One reason why I love my job: “The Flamethrower”

One reason why I love my job: “The Flamethrower”

Flameflowers are part of what makes me love my job.

I love my job. How can you not get excited, when one of your client calls you and wants to shoot a flamethrower torching his own product? 

At this point that's pretty much all I have to go on. Other than the fact that I need to create a video that will play at a trade show, explaining harsh environments that these could withstand. 

Let me tell you the back story first. A commercial manufacture contacted me to photograph some images for the packaging of his lights. He was updating the look of the boxes that were going to be sold in a national home improvement company in the US. 

A few weeks later the owner calls back to ask if I can come up with a concept for a video. The video will show the specifications of his lights at a trade show. Sure, I love creating interesting ways of telling stories about products. That's kind of what I do.

"Oh," he said, "the only requirement I have, is that we use a flame thrower in the video."
 

Say no more - this sounds like a project that's right up my alley. A few phone calls and meetings later I have the list of specs that I need to talk about in the video:

  1. energy efficiency
  2. weatherproofing
  3. color accuracy
  4. illumination area
  5. heat resistance

The last one is where the flame thrower comes in. The only problem is I can't talk about these specs, I need to show them.

Fast forward to how I create a project from the first phone call or email all the way to the finished video. No peeking I promise you'll see it at the end of this post.

Any project I create breaks down into these four stages:

1) The concept stage:

After the client gives me the parameters I have to come up with how to tell the story.

How do I grab the attention of someone passing a booth selling a light fixture at a home improvement trade show?

Trade shows are typically  noisy environments. Hundreds of vendors compete for the attendees' limited attention. I have to think through the limitations that the viewing environment will dictate.

A trade show floor is not anything like the hushed, darkened atmosphere of a movie theatre. That means my video has to grab your attention. In this case without spoken words. Remember audio is half of what makes a video great. Produce one without relying on sound has its own set of problems.


(I solved the same problem differently for a company that couldn't use sound to deliver its message in a loud sport arena either in a different way).

https://pbd.li/the-briefcase


In addition to this, the visuals must catch the attention of the person who walks by the booth. Cue the flame thrower. Everything we show has to be over the top and make people stop in their tracks. Funny enough a flame thrower will do just that.

2) The approval stage: 

First I figure out how to take one of these specs and show them in a way that will work in the environment that the audience is watching the video in. Then I have to get the idea approved by the client. 

Let's take "weatherproofing" as an example:

I want to show the light working while being drenched. I am also looking for a visual that will make some one stop dead in their tracks. I can't just show the light mounted on the outside wall of a house in a rain storm. That's boring and everyone else does it that way. In fact I just saw a video on YouTube today advertising a new outdoor plug and yes they showed it mounted on a wall in the rain. LOL.

No. We're going bigger - much bigger. My idea is to put his engineer on the stern a fishing yacht cutting through the water. The light he is holding in his hand is drenched in the massive spray the boat kicks up at full speed.

There's only two problems with this.

  1. First I have to convince the client that this idea convinces his audience that this light is water-resistant enough to handle the deluge of saltwater I want to put in through; 
  2. Secondly, I have to find a fishing yacht that I can film on; 
  3. Thirdly, I also have to make sure that the guy  is safe and doesn't get electrocuted while holding the light in a flood of powerful saltwater on the back of a speeding boat;
  4. In addition to that I have to figure out where to put the camera showing this light holding up to the specs, but this second set of problems really only need to be solved in the next phase - I usually jot down a note that I have to figure out how to fix this potential problem. 

Ok. Fine. That's more than 2 problems, you got me there. Once my client has signed of on my idea I'm ready to start on the next step of creating this video.


PRO TIP: don't suggest anything you can't pull off.

If you can't make the yacht work, don't suggest it. 

3) The planning or production stage

This third stage is just a problem-solving stage.

  • Finding a boat means a couple of calls to people I know that would let me hire their boat. 
  • Not injuring the guy holding the light means conferring with my electrician and the people on my safety team on how to insulate the light properly, so that nothing shorts out.
  • Camera placement for this shot is obviously a drone, so I need to hire my drone pilot to get this section of the video done.

This stage is a lot of fun. It's thinking outside of the box while I make sure my ideas can  translate into the budget that the client gives me to work with in real life. It's really no good in coming up with a great idea that will cost $1,000,000 to include in the video if the budget doesn't have a million dollars to make the shot happen. Hey if it does, knock yourself out and go for it. 

Some of the problems that need to be solved are easy, some are not - like how do you power a 110V light while it's mounted on an airboat, as it speeds through the everglades in the dark (and no you shouldn't run a generator on an airboat).

Just for the record: we didn't.

This stage also includes some of the most mundane tasks in the production, pulling permits, securing insurance, and scheduling crew, locations, and talent. Sometimes really tedious work but it must be done.

4) Creation stage

After everything is concepted, approved, planned and booked the days of the shoot finally arrive. Now it's all about dealing with the unforeseen problems that occur on the set of every shoot - the drone can't figure out where it is when started up from the boat - the aluminum hull is wreaking havoc with it's GPS.  

After a few days of filming, it's off to the edit bay to cut together the video. It's always fun to see what was only a storyboard a few weeks ago, become reality. It's about telling the story on film now, adding the right music and graphics, and wrapping it into a believable story of why this guy who is stocking shelves spends his weekends doing insane tests on lighting fixtures (that idea was another one of the ones I presented to the client in stage one).

Now it's all about delivering the client what I convinced him I could create for him in the timeframe that I had agreed on. 

The final product looks like this (and yes, the flame thrower is the first test). Check it out:

Let's recap how I approach the 4 stages in all of my productions:

The four stages of a video project

step 1

The concept stage

Review the requirements my client gives me in the initial brief or meeting. Then I get to imagine how I'd love to tell the story. Sometimes a brief is as simple as "I want to use a flame thrower in this video."

step 2

The approval stage

Separate what's possible, affordable and doable. I need to know my clients budget, to figure out how big I can dream. Then I need to sell the ideas to my client, always keeping their budget and time frame and my abilities in mind. 

step 3

The planning stage

Underpromise and overdeliver. I live by those words in every production. I love giving my clients bigger, better and more than we agreed on. Doing this the opposite way is the fastest way to loose clients. 

step 4

The creation stage

The rubber meets the road here. 25+ years of experience in creating photo and video shoots, a deep knowledge of locations, crew and contacts let me create scenes, where others would fail in delivering.

At the end of the day, many advertising agencies or production places can deliver one or more of these stages, but I have often created projects, like this one, in-house. Ideas are always out of the box, unique and I love coming up with a solution that makes the viewer stop and listen to the story you and I are telling them. 

What do you want to say in your next video? Let's talk and find out how I can make it a reality.

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