It was only four years ago in 2008 that investors like me were still buying property in the hope that their investment would eventually pay off in retirement years. Who would guess that the following year would bring a credit crunch and a resulting housing market crash?
Knowing about property and real estate investments made my next commercial assignment a little easier. I know a little about how house builders value their reputation and how they wish to present themselves to that all-important potential house buyer. Under the current climate, it’s essential to pitch their commercials right. And it helps to know a little bit about the business behind the brand you’re making a commercial for.
Off the back of my Autotrader comp win over on Poptent last month, I thought I might steer myself to entering another few as they seem to take a lot less resources to produce than a music video (for me at least), and with a greater financial reward (commercial ads always pay a lot more than music videos). Some people might find making a house builder’s advert boring, but clients in this type of business don’t expect a lot of ‘razzmatazz,’ they just want something to look and feel professional and where quality is the key factor.
Standard Pacific Homes in the USA have been in business since 1965. They want to make it known that their brand has deep roots and not just a start-up. They’ve also just begun their new ‘Live Better’ campaign, where they’ve built a new range of high quality homes with built-in room flexibility and which keeps the modern family lifestyle in mind.
With this on my own mind, I set about creating the requested 60-second commercial spot that highlights points raised in their creative brief. The ad has been created using primarily their own photographic assets and I blended these with my own footage of classy, superior interiors. Finally, I rounded it off with a motion graphic element of a blue print that dollies out to reveal the constructed drawing of their logo with ‘est. 1965’ as the first sketch on the print. This was created in Adobe After Effects.
I often get asked how I go about making these ads. Specifically, what do I do first to get started?
A little tip is to start with the music. I find listening to the right music sets the pitch and tone for the rest of the ad. In this SPH ad, that’s just what I did. I listened to a bunch of different tracks until I found the right tone that fits their creative brief. I have a list of favourite composers I like to deal with. If I choose their music, they get paid for the spot, so it’s good for both of us. Once I have the music, the next job is to write the script to this music (yes, I listened to the music whilst writing the script!) For these types of ads, a compelling script is the single, most important factor. If your script and the visuals match the music, you might be on to a winner.
It takes a long time to write a good script. Even when you think you’ve written it, you are best to leave it alone for a day and come back to it to see if it’s just right. Also, you have to watch a lot of things with the script and be very careful. Make sure it doesn’t sound trite or boring. It has to sound inspirational and somewhat exciting without it going over the top either. Setting the tone is critical so reading the creative brief over and over is essential. The brand have spent a long time researching their customer base, they know their own brand inside and out and have spent a fortune having professional marketing agencies look at it. The clues to a successful ad campaign are right there in the brief. Before picking up a camera or, indeed, a pen – read the brief over until you could probably recite it! I’m sorry if that sounds obvious, but I see so many ads that have had time and resources spent on them and they haven’t addressed specifically what the brand is looking for.
On actually penning the script, what I do, after I’ve read the brief many times and it’s still fresh in my head, is listen to the music I’ve chosen and brainstorm excerpts that sound good. It might not all flow yet, but if I have little soundbytes in there, it helps to start the creative juices flowing. Once I have quite a few phrases, I start to try fitting them together and rearranging to best suit the music. I might have a great end, but the start is poor, or vice versa. Just keep working at it until you have something that flows nicely. Obviously you are incorporating all the elements that the brand have expressed, should be in there. If the brand is asking for too many points to be included in the ad and it’s looking too crowed, you need to go back to them. There’s nothing worse than trying to fit too much information into a short space of time. Ads are more effective pitched at the right pace and judging that pace is only something that comes with experience. If in doubt, talk to the brand execs. I will say, though, that it’s surprising how much you information there can be included by carefully wording your script effectively.
I always get the VO talent (me in this case), to listen to the synchronised soundtrack through headphones whilst at the same time reading and recording the script. Why? Because your voice will react and change to the highs and lows, the pace and emotional feel of the music. If you listen to the music I chose for this piece, you will notice that it has a central part that is slow and endearing. It’s not by accident that the VO then changes to suit the slower tempo before it crescendos again for the finale. Take time on the VO, most inexperienced filmmakers have rubbish sound. Here’s a simple math equation: Stunning Visuals + Poor Audio = Poor Advert. In other words, it doesn’t matter how awesome your visuals are, the soundtrack is half the advert and if it’s poor, you’ll let down the entire production. Take the time to use a good mic and a peaceful setting to record. Take the time to adjust the voice and the music levels in the edit such that one doesn’t drown the other out.
By the time I come to pick up my camera, I already have the music premastered down to 30 seconds, with the script and the VO all laid out and complete on my timeline. Believe it or not, for many ads, that is MOST of the work out of the way (unless you’re making a complex MG/animated ad), the rest is pretty easy! The other advantage to having the music and VO complete first is that by this time, I already have a clear idea in my head what the most appropriate and most suitable visuals will be. I then just go out and have fun shooting it. Going out and filming take a lot of time and resources. Sitting at home working out music and writing scripts, where it may take a lot of time, doesn’t take too many resources. It’s all about using your time and resources wisely.
Finally, when coming to the motion graphics or titles (which are last), I already know the exact amount of time I have and what music will be synced to it. I already know the live footage and stills that surround it. So I waste less time creating unnecessary plates or readjusting it to fit later – I just tailor-make them to the time and music remaining.
Once the motion graphics are laid out on the timeline next to the music, the VO, the footage and the stills, the job isn’t yet finished. I spend a huge amount of time QC’ing the project. This involves making sure that the clips fit the music, that they’re paced right on the timeline. Nothing is clipped too short to see, or too long to yawn about and that there are enough cutaways to make (what I call), the ‘texture’ of the ad seem varied and appealing. A lot of inexperienced filmmakers forget about ‘two-shots’ – ie. A master and a close-up of the same shot next to each other. This technique, although definitely not essential (and shouldn’t be overstated either) adds professionalism to your clip. For reference, in the Great American Cookies advert you will see coming up in the near future, I make use of two-shots there (I’m not allowed to release that ad for general viewing yet!)
The creative process to making a commercial for a brand’s TV or online use can be time consuming and pull a lot of resources. But in the end, it’s worth it to see the finished product and (hopefully) a thumbs up from your client! I hope this mini-tutorial offers some helpful advice and insight into the making of a television advert for a major brand. So go create your own masterpieces!