Walk Me Through It – Directing docu-style for Bank of America

I asked my good friend, Andy Kelemen, if he’d be willing to share his process on how he goes from pitch to filming day 1. Andy is a super talented director and amazing to work with. In this post, he breaks down a spot I DP’d for him. I’ll let him take it away from here. Be sure to follow him on Instagram and see what he’s been up to.

I’m always curious how people in our field make stuff. Everyone has such wildly different techniques on how to produce and direct a compelling spot, while keeping your clients and crew simultaneously happy. So I wanted to walk you through the logistical hurdles I faced while producing and directing a recent piece for Bank of America.

First off, you can check out the ad below. I recommend watching, as this post references the spot.

I pitched on and won the job around late 2018, with a filming window of early 2019. The initial pitch asked for a docu-style spot with social media cut-downs focusing on an occupational therapist and her clinic based in South Florida. The brand also wanted organic product integration with Bank of America, by using one of their small business bankers as on camera talent. I won’t go in to how I construct a pitch. One takeaway I heavily relied on to successfully bid this out however, was to give a solid reason as to why you have a personal connection to the material you’ll be filming. This job hit home for me, as my Mom is an occupational therapist, and I’ve been around children with cerebral palsy during my upbringing. I could directly relate to my subject, and it was important the brand knew that I’d be bringing more to the table because of this.

Once we set rough dates for filming, I started having regular phone calls with the brand and agency. On these calls, in addition to logistical thoughts and interview questions, we really focused in on the big picture takeaway we wanted the piece to have. It’s always tough with cinematic docu-style spots in that you, the brand, and the agency need to have a very clear through line of where you want the story to go. For this piece, I created the through line of helping people, while making an impact. Every decision then would always harken back to this message. Having a solid through line becomes your north star when being creative on docu-style pieces.

We next started having calls with the real life people involved, and got heavily in to the logistics of filming in an active clinic with real patients. On this project, we got incredibly lucky by having a subject who was not only transparent with what happens in the day to day of her business, but had a whole team at her disposal to help with the logistical hurdles. At this point I also start hiring local crew. It’s a tough decision to fly crew with you vs hiring local. What makes that determination for me is not just budget, but where the strengths of the spot need to be. Because they had a team helping us down in Florida, a local producer or AD were unnecessary. Because the cinematic look was so important, flying my DP and his gear, to which he’s most comfortable with, was a huge priority. You really need examine the piece you’re creating and then make financial adjustments on which crew to bring with you and which to sadly leave at home.
We made some interesting scheduling decisions on this piece to accommodate getting what we need while also not overly stressing ourselves. I chose to keep travel days as just that; for travel. Sometimes you’re forced to scout the same day, but when it comes to flying it’s better for morale to keep it simple if possible. We then used day two as an AM scout, and the late afternoon as a ‘low key broll day.’ We had the brand and agency with us on the scout which was invaluable, as they could point out any flags pre-filming. We then picked up some small footprint shots that afternoon. This was designed to knock out any office broll, team meeting shots, and any other filler as I’ll call it.

To keep the footprint small for that afternoon broll day, we let our camera filters do the heavy lifting. I did hire makeup for this first ‘mini broll day’ however as I knew we’d be dealing with tons of skin tones and close ups. For broll we were in an existing office with dozens of people, and your typical harsh overhead fluorescents. By having my DP use a smart filter choice which bloomed out any light within the frame, it transformed a few potentially ugly shots in to some of the prettiest. Look the shot below. It’s the filter aimed at an exposed window doing the heavy lift.

For our 10 hour shoot day then we brought in a full crew. I chose to start the day in conducting our interview with Marianela, our small business banker from Bank of America. To Marianela’s credit – she kicked butt with her soundbites. And in her defense, she had never done anything like this before. To preemptively combat first interview jitters I padded her interview time and lead in time longer than anything else. We then gave her a break and hopped over to Dr. Harper’s interview. She had plenty of media training and it was her business, so I knew in advance she’d be a quicker talk on the subject matter. One tip I recommend for all interviews with real people is to keep as many clients, agency people, and general crew away from eyelines of your subject. For both interviews it was myself and the DP in the eyeline. Our B cam and sound person were semi-hidden, and everyone else was behind a closed door. Always keep your subjects laser focused on you the director and no one else. Another tip though – trust your DP to keep subjects entertained when you’re not there. When I would spot check with clients and leave the room, I knew they were in fun hands with my DP and AC keeping them at ease vs sitting in silence.

We spent the rest of the day getting further broll of Dr. Harper interacting with patients, and footage of her interacting with her banker Marianela. To maximize filming time, I always push for locations you can walk to. While this setup below looks like a completely different world outside the office setting, it was a 1min walk next door. We kept our depth of field shallow even on the master, and I love how ‘Florida’ everything looks.

Afterwards, we ended the day at a construction site to steal some shots of the new facility. Again, you can see those filters doing the heavy lift. We didn’t have the time or the resources to do anything but shoot with a small footprint at this active construction site, so we kept the crew that moved small and left everyone else back at the original location. This is all to maximize your filming time, so if anyone questions you, that’s your go-to answer.

So after a very full ten hours, we called wrap, and flew home the next day. Overall I was extremely pleased how this shoot went as I felt we really maximized our time, our budget, and our resources in to making branded content that struck the exact tone and feel we set out to create. Thanks for reading 🙂

Andy Kelemen is a commercial director who has done large and small-scale work for Disney, American Express, Jack Link’s, NatGeoWild, Chevrolet, Durex, and Caesars Palace among others. Over the past ten years his work has appeared in AdAge, Creativity, and he’s the recipient of five Emmy awards.

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