Spontaneity Vs. Production Value: Shooting Holiday Giveaways on the Road

How do you maintain production value when you don’t have control over the subject matter? Quickly switching gears from getting slick establishing shots to capturing real moments as they unfold can be difficult and heartbreaking. Here’s how I made it work.

The Job

I was traveling with two employees from Tbaytel, Canada’s largest locally owned and operated telecommunications company. Them and their awesome ad agency, Generator, hired me to document a campaign they’re running called “#tbaytel12days”. A lot of companies are doing this around the holidays. It’s fairly simple. Over the first 12 days of December, they visit various key locations around the region handing out generous gift cards, giving random acts of kindness, like buying someone’s Christmas tree. They also make charitable donations and do a ton of volunteer work.

The campaign runs beside Tbaytel’s general Christmas campaign and is meant to be shared daily via their social channels with photographs and short videos. The whole thing is capped off with a fancy 1-2 minute heartfelt video to be released before Christmas in the hopes that it becomes a viral holiday hit.

This is me! Scott MacKay, Cinevate’s Marketing Director.

This is me playing with Canon’s WiFi app. (It’s a selfie.) I look far too excited. 

The Objective: On the run and on the road I needed to produce quality photo and video content daily while planning and shooting for the final spot at the end of it all.

 

There were three of us in a Ford Flex with 4 days of belongings, plus my camera gear. This meant I had to compromise on my gear choices: Less, and small.I also knew that there will be little to no setup time at each stop, so I needed a rig that set up quick while giving me as much production value as possible.

The Gear

I found a pretty effective combination of Cinevate gear that truly saved me time and allowed me to quickly shift between capturing real life giveaway moments and setting up for a polished shot. Not to mention, it was all light weight, small and super portable. I had with me a 24” Duzi 4, a Simplis quick release plate and Modo-Drive. Unfortunately, the weather on the trip did not lend itself to a usable time-lapse. Modo-Drive is so compact that it was worthwhile bringing anyway, just in case the sky opened up.

One piece of Cinevate gear that I packed into the wrong bag and forgot at home was our Universal Accessory Mount. I much prefer it as an extension to Simplis.

The Camera

I shot with a Canon 5d MK4.  Amidst heated discussion around this camera I thought long and hard before familiarity and existing glass ultimately won out over some of the superior specs offered by other primarily mirrorless cameras. I needed to be able to quickly switch from shooting video and audio to snapping high-quality photos. This camera is great for that. I for one also enjoy Canon’s aesthetic more than a number of other options. On the other hand, I do pray for the option to shoot in C-Log and 4K at 60fps in the future.

While there are certainly a few disappointments, I think some of the new features on the 5D MK4 may have been overlooked by displeased reviewers and deserve to be praised. This campaign was shared live on social feeds and that meant getting photos and videos to a phone or a computer without a network connection. Enter built in WiFi. Before we were even back in the car, I had images transferred to phones and posted on the net. There was no need to wait until we got to the hotel to connect to potentially dodgy Wifi.

Another 5D MK4 feature that did me well was the suprisingly fast and accurate autofocus in video mode. Combine that with the touchscreen, and you’ve got faces in focus for those exciting reactions. It took my mind off of constantly pulling focus and let me think about the facial expressions and emotion of the situation. It’s important to note however that even though it is fast and accurate, autofocus isn’t always the way to go. Very seldom, the autofocus would develop a mind of its own or latch on to the wrong subject, sometimes during an important moment, ruining the shot all together. After using it for some time, I was able to predict which type of shots would be best to use it for. It was a surprisingly fast, nice and easy way to find focus quickly, and then fine tune from there.

 Simplis

I didn’t have a lot of time to spend getting my scripted shooting done, so I had to be creative and do it between giveaways. This is where the Simplis Quick Release came in. I had it attached to my tripod head on Duzi 4 and this meant that at any moment I could lift the camera off and run over to get my giveaway shot. Once that moment was over I went back to the slider. In fact, Duzi 4 is in most cases light enough to leave on your tripod, lock the break, and carry it around with you.

Simplis also acts as foundation for building a number of customizable rigs. The5D MK4 doesn’t have an articulating display, so it was nice to easily attach and position a larger monitor for some more elaborate shooting. It was easy to see how much further Simplis can go.

The Duzi 4

I should probably mention the understated benefits of having the flywheel integrated directly under the car. Setting up and using Duzi 4 is as easy as threading it onto your tripod, or opening up the legs. The flywheel also radically increases your chances of getting a smooth move every time, which allowed me to actually use it for some of the giveaways. During a giveaway “reaction shot” there was no chance for a second take.

The flywheel also makes getting slow moving, long lens shots much easier. I had little difficulty shooting a slide with a pan at 200mm, something extremely difficult without a stabilized slider like Duzi 4. Check out the opening shot of the cell tower, the shot revealing the Christmas trees at 00:53 and the shot of the “Intercity Mall” sign at 1:57.

After awhile I began to realize that updated design features of Duzi 4 meant that is was locked and loaded at any given point. The all terrain legs are permanently attached, and the flywheel is always there, always ready. Just lift it out of the bag. This was perfect for this type of job, although I can’t think of a job in which longer more complicated setup times was preferred!

The Results

All in all the project was a blast. The hardest part turned out to be the super quick turnaround on the final video.

Here is their Facebook post.

Some photos and screen grabs used as social media posts.

And finally, the video.

The Kit