Ever seen shoots like these?
We're not film geniuses, we're just creative dreamers and damn good problem solvers. This is how we do it.
+ JAYBIRD 2016 | Jesse Thomas & Lauren Fleshman
MAY 2016 - Every so often, we have the opportunity to take a completely different storytelling approach, which is what we’ve done with Jaybird’s newest Freedom campaign. Our favourite piece may just be from the week we spent with pro triathlete Jesse Thomas and pro runner Lauren Fleshman, who are also parents to their adorable toddler, Jude.
To get away from the same old same old, we figured it would be a fun contrast to showcase two pro athlete parents from the perspective of their son. Beyond that, we weren’t quite sure how we would build the story. Luckily, we’ve known Jesse and Lauren for a while, and worked with them on two pieces for the 2015 campaign. Our prior relationship gave us the capacity for better creative development: Jude was comfortable with us, and we were familiar with their interactions and what their days looked like. We had also witnessed the relationship between Jesse, Lauren, and Jude, which meant we knew the story could work.
Because of our rapport with Jesse and Lauren, we landed the perfect unplanned moment during our interview, which laid the foundation for the piece. The thing is, when working with athletes, we often develop a friendship and stay in touch for months or years afterwards. Accordingly, our interview was more of a chat and a catch-up that we happened to record. We were sitting around, surrounded by Jude’s toys and books. And then suddenly, “hey, do you guys read stories to Jude? Do you ever make up stories? Let’s scrap everything we’ve talked about thus far and tell a story to Jude.”
Lauren told Jude about her day, and Jude did the same. It was spontaneous and candid and authentic, and we just sat there and listened. Once we nailed the audio, we quickly saw how the story would visually and structurally unfold, and the rough edit took only half a day. This left us more time and creative space to play with the details, accenting the child’s perspective with color and sound. We implemented an subtly fantastical soundscape through our post-production sound design, capturing the world as heard through the ears of a child. With color grading that portrays the wonder and awe that children find in the world around them, we’ve added another layer to immerse viewers in Jude’s perspective.
It’s rare to see sports features that document such high caliber athletes through the eyes of their child. It’s hopefully a refreshing perspective that strays from the typical athlete narratives and reminds us that to children, we are both superhuman and simply human.
+ JAYBIRD 2016 | Stan Rey
MARCH 2016 - Off a 60-foot drop underneath a glacier west of Pemberton, we watched with cameras from the bowl below. A high dome of clouds muffled any distant sounds. And then. We heard a solid thunk ricochet off the cliff and watched as Stan’s skis flew off and he tumbled, uncontrolled, down the snow-covered rock face. Oh s$*t.
We heli-dropped onto Rutherford as a team of three beacon and shovel-clad film crew, one backcountry safety patrol, and an avalanche guide. Stan scoped out the ice cliff from below and then went in blind from the top. But as the five of us sat in the powder below, he misjudged the height, over-rotated his backflip, and landed way off his line on a rock cliff. Shockingly, he had no injuries and only two broken boots. But this was the first time we had to kick our safety plan into action.
A shoot like Stan’s doesn’t seem too dangerous – it’s just skiing, we’re working with a pro skier, and it’s in an area we all know. So is it really necessary to drop a few grand on backcountry patrol and avalanche guides for the day? (Hint: the answer is a resounding hell yes.) We lean towards maxed out safety procedures, because we work every day with pro athletes who continually push their own limits. Seeing Stan fall 60 feet, snap both boots, double eject and roll off a cliff while we sat there stunned only reinforced that we’re doing the right thing when we shell out for guides, patrol, and safety gear for shoots like these. We weren’t freaking out when Stan overshot his backflip because we had pro backup who jumped in, went to help, and called in the heli. Luckily, Stan had not a bone or muscle out of place.
Safety and weather go hand in hand, and last weekend’s shoot was no different. An isolated heli drop requires added awareness, and weather often foils our timing and location plans. We packed a RED and Phantom with all camera accessory (and ski) gear, and fought weather all morning. Flat lighting rerouted our landing well away from our intended location, so we relied on skins and sleds to trek ourselves and our gear a few kilometers to our base camp. We kept a wary eye on the cloud cover during the morning; even though we often want to stay for a few more shots, our pilot and safety guys have the final call so we can ensure a safe landing window (or else we’d have a hell of a ski out).
And while there aren’t a ton of crews that will lug a Phantom on a ski touring effort, we’re actually most excited to share the non-skiing footage we captured. Our Jaybird shoots often take on more of a “shoot what’s there” mentality. But for Stan’s piece, we emphasized art direction and staging for the off mountain footage, so each visual was captured exactly as we envisioned during pre-production. The final piece will be shared by Jaybird in May, but we’ve got that overshot backflip in all its glory in our 2016 demo reel, found here.
