Since he finished shooting Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful over a year ago, Peter Deming, ASC, has ventured into the commercial arena while waiting for the right feature to come along. “I haven’t really delved that deep into commercials before, and they have been fun,” says Peter. “I’ve been fortunate. They have included some interesting work and lots of travel.”
The spots he’s been working on have often been technically complex. It started with an ad for Dick’s Sporting Goods that was designed to make viewers feel the on-the-field tension of a baseball game through the use of a single, carefully choreographed shot that sees and hears the game from a subjective perspective. The goal was to show the uninterrupted intensity that ballplayers experience. The director was Derek Cianfrance, and the spot was titled “Every Pitch.”
“We came up with a pretty elaborate shot that was a combination of motion control and live action,” Peter explains. “There was a programmed dolly move and a small motion-control crane. It was all done at night, and the players all wore earwigs because we had to be down to the second with their actions. We set it up, and then over the course of two nights, we did 74 takes of the shot. What you see in the spot is one of those takes.”
The spot opens on a batter swinging and missing, continues as the pitcher tries a pick-off throw to first base, and ends just as the next pitch is about to be released. The action is the between-play build-up that is usually left out.
The ad was shot on film in Super 35 and letterboxed for a cinematic feel. Peter operated the camera live, and extensive zooming and focusing were done live for each take. “That way it didn’t feel like a programmed move,” he says. “It just felt like you were out there. You get the rhythm of the shot. We had some weather elements that were fortuitous. You hope to capture something magical. It got a lot of attention.”
The “attention” included three awards, including one for cinematography, at the AICP’s The Art & Technique of the American Commercial, which means Peter’s work will be part of the permanent collection at the Department of Film at The Museum of Modern Art.
Perhaps the most sincere flattery came in the form of another spot for Dick's, "Every Snap," wherein Deming and Cianfrance gave football the same visual treatment. This time, a Spydercam rig was programmed, while other aspects of the cinematography were controlled live.
Peter started to get more calls for similar jobs. “Suddenly, a lot of people wanted to do commercials in one shot,” he says. “I did a couple for, oddly enough, La-Z-Boy. Those two, directed by Dave Meyers and done in a studio, were very theatrical, with all sorts of set transitions. We’d pull back, the walls would fly out, and the lighting would change to a different mood as we pushed back in.” (You can view one of these ads here.)
An ad for Allstate Insurance, which teamed Peter with director Murray Butler, called for a Spydercam move that circled a house in 23 seconds. In the front yard, children frolic in a sunny and bright idyll. In the backyard, a violent storm knocks down a tree branch that damages the house. The circle is completed in the front yard, where actor/Allstate spokesman Dennis Haysbert intones the tagline. (View this spot here.)
Also noteworthy are three spots for AAA (directed by Michael Spiccia) that take a slightly different approach. In one, "Emma," the camera moves around inside a series of eye-catching “frozen moments” depicting the milestones of a daughter’s upbringing in reverse. In another, "Washington," we see a father’s struggle to reach his son’s school play in time. In both cases, these frozen moments were not captured with the traditional array of still cameras, but were instead staged as live scenes, with the actors remaining stationary while the camera rapidly arced around them. “The only post effects were occasional atmospherics — smoke, steam, water, et cetera — and some wire removal,” says Peter. “The result is a more organic feel due to the presence of motion blur within the moves, something not associated with the still-camera-array method.”
Here are those two ads:
In South Africa, Peter continued a partnership with director Andreas Nilsson, shooting a series of comedic spots for Telenor. One shows a tornado bearing down on a town as a man races home to save his photos and files, and his female companion tries to assure him (to no avail) that the data has been backed up to the cloud.
In Prague, also with Nilsson, Peter shot an ad for Schweppes that features more than 100 bartenders performing in unison. It does include a couple of cuts, but the shots clearly required careful planning and, presumably, many takes.