeccable single unit.
It may seem like a walk in a park on-set when the director calls for the rephrasing of dialogue, or the cinematographer shifts the camera a foot to the left to get a better angle on the company’s poster in the background. But those reflex changes come with time invested in their art and on the commercial shoot at hand.
Post-Production: Taking It To The Next Level
The footage taken on set is by no means the final product. Depending on what the commercial’s script called for (fly-by text, motion graphics, or a slew of other post-production additions), there is still much time to be spent before the commercial is ready for air. One post-production undertaking is color grading, the process of injecting new life to the colors of the video.
Our Production Assistant Danny, an avid Batman enthusiast, describes the process of color grading as “the moment when Bruce dawns the bat suit.”
Color grading takes video to a whole new level of strength: it enhances the video’s color, and can create specified ambiences in the commercial.
For the example below, a green screen backdrop was used. This is before color grading.
And after a little color grading magic and green screen manipulation, a much crisper and sharper image is created.
Achieving these crisp tones takes—you guessed it—time.
Though you may only spend 30 seconds watching a commercial, the planning, creativity and other various processes take much more time. But in the end, when a company airs a commercial both they and their target audience love, all that time is truly well spent.