Shooting a TV Commercial in 4k

Shooting a TV commercial is something everyone in our business wants to do. So when we had a chance to bid on one, we went all out and shot a bit of the client-provided sample script in order to get the gig. The demo was intended to show what the project would end up looking like if we handled it, but since it was just a demo, we didn’t finish some parts. If we were to get the project, we’d start shooting from scratch. Or so we thought.

To our surprise the client liked the demo so much he not only gave us the job, but asked us to finish off the demo itself and have that be the TV commercial. Not what we expected. It opened up a can of worms.

Shooting a TV commercial means you have to be very concerned about timing. A 30-second spot is EXACTLY 30 seconds long (or 719 frames at 23.976 frames per second, the rate at which video cameras shoot to get “the film look” in television commercial production). When shooting our demo we didn’t time out any of the scenes because it didn’t matter for a demo. But it became crucially important for a broadcast commercial which had to have a frame-accurate running time. Under normal circumstances a TV commercial gets storyboarded and each shot is planned to the fraction of a second. You have to think through the 60-second, the 30-second, and sometimes the 15-second version to make sure each shot works in each version. When shooting a TV commercial the director sweats over each take with a stopwatch to make sure the desired timing is met. We had none of this.

So we needed to re-cut a few scenes to get the timing right. But we didn’t have the necessary angles. The solution: cutting to a close-up from a wide shot thanks to the Ultra High Definition 4K resolution. In spite of all this we had to do a little bit more cheating and you can read about it on the Portfolio page where you can also see the final 60-second and 30-second TV commercials.

But timing isn’t the only problem you can encounter when shooting a TV commercial. Our second problem was that one of the characters on-camera takes a sip of “whisky”. It was actually iced tea, but that doesn’t matter; you’re not allowed to show the drinking of alcohol on TV commercials. Once again the solution was to cut to a close-up at the critical moment, just before the glass touches his lips.

Shooting in 4K for a High Definition program opens up a world of possibilities. There’s practically no down side, only a bit more disk space used for the larger files, but disk space is relatively inexpensive nowadays. While we still have our old HD video camera, we’ll never buy one with less than a 4K resolution. The added flexibility 4k gives you is priceless, especially when shooting a TV commercial.

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