A dimly lit theater, trendy music envelops the darkness, and film goers balance their beer and popcorn while skirting knees to open seats. As the music fades, the projector flickers, and titles roll. Titles roll. Sometimes we take titles or credits, as they are more commonly referred, for granted. But what is film, or art for that matter, without the artists.
Every first Tuesday of the month, the Midwest Independent Film Festival showcases a Midwest-made film in an effort to promote Midwest film. And we, Coat of Arms, get to play a small part in the evening’s festivities. For the second year in a row, we have had the pleasure of creating the titles for the Festival. Last year, dynamic 3D graphics weaved in and out of a fast-paced edit as IAmDynamite’s track entitled, “Where Will We Go” amped the audience for a fun evening.
This year, we continued the theme of using snippets from films previously shown at the festival, but this time we projected the footage on the faces of over a dozen actors and tracked credits accordingly. From pitching, to refining our concept, to pre-production, to production, and finally, to post-production, the 2014 Midwest Independent Film Festival titles tell a story…one that educates and hopefully inspires.
In October of 2013, Creative Director Cameron Spencer, Motion Designer Ryan Butterworth, and Producer/Editor Jonathan Lacocque agreed they wanted to donate their time to make titles for the festival. Here’s what we came up with.
But how did we decide to dive into a probono project? Or more generally, “When should you work for free?” Whether a friend asks you to film their wedding or an acquaintance asks for a favor in creating a promotional, it is important to have a method for approaching these requests.
Take a look at a fun diagram created by designer and artist Jessica Hische. The diagram essentially argues that unless it is for your mother, a non-profit you care deeply about, or for a friend that you owe a “proverbial kidney,” you typically should NOT work for free.
Despite the comedic nature of this diagram, there is prudence to Hische’s perspective. In fact, many believe free work devalues what we do as professionals. When a designer does excellent work for free, producers or clients may place less value in the design or final product. But newer graduates or unseasoned professionals often feel the need to work for free in order to get their foot in the door. Coat of Arms’ Clara Lehmann, for example, worked free for years as a production assistant in an effort to build relationships.
When Coat of Arms gets asked to perform probono work, we use a checklist of questions to respond promptly and fairly to each request. These are the questions we consider, in no particular order:
1. Does it build on a relationship?
Relationships make up a big part of what we do. So, if taking on a probono project will bring us closer to a client or will enhance our working relationship with a team of professionals, the project is something to consider.
2. Will it diversify the reel?
Our reel shows our capabilities, and even though our abilities reach beyond the content of a one minute reel, many clients like to see similar styles or techniques to what they want to create. So if doing a probono project is likely to showcase a new skill, it could be worth it.
3. Will it promote Coat of Arms?
Is there a chance that someone will see the work that is unaware of what we do? Could it get us more leads, conversions, or site visitors? This is all worth more than a day rate.
4. Is it for a good cause?
It is far more likely that we will take on a probono project because we care about the cause. And let’s be honest, a lot of times the work we do is artistic but corporate in nature. Our jobs are important and we love what we do, but working for free and for a good cause can be very emotionally and psychologically fulfilling.
5. Is it creatively rewarding?
Redundancy can kill motivation and creativity. So it is important to look for fresh perspectives. Our probono projects often do this for us. Plus, given we are working for free, we often have the creative license to experiment. Double win!
Often times, the easiest probono work is the kind you can do yourself with internal resources. In the case of the Midwest Independent Film Festival titles, there were a lot of moving parts, and we needed a team. Here is where honesty is key. Make no promises and be upfront with fellow artists. “We’re doing a project for free, there’s no pay.” No bullshit. Make sure you are clear about whether the project is for fun, experience, food, or high-fives.
Let’s explore the process from pitch to post.
PRE-PRODUCTION – Pitching
There are many forms of pitching – from commercial pitches, to film pitches, to TV shows. Here are a few examples.
1. Manicanparty Music Video
Director Thom Glunt pitched a music video concept to Manicanparty for their song “Monarch.” Most music video pitches are very visual in nature, keeping descriptions brief and to the point. Here you will find Glunt’s attention-getting title page, a thesis statement, and a one page – all of which act as the most concise way to pitch the concept.
If the band or a label likes what they see, they can continue reading. But these three documents alone give a clear indication of the director’s vision without forcing a long read. In addition to the images and text, Glunt added a visual reference with XX’s video for “Chained.”
Glunt’s pitch was successful. Here’s his final video for Manicanparty’s Monarch.
2. Fabio’s Kitchen Web Series
Fabio’s Kitchen Web Series is an example of another pitch prepared by Director Nick Cavalier. Given the length of a web series, the pitch must tell producers how the entire show will be executed. This includes introducing talent, defining the narrative thread of the show, and in this case, describing the food, branded appliances, and production process.
Cavalier’s pitch for Fabio’s Kitchen is still under consideration and review.
3. The Midwest Independent Film Festival
Alternatively, we approached our pitch for the Midwest Independent Film Festival (MIFF) a little differently. We created six concepts and pitched them in-person with the festival director, Michael McNamara. Because we described each concept in-person, our boards were entirely visual. There was no need to add explanatory text or video references. Below are the six concepts we proposed:
Concept #6 – An intimate portrait of individuals watching films projected onto their faces while titles track accordingly.
McNamara liked Concept #3 the best. He also liked Concept #6 but had concerns about execution. Ultimately, we agreed to try Concept #6 with the caveat that we would test it first.
The decision to attempt the harder, more challenging Concept #6 reminded us of a quote from Creative Director Justin Watkin’s blog, “Being a creative is about more than writing and design. It’s about making clients uncomfortable. Challenging a client is part of the job description.” In our experience, often clients begin a project looking for something “different or unique,” but tend to revert back to something more conservative due to brand standards, limited time, and/or restrictive budgets. When given the chance, we strive to push our creative without compromising messaging or branding and generally prefer to have a client ask us to tone something down rather than push it further.
