Retail city…kinda like The Trueman Show for Canadian Tire

Retail City, the Truman Show set of Canadian Tire Corp.  In this warehouse in East York (Toronto) you will find the most incredible find ever found…if you can find it.  Retail City.  The first time that I went to Retail City I was blown away!  Imagine this…you walk into the building, a normal looking warehouse building just like any other and after being buzzed in by the receptionist you proceed to walk down a lengthy hallway.  The hallway is like any other hallway that you might have walked down before, walls, ceiling, well-lit, you know…pretty hallway-ish.  As you walk down this hall, on the right-hand side wall you see this “thing”, and as you draw nearer to the end of the hallway you realize that the “thing” is a large square button.  A sign beside the button reads “Press the Magic Button”, and as any naturally curious human being would, you push the button.  The large double door slides open when you press it and the parting of the wood and metal with a sound that can only be described as the Magic Button sound reveals…a Canadian Tire store.  I’m talking about a full sized front of a store.. inside this warehouse.  And that’s not all!  As you walk through the front doors of this inside-the-warehouse Canadian Tire you emerge into a fully stocked, current flyer offerings and sale items displayed, up to date with seasonal stock Canadian Tire store.  There are cash registers, displays, isles, auto dept, sports, housewares…everything that you’d find in a regular CT store, except the people.  It’s a “lab” or testing environment for CT to set up displays for dealers to see how they are supposed to dress their store, for Executives to come by to see how the latest CT products will be displayed and sold, to train, to experiment and the best part…to shoot video!  Imagine a CT store with no people, looks just like a CT store, and is current with seasonal offerings as my set for shooting video.

I was introduced to Retail City in my first month at CT and have had the opportunity to shoot there many, many times.  You’ve probably seen CT commercials that have been shot there and not even known it.  I had that opportunity again last week as Brad, Charles and I set out to shoot a Christmas Strategy video for one of the top Executive at CT to kick off the Christmas season.

We scouted the location the week before and decided that we were going to do a 3 camera shoot (the Sony PWM-350 and two Canon 7D) and we hired our regular audio guy, Brian, to help us out with the 2 person audio recording.  We had Brian send audio to the Sony camera since it doesn’t suffer from the 12 minute recording limit that the Canon 7D’s do, and we also recorded separate audio to an Olympus recorder (not sure of the model but it is a device similar to the Zoom h4n).  It was a simple enough shoot…until the entire script was changed last-minute.  I wanted to make sure that this thing was easy to edit so I quickly jumped in with a couple of suggestions on how to make this an easy process.  The key thing for me this day was to ensure that each scene consisted of 1 question and the answer to that question only, allowing us to do retakes easily as well as making it easy to log good takes.  Being that I needed to edit this the next day (today), I really wanted it to be easy in the edit room, and sice it was a 3 camera shoot, cutting to another camera to fake that everthing was one seamless conversation wouldn’t be hard at all.  Another thing that we did to ensure ease in post-production was using the slate or the clapper.  By using a slate (to indicate the scene number and take) and actually clapping it (to create a visual and audible sync point that all cameras can see and hear) I was able to very easily use the Multicam feature of FCP7 (this feature does not yet exist in FCPX…but hopefully it will soon).

The shoot was a 2 person interview with a nice Christmas display for the backdrop.  The main cam (Sony PMW-350) was the 2 shot and each of the Canon DSLRs shot a single of each person, giving me plenty of footage to be able to cut between.  We lit the set with two large softboxes with 650watt tungsten bulbs and used two 500watt Tota bulbs as backlights.  As usual, I was equipped with my Zacuto EVF which proved to be very valuable on this shoot because I had to man 2 cameras and viewing them both at the same time would have been very difficult without the EVF, so thanks again Zacuto!  Brad was styling out with a Jag35 Field Runner kitted out with the D|Focus from D|Focus Systems (Good look Brad), and we were both outfitted with a medium range zoom lens on our cams.

So, the interview was smooth, b-roll was shot, the set was striked and we left to head back to CT in the Community Events Vehicle to backup and start to transcode the footage (turn it into a format that my editing system likes…not necessarily what the camera spits out).  I love shooting with this team (Charles, Brad and Myself), we work like a well oiled machine from packing, to setup, to communicating our thoughts on shooting right through to the actual shoot, striking (teardown), backing up footage and getting ready for post-production. So, all-in-all, a great shoot day, great team, a fake/ real CT store to shoot in and the talent did it all in about 45 minutes…maybe this really is CT’s version of the Trueman Show.

Shoot Straight!

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Back to the super-widescreen drawing board…again.