+ JAYBIRD 2016 | Kerri Walsh Jennings
MARCH 2016 - Kerri Walsh is a big name in American sports. Big name as in three-time Olympic gold medalist, best in the world beach volleyball athlete. She’s currently training for the upcoming Games in Rio, and we had a mere six hours to shoot with her in early March.
We entered this shoot with a simple premise: that even heroes are human. We sought to capture that duality of an elite athlete who simultaneously exists in her everyday, relatable roles of wife, mother, and woman. Jaybird requested a piece that screamed “epic action” and that showcased the brand’s forthcoming Freedom headphones. And we wanted to create a story that gave us creative leeway with cinematography and that contrasted the public’s expectations of their gold medal hero against the banality and reality of what it means to exist as a regular person within the exclusive world of professional sports.
Making a branded story piece that didn’t feel like an ad meant shooting with the Phantom Flex 4K was critical. Combined with anamorphic lenses, the camera gave our action shots that characteristic cinematic look and feel. We managed to create a sleek studio vibe while keeping the action outside in Kerri’s natural beach environment.
Shooting documentary style for most of Kerri’s day presented the unique challenge of balancing intimacy and privacy against capturing reality. Over the years, we have become close friends with many of our on-screen athletes. However, we work through Kerri’s agents prior to shoots, so the rapport remains more professional. Without that pre-existing friendship and comfort, we had to be more keenly conscious of acknowledging privacy and not interrupting real moments while still capturing the essence of Kerri’s relationships and daily interactions.
With only six hours to shoot two opposing styles, we worked at the height of efficiency with a small crew of four. We cordoned off a large section of beach, built a two-light setup to complement the waning sun, and our two UBC interns and hires wore the many hats of grip, gaffer, production assistant, focus puller, sound crew, assistant director, and more. We’ve all worked together on dozens of prior shoots, so what would normally be a half-day setup for any other crew took us less than an hour.
We depended on a bi-directorial approach to shoot our action sequence, with the Phantom and RED alternating shots to build out our needed footage. Our approach meant both cinematographers had to be on the same page with direction and production goals. Prior to the shoot, we shared reference videos, images, and shot lists, so when it came down to capturing the footage, we could each jump in and know what needed to be shot on either camera. We maintained a fluidity in communication, technique, and imagery, which was essential to our efficiency. Kerri was exceedingly grateful for our approach, because we kept her constantly moving. She didn’t have to repeatedly warm up and cool down, because at least one camera was always rolling.
With ample planning, we successfully captured two unique and distinct styles in under six hours, including a complex action sequence with technical camera shots. A more traditional approach would normally require upwards of 20 crew with at least two full days of shooting. But we pared down our crew and time to the bare minimum, and still achieved a large-scale production on an epic scale. We rode the limit of our capacity in the best of ways, and we can’t wait to share the final piece when it’s released in May.
+ RED BULL 2014 | Curtis Keene
MAY 2014 - A low-fly heli shoot above one of Santa Monica’s wealthiest neighborhoods isn’t the easiest thing to pull off, but we knew that showcasing one of the world’s top mountain bikers called for a unique concept.
After securing permits to close kilometers of county trail land and fly above the celebrity enclave of Brentwood, we choreographed production and direction down to the second. This was an expensive shoot on a per minute basis. Mistakes weren’t an option – not with only 65 minutes of flight time and our crew chasing Keene just feet off the ground. Mapped flight paths, shot coordination via satellite imagery, and crew, rider and pilot position synchronization formed the meat of pre-production. Walk-throughs, timing reviews, and a minute-by-minute schedule for all crew ultimately made execution a breeze. On shoot day, we grabbed as many simultaneous angles as possible with a Cineflex, Phantom, and two REDs rolling continuously, and in the end, we wrapped a high production value piece overloaded with action.
So what made all this possible besides a heck of a lot of planning? This kind of thing is habit for us. Want to chase a world-class downhill rider on a helicopter? Our crew is so tight-knit, we can anticipate each other’s moves and rely on implicit communication (it’s a huge plus of not dealing with unknown subcontracted labor). We’re used to working on the move. All of our complex shoots – including this summer’s Jaybird campaign – rely on the minimum amount of equipment needed to capture top quality images. And we pull that off by being really really in shape so we can run literal circles around our athletes while they give it their all for us. We don’t rely on big rigs or bulky equipment. It’s us, our instincts, our bodies, and our cameras. When you’ve got a talented crew, that in itself is enough.
With ten years of experience shooting action sports going into the Keene piece, we’ve done it enough to be able to turn on the camera, get the shots, and go. And with training and development in narrative, we’ve brought pieces like Keene’s to a whole other level of storytelling with a visual foundation. This combination let us deliver a sick helicopter chase in the Santa Monica mountains without blowing the budget.