ad film, insight

Lights, Camera, Action!

It’s supposed to be glamorous. Fun. Chilled-out. Aspirational. Enviable.

It isn’t.

Today let’s take a peek at the gritty underbelly of that much talked-about, much-envied, much-mistaken aspect of advertising: the ad film shoot. And bust some myths along the way.

Myth: Film opens on a wide panoramic shot of the Eiffel Tower against the Parisian skyline…
Fact: It doesn’t.

Only a meagre proportion of ad film crews make their way to the exotic locales you’ve seen only in Hindi films. Unfortunately, clients have considerably less money to spend on film production than the most B-grade of Bollywood productions. And, even more unfortunately, they’ve wised up to the old copywriter/creative director/film director trick of saying, “Oh, this film will look best if we shoot in the mountains of Romania.” To bust this myth, let me enumerate the locations I’ve shot at recently: a bungalow in Andheri, a slum in Sewree, Sophia’s College, the GPO, Chitra Cinema, the streets of Bombay and the road to Amby Valley.

Myth: The agency is King.
Fact: We ain’t dirt, but we certainly ain’t King either.
There’s no doubt that, as clients, we’re treated considerably better by the producer and director than the crew. But we certainly ain’t treated half as well as the…wait for it…wait for it…actor. Even theatre actors have more hang-ups than we do, and if we don’t handle them well, the film won’t turn out well. But clearly the worst comes when you’re sitting around in the heat (or rain, or cold) watching the crew running around, setting things up, while the model is sitting around in an air-conditioned vanity van, chilling.

Myth: It’s a cool, chilled-out experience.
Fact: It’s you v/s the world.

Time delays, bad actors, bad production, weather, fussy models (especially babies, who’re so inconsiderate, they go to sleep just when the DOP has finished his lighting), directors who can’t get exactly what you want, location issues, directors who will spend more time arguing with you than shooting, brand and client guidelines, costume issues, missing or bad crew…these are just some of the things that will make your shoot a nightmare. It’s not unheard of for creative people to discover religion on set.

Myth: The director will shoot what you tell him to.
Fact: The director will shoot.

After the PPM (pre-production meeting), you will often walking knowing that you, the director and the client are on the same page. And you will arrive at the shoot to discover that the director’s taking it in a completely different direction. Let’s clarify. You want to shoot a kid and a dog. He’ll be all set to shoot a kid and a cat. This doesn’t always happen, but it can lead to what my NCD calls “issuuuueeeesssss!”

Myth: Everyone’s opinion matters.
Fact: Opinions are like assholes…

This is something that rankles the copywriter on the brand (me again). The director only gives a damn about what the creative director says. You may be absolutely right, but it will fall on deaf ears. However, those deaf ears will magically regain their hearing (cue Bollywood shot of Sai Baba mandir) and heads will nod when the CD repeats your suggestion. What’s worse, the director has yelled at you for confusing him – but apologises to the CD for his behaviour. He knows which side his bread is buttered – the copywriter doesn’t choose the director for the film, the CD does.

Myth: All the stuff about hobnobbing with hot models.
Fact: Unfortunately, the agency doesn’t.
It’s the lucky casting, styling and make-up people who get to interact with the hot models. If at all you’re lucky to have written a story that calls for Priyanka Chopra (or someone as hot as her) as the main star. Though I must add a funny interlude here. We were doing a bag shoot, when our hot model – and she was smoking hot – came up to us in a top that showed a jaw-dropping amount of cleavage – and no bra. When we politely asked her to cover up just a little, she obliged, saying sweetly, “I thought clients like these like cleavage in their films.” After watching her swing, bounce and sway around on set all morning, none of the guys around could sit comfortably.

Myth: When the director calls “Wrap!” it’s over.
Fact: It’s just beginning.

Long hours at the shoot are nothing compared to what you’ll go through on the edit. The director will do his cut. Then the copywriter (me) will go and change some of it. Or the director will refuse to make any changes. Then, the CD will come in and make his changes. Followed by the Group/Executive CD. By now the director’s lost his cool, watching ‘his’ vision get butchered. Finally, after 72 hours of work, we agree on an edit. That’s when the NCD shows up, rubbishes it, and spends another 24 hours re-editing it. Then comes the music and the online. That’s another 48 hours. So, six days later, do we have a film? No. We’re still waiting for the client to come in and make his changes…

But all you talented advertising wannabes shouldn’t lose hope. I will leave you with the one myth that will cheer you up and entice you towards advertising all over again.

Myth: The food on set sucks.
Fact: It’s the only good thing about the shoot.

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