So it’s convention time again at Canadian Tire and since we are so accustomed to “going big”, we are headed to Vegas this time.  Last year we were at the Toronto Convention Center and it was a really huge, really cool, 5 day convention for all of the Canadian Tire Dealers (the guys that own the stores) and their managers, auto guys, seasonal people etc.  There were business sessions, a huge product exhibition, parties, galas, awards banquets and a show featuring Randy Bachman!   There were celeb athletes and personalities there like Cesar Millan, Ron Fellows, Scott Steckly and Lanny MacDonald and of course I can’t forget the cameo appearances by the Stanley Cup and the Nascar Sprint Cup. It was great!  Our main hall for seminars etc. had 3 screens in it, 1 super-wide screen for the “Spyder System” projection and 2 regular 16:9 screens flanking it.  The main screen was the backdrop for the stage which had either a Nascar or Ferrari on it depending on the day that it was.  I got the distinct honor and pleasure of being the designer for the main graphics that were used on that super wide screen!  (see pic below). In designing for it, I had a bunch of considerations; Designing in the 16:9 center portion of the screen so that the video could be projected on the “regular” screens as well as the center screen without cutting off content, design resolution and the ability to update and change screen info on the fly were some of the biggies.

This year the screen resolution is even wider than last years was…a 5:1 aspect ratio with a full resolution of 3840×768!  HUGE!  And again, I am having concerns about the design resolution because it is so big.  Not just the size that’s concerning me though, I am dealing with motion graphics, so I want the best quality that I can get, so I am creating in a “draft mode”, but will be exporting at full res, 16bit, Field Rendering, Motion Blurring, Depth of Field on my flying camera and Frame Blending…and I have to create 30 of these things.  “Hey Joe…what in the world did you just say?” (you might ask)…  In a nutshell, you need a pretty beefy comp to export this size and quality (I might respond).  Lucky I have one, but it’s always a concern.  I just have to be extra technical when designing this to ensure efficiency with my data rates. “NERD” (you might say…)I guess so, I might respond. 🙂

Like last years animation, I have had to go back to the drawing board after showing preliminary drafts to the team and managers but unlike last year, I didn’t find going back to the drawing board as hard.  I was trained and taught that a lot of the time I am the outlet through which people (clients) fulfill their thoughts and ideas about video and messaging.  All I can do is advise, suggest and do…and this is sometimes way harder than you’d think, trust me!  Last year, when I had to reign back on the creative, I felt like my vision wasn’t being appreciated, like the company was playing it too safe, like we could do so much more but at the same time I understood why we had to take a step back.  This year, when the same thing was happening…”let’s reel it in a bit and play it safe“, I found myself thinking, “Joe, have thick skin and don’t take offense“. And I didn’t!  I really didn’t have any emotional feelings attached to the work at all.  Even though I had just spent the last day working on the animation, it didn’t bother me to return to the animation and start to change things up.  Imaging how much easier it is starting over with no bad feelings…FREEDOM!  And, growth.  I definitely didn’t start off this way almost 12 years ago.

Why are you telling me this” (you might ask)… “Because… (I would say back to you), in this line of work you rarely work for yourself”.  That being the case, the logical other side of the coin is that we work for others.  Others ideas, others messaging, others visions and sometimes even others mistakes…but it is “others”.  All I can do is suggest, advise and recommend based on my experience; creative and technical and then do what the client asks.  It used to kill me to think someone wanted me to change hours or days worth of work that I had put it.  “How dare they ask me to change that, don’t they know that was my favorite part of the video?!” Now, I try to let it roll off the shoulder.  Sometimes it is harder than others, but I guess it’s like practicing anything else in life, it gets easier and we learn how to do it better.

Shoot Straight.

Last Years Animation BEFORE the revamp

Last Years Animation AFTER the revamp

The Mark’s Fashion show at Yonge and Dundas Square

So, today I did some work for an arm of the company that I don’t get to do a lot of work for (but that’s about to change), Mark’s (formerly Mark’s Work Wearhouse).  That’s right folks…Canadian Tire owns Mark’s.  And here’s some more interesting news that you might not all know, but Mark’s is a very fashion forward, men and women’s retail store with really nice clothes.  For real!  In fact, Mark’s just held a fashion show at Yong and Dundas Square in the heart of Downtown Toronto and I was there to capture the event for a Sizzler Video that I’ll be editing mid October.