PRE-PRODUCTION – Refining the Concept
Our first test, admittedly, didn’t work out very well, but we refined shot selection and defined our production needs. Initially, we focused on finding an editorial pace and a music style appropriate for the piece. Here are the results from our first test:
After this initial test, we called our good friends at Potenza Productions to see if they would consider collaborating with us on the titles. Again, here is where honesty is important – telling them our plans and re-iterating the lack of budget.
Given projections were an issue in the test shoot, we knew we needed a better projector and more selective clips to show. Sound Investment was kind enough to donate their amazing projector to Potenza for use at the shoot.
With a refined concept and a new production partner in Potenza, we did a second test which was shot by Michael Kwielford on a c100. This test was far more successful. In this test (displayed below), we played with music styles and pacing. One version includes a Man Mantis song, and a second version uses a song by Atoms for Peace.
We decided it was far more engaging to film different angles of the talent. And Editor Jonathan Lacocque needed to slow the pace down enough to give Spencer and Butterworth time for the graphic titles. Additionally, we selected each projection, paired it with the talent, and planned where each shot would be placed in the edit. To be sure we didn’t miss anything, we created a pre-visualization for use during production. Finally, we noticed banding (patterns of vertical/horizontal lines) in the tests, which we solved on-set by adjusting the shutter angle.
Finally, we had a solid test that we were prepared to share with McNamara. We included some temporary color looks in this test video.
PRE-PRODUCTION – Pre-Visualization
The pre-visualization, mentioned earlier, helped us schedule talent, organize projections, and set up the camera and lighting. Now, we needed to nail down the music. At this stage in the pre-production, we found a track we really liked called “Love is Lost” by David Bowie – the Steve Reich remix. This became a great reference for our composer, Joel Corelitz of Waveplant Studios.
We also got a final sponsors list from McNamara and calculated the time we would want to display each sponsor. Butterworth created a Cinema 4d Project with various faces and angles, exported each shot, and edited it together in Final Cut Pro X.
Once we locked our Previz, we spent a lot of time finessing motion with styleframes.
For consistency in the slices and track mattes, we used the “i” from Bodoni to try a few different styles. Here is an example of how we used the angle of the “i” for all slices whether in video or in text.
Also, below you will see one of the many motion tests Butterworth created. We were trying to find the right balance between the smooth and glitch within the animation of titles. Butterworth also played with using the slices to enhance aspects of the footage and projections.
In preparing for the shoot, Potenza was absolutely integral to our success. They brought in Daufenbach Camera and obtained a Red Epic, Cooke s4 prime lenses, and full production support. They also recruited Joey Domoracki as Gaffer. Domoracki brought G/E & lighting equipment.
Potenza’s Mary Kay Cook was integral to the casting process as she was able to obtain lots of wonderful headshots and contacts, which allowed us to include several formally trained, professional actors. The remaining cast were friends of ours.
For production, we had one pre-light day and one full production day. During the pre-light day, Director of Photography Michael Kwielford familiarized himself with the camera package and Gaffer Joey Domoracki completed a full pre-light.
Based on the previz, we created a full shot list and schedule. Initially, the big question was whether we should shoot by camera angle or by talent. We ultimately chose to shoot by talent, assigning people to three groups of four. This decision helped speed up the process for each individual and allowed the volunteer cast to leave early or come later in the day.
On the production day, we immediately fell behind, as is often the case with production, and had to make some compromises in the first few shots. However, we quickly caught up thanks to the crew’s hard work and perseverance.
We filmed at 5k cropped on the Epic, 23.98 fps and some 100 fps for blinking and iris constrictions. We used a Diopter over the lens for the extreme close-ups.
Once we organized all of he footage, we immediately began to work with Corelitz on the music as it would inform the edit. Corelitz did a great job composing an abstract, ethereal track with a nice pace for the edit. He created many iterations over the course of the project. Here are five examples of the track as it progressed over time.
When the track was nearly complete, Lacocque started to edit. From January 12 to January 18 he edited six versions. Once locked, he exported each clip raw, uncropped and without any color for Evan Lindsay to stabilize and track – which he did in After Effects. We chose a more cinematic 2.35 crop. Here is a portion of his first and sixth pass. The sixth pass has temporary titles for timing and placement.
Once we received the stabilized footage, Lacocque began to color correct. Lacocque used Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks to create a style that had warmer highlights, cooler blacks, and heightened saturation. For each shot, Lacocque added spots of color to highlight projections, and he placed a cool-toned vignette through to experiment with hazing and flaring in specific shots.
Utilizing all our motion tests made the animation phase all about execution. Butterworth and Spencer worked tirelessly to perfect the motion for each shot. In fact, they were such perfectionists about the entire project that they created a director’s cut after the launch of the final titles. Take a look at the Director’s Cut!
For sound, Jerry Walterick went through many phases mostly going from a big sound in the beginning to a far more subtle design and mix in the end. The final result turned out beautifully.
Over the course of several months, we successfully executed this bad boy for the festival. Without the generosity of so many, the project would not have been possible. We’d like to thank all the volunteer talent, Potenza Productions, Michael Kwielford, Mary Kay Cook, Rocco Caltado, Daufenbach Camera, Sound Investment, Joey Domoracki, Joel Corelitz, Evan Lindsay, Jerry Walterick, and especially Ryan Butterworth and Cameron Spencer. We hope you get out to support the Midwest Independent Film Festival and if you see any of the guys/gals listed above, please be sure to thank them for their generous donation to a night of fantastic film!