Call time was 6:00am…I live in Brampton, which meant wake up time was 4:45…yeah…A.M!  So, I got out of bed and grabbed my PRE-packed (from the night before) video essentials and hit the road.  With me today…a single Canon 7D with the customary lens kit, Zacuto support, Tripod with Indislider Mini Delux and my Zoom h4n with Sennheizer audio kit.  I was given a Creative Brief for this shoot and was supposed to shoot video that would visually support some key metrics that are supposed to be used onscreen and as the direction of the messaging.  The fashion show as a whole presentation was being shot by Frishkorn (whom we also worked beside for the staging of this event), so I really could concentrate on getting good planned shots of the people attending, the Mark’s reps interacting with the general crowd as they gave out free socks (I’m wearing mine now), umbrellas, t-shirts and scan to win coupons as well as  behind the scenes stuff and my interviews.

So, let’s talk interviews for a sec…I have been playing with the Beachtek DXA-SLR, the Rode Video Mic Pro and the Zoomh4n for some time now and have finally come to a decision…here it is.

I like the Beachtek because it allows me to line xlr based audio devices into it and then out to my camera, allowing me to record “good” audio directly to the CF card with the video…cool!  It also has Auto Gain Override, which is important when dealing with the 7D, but, the monitoring capabilities suck!  All you have is a little light that blinks green when you are in a good range and receiving a signal, and blinks red when the auio is hot or too loud.  The Rode video mic is cool, the size is great and it is super light, but even when the input level is set to 0db (flat) it is too loud and noisy.  I always find myself shooting at -10db.  I almost had to forfeit an interview because of that.  Also, when u use that directly into the camera there is no monitoring option for you.  My fav now is the Zoomh4n.  Proper monitoring, multiple inputs (xlr, 1/4in and onboard mic). it is mountable like a shotgun mic with very nice mics built onto it and I can record ambient audio as well as directly into the recorder onto an SD card.  The only downfall is that I cannot go directly to the camera with it…ok, I can but I still have the Auto Gain issue with the 7D.  So…my point: Interviews are to be done with the Zoom h4n along some type of wireless mic’ing set up for optimal audio…and that’s just what I did here.

The host of the event was Lisa Rogers from City Line and she walked and talked us through 3 sessions of the runway show where models showed off clothes from Mark’s from underwear right through to jackets and accessories.  We owned the whole square for this event and it really was put together well.  I have attached a few pics of event…ok, me working at the event (lol), and I’ll upload the video as soon as it’s edited.  Make sure you check out Mark’s though, you’ll be surprised!

Shoot Straight

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Shooting Canadian Tire Nascar in Kawartha

It feels like for ever since I last wrote for my blog…actually it has been about a week and a half or so and no, it’s not because I’ve been getting lazy :).  Actually I have been really busy with shooting and editing, so I have quite a bit more stuff to blab about over the next couple of days.  Today’s “blab” is about my exciting shoot on Saturday at the Kawartha Speedway where Scott Steckly took home the cup as this years Canadian Tire Nascar Series Champion driving the Canadian Tire #22 car.  Shooting Nascar is really cool…I should know, I’m on my 2nd one (I know, I’m just a Nascar rookie), but some of my camera carrying cohorts aren’t and I was fortunate enough to meet up with a couple guys that I shot my last Nascar event with out in St. Thomas earlier this year.  These guys know Nascar like I know weddings…inside and out!  So hanging around them got me the drop on when certain things were gonna happen and on which turn the most recent crash was so I could try to boogie over there as quickly as possible.

I brought my new Indislider Mini Delux with me to field test for the 1st time and it was pretty good I must say.  This slider is an inexpensive, small and lightweight slider that comes with a pistol grip mount.  It is a great slider for the price and the size is right for run-n-gun stuff but there were some issues with it and am starting to see where this is and isn’t a the tool for certain gigs, but all-in-all I liked it a lot.  I’ll write up about the slider in a bit after I’ve had a chance to use it a little more.  So, I started off my day with it as my tool of choice, slid in with some nice establishing shots of the track with a reveal from a CT Nascar sign…u know, standard stuff.  My plan was to travel light (1 camera today) and to really prove to Charles (my boss) why we need to invest in a slider for our production team’s ensemble of gear.  I also rolled with my 3 lenses of choice, the 11-16mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm (see my posting on my lenses of choice). and my Zacuto EVF Flip to get that sharp focus and to battle (and win) against bright daylight.

Being the Canadian Tire Corp camera operator, I was granted VIP and Pit access, so decked in my latest CT swag I was able to saunter anywhere I pleased and saunter I did!  Having track access allows such unique videography opportunities like drivers suiting up, getting their helmets on, doing up their racing gloves, the look in their eye before they shut the visor on their helmet to start the race and really nice shots with the slider.  And there is nothing more exciting than a media scrum when your guy (Steckly) wins the season.  What an awesome experience and what a great opportunity to shoot some really great footage.

Another cool thing about this event was that I got to bring my family along and the kids had a ball watching the race from VIP, eating junk til their hearts were content, getting autographs and seeing their dad in action…ok, maybe not the last part, but they still had a blast.  The day ended with a spray of champagne for Steckly, a bottle cork in my lens (see the clip below) and home in time to catch the UFC Pay-per-view.  I love this gig!

Til next time…if you see em, shoot em!

5 camera shoot then Nas and Lauryn Hill. What a day!

I work with a guy named Cam who is one of the biggest advocates of DSLR’ing that I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  From time-to-time we get an opportunity to work with each other on some of the series that he produces for Canadian Tire and I had such an opportunity a couple of days ago…I’m gonna tell you all about it!

So, Cam tells me that we are gonna be doing a 5 camera shoot for a show called Talkin Shop and we were going to shoot 8, 10 minute segments, and of course I was game.  It was a forum type of  setup that consisted of 5-6 panel members sitting around a round table.  The table was custom designed with a colour balanced, white finish that acts as a bounce for the 3k of diffused light  coming  down on an angle from over them.  This created a massive Clam Shell lighting setup that encompassed anyone that was at the table.  Clam Shell lighting involves using a top light or a light in front of your talent above their head level and a reflector or a bounce card underneath your talent to reflect the toplight under the chin, nose, eyes etc.  filling in all of the dark spots that the toplight doesn’t reach.  Let me just say, the talent glowed! It is very flattering lighting.

Those lights up top (the ones lighting the talent), were on a grid that Steve Lindsay built.  Steve is another amazingly talent guy that it is always a serious honor to work with.  Steve is a Camera Operator, a lighting guru and a Jib/ Crane master.  He does such amazing work and I learn from him every single time we work together.  It’s really an amazing experience.  Anyways, Steve created this lighting grid that hung from the ceiling of the garage that we were shooting in.  Attached to it were 3x 1k Fresnels, 4x 300w Arri Fresnels and 2x spot lights for the vehicles on set.  There were various other lights used as background and accent lights in addition, he used 2 Diva lights and other strategically placed Arri 300s.  And yes, I DID say the Steve made this lighting grid.   It is a temporary fixture.  Great what you can build out of necessity and with a small budget, huh?

Steve also did some cool accent lighting on the walls with floor LEDs and the entire back wall which was windows was covered with diffusion sheets to make the light coming in more useable.

This setup allowed the background to be quite a bit darker than the people at the table and really gave a polished look.  Amazing job!

Here’s the list of gear other thank lights that we used on set:

4 nikon d7000 (3x 70-200, 1x)
1 7d (70-200)
5 zacuto z-finders
1 zacuto evf
4 zacuto rail setups
1 Small hd monitor
1 cinivate pegasus
6 arri 300
2 divas
6 wireless sennheiser lavs
Zoom H4N
D|Focus Follow Focus System w/ D|Mount
Audio Mixer

I got to borrow a bunch of rigging by Zacuto on this shoot and I loved it.  Although expensive, the Zacuto line is very well thought out in design and functionality, is great quality and looks amazing.  I’ve been a Zacuto supporter for some time now, owning a Z-Finder Pro and EVF Flip myself, but it was great first hand experience using some of the rails and other mounting accessories.  I will definitely be investing in more Zacuto gear in the future.  I also really liked the Small HD monitor on our main safety camera.  So sharp and accurate.  Over lunch I was to comparing it to my EVF and there were some pros and cons for both.  For instance, my EVF has a smaller screen size.  This may be a problem in some studio environments where a larger on camera monitor can be used, however the EVF does have an HDMI loop-through to go out to larger monitors and the EVF is equally as sharp as the Small HD monitor.  In addition, the EVF Flip allows quick flip adaption of my Z-Finder so I can really get in there and focus well.  Another cool thing that I found was that there was no problems at all meshing my D|Focus gear with the Zacuto gear, like they were made for each other.  Good to know if you want to purchase the far less expensive D|Focus sytem to go with you 15mm Zacuto rails.

The view from Cams cam.

So, the shoot starts with an amazing breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, hasbrowns, fruit, toast, juice and coffee…I know!  I couldn’t believe it either!  Needless to say, that’s how you start a day off!  We had 8 segments to do that were each supposed to be 10 minutes each…yeah right.  Do you think any of them went to time?  Cam was calling cut for people sometime after they had gone  on talking for 22 minutes or so.  Now with DSLRs this is a problem because Canon has the 12 minute recording time limit and Nikon has a 20 minute limit.  To remedy this for post-production we just kept all the cameras rolling at the end of the segments and did a “Tail Slate“.  A Tail Slate is an upside down slate with a clap so that you can sync footage using that common shot of video (the tail slate) as the syncing point, just as you would with it at the beginning of the take.  Because cameras had to stop rolling part way through, the tail slate is the common marker for all cameras after the 12 or 20 minute recording limit has been reached and the recording has been resumed. Anyways, this obviously put us a bit behind schedule but the segments were good, so we went with it.  I was getting a bit nervous when I first realized this trend of the panel going over the time alotment because I was really hoping to leave the shoot on time.  That night was the night of the Rock The Bells concert featuring Nas and Lauryn Hill and I was hooking up with Claude (I’ve mentioned him in other postings) to go to the Molsen Amphitheater.  It was no surprise to me that we ended about an hour behind the planned wrap time but I still made it out in time to stick to my plan for the Rock the Bells concert!  Great day! Big thanks to Cam Jenkins, Steve Lindsay and the crew, Nas and Lauryn Hill for making this a great day.

Focus-ing at Ontario Place: The Self Parking Cars

This weekend I did some freelance work for Maritz Canada, one of my favorite accounts from “back in the freelance days” (like I mentioned before…I still work with some of my cooler accounts even though I’ve turned Full Time). Anyways, this shoot was at Ontario Place in Toronto and it happened on one of the 3 days of the Air Show, so in addition to shooting video, I got to check out the low and very fast flying planes!
This shoot was of a couple of different “activations” where the new Ford Focus features were being showcased in an interactive environment. The 1st was the MyFordTouch competition where you race through a series of technology related requirements using the new voice activated system in the 2012 Focus. This focused on the ease of finding food, getting directions, and basically having your own version of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider. The 2nd was the self parking feature which is really nice. This car will park itself, all you have to do is worry about the accelerator and brakes, all of the steering is done by the car…and it’s extremely accurate. 6 inches from the curb every time. One of my main objectives for the shoot was to capture the expressions and reactions of participants when they were behind the wheel of the self parking car. I figured the best way to do this was to buy a GoPro and mount it in various ways in the car and of course, on the dashboard and just in front of the speedometer were ideal places. Finally, the 3rd was the synchro-park or the “Stunt” as it has been called. This was where they had 3 cars all parallel park themselves, synchronized! All of this to engage the customer and educate them about the new features of this upcoming years model of the Focus, Edge and Explorer.
I shot this whole thing with the Canon 7D, GoPro, 11-16mm f2.8 Tokiina and 24-70 Canon f2.8. Circular Polarizing filters on all my lenses allowed me to shoot through the windshields with no reflections (great for the shot of the guy lying down, seat reclined while parallel parking, and also let me get those really nice deep blue shies while maintaining the saturation of colour in the cars and peoples faces. A great tool for outdoor shooting. I also used my Glidecam HD2000 and Zacuto EVF. The EVF is amazing! Not just the build and design of it, but the ability to see even in direct sunlight is unsurpassed. I have rigged a mount up to my Glidecam that allows me to attach the EVF to it, giving me more flexibility in how I use the Glidecam and makes me look more high-tec as well!
I realized when I got home that one of my favorite shots (the guy lying down while parking taken with the GoPro) had me with my glidecam shooting from the opposite angle (Whoops), so I returned the next day to reshoot that single shot. That’s right! All the way back for one shot…well, ok…maybe not just for that one shot. As coincidence would have it, I was going to the CNE on Sunday, which for those of you who don’t know, is right across the street from Ontario Place…so it wasn’t a big deal at all. And the bonus…I got free parking! Perks of the job.

Shoot em straight!

Back-to-back weddings

So, this weekend I have 2 weddings to shoot and despite the wedding schedule norm, both of these weddings are short and sweet.  Typically a wedding shoot lasts from around 7 or 8 in the morning at the Bride and Groom’s places while they get ready, until around 11:00pm after the garter is thrown and the cake is cut and the party has begun.  This weekend I am starting at 4:00pm and going til 11:00pm on Friday and 2:30-8:30 on Saturday.  Cool!  I am especially excited about tomorrow (Saturday) because I will be home in time to watch UFC 134!  I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this before, but I am a huge UFC fan…so, tomorrow works out perfectly!

Today I am shooting with a friend of mine who has a friend that’s getting married and tomorrow I am shooting with The Photo Studio out of Toronto Ontario.  I’ve been shooting with The Photo Studio for many years now and have met some really top notch photographers through this company.  Check out their blog!

Anyways, more later.  Don’t forget to watch UFC tomorrow on PPV!  I will be.

 

Til then, shoot straight…and stay focused.