The map and storyboard on a wooden table

09 Apr Behind the Scenes of the Citybase Apartments Homepage Video

The making of the Citybase Apartments homepage video

In early 2018, Citybase Apartments’ marketing team began a project to write, produce, direct, cast and shoot a video for the homepage of our website. Here, Marketing Communications Manager Victoria Jackson and Videographer Nathan Dale give their insight into how they did it.

“When the decision was made to create a homepage video entirely in house, we knew it would be a great challenge. Some of our team members had been involved in corporate video production, but only as clients procuring a production company to do all the hard work. But this time, we would be doing it all: from the basic creative concept through to shooting, lighting and casting! It was a mammoth project that would be 12 months in the making, and this is the story…”

Scoping the Citybase Apartments Video

Although the working title of the film was ‘about us’ we agreed fairly early on that we wanted the video to be a story about our guests and the moments that they might enjoy when staying in a Citybase serviced apartment. We also obviously wanted to showcase all the great benefits of staying in an apartment over a hotel. We started with the basics, asking ourselves about our target audiences and any insights we had into them. We then went on to talk about what we want this audience to feel, think and do after watching the video and the core messaging behind what we were trying to say.

Planning and Storyboarding

We were working to a tight budget. This was going to be challenging as, in our experience, a simple two-minute corporate video would typically cost over £5000; factor in multiple locations and cast members & this would normally be considerably higher. But, with a characteristically positive attitude, we were confident we could deliver it.

Furthermore, not ones to shy away from a challenge, we decided that we wanted to shoot at, not one, but three of our favourite Citybase city destinations and tell the story of three different types of holidaymakers: couples, families and groups.

The benefits of serviced apartments are compelling for these audiences; with more space, privacy, flexibility and facilities, apartments are a perfect way to make the most of a short break and there was a strong message we could send for each mini-story, as well as showcasing the cities themselves and the fun that can be had taking a trip with friends and loved ones.

London was an obvious choice, as a business we booked over 200,000 room nights there in 2018 and it’s the most booked destination for both our corporate and leisure brands. But which other cities should we choose? Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Brighton and Manchester were all contenders but, after much discussion, we went for Edinburgh and Amsterdam. As well as being big hitters on the booking front, and popular destinations for families, couples and friends, these cities are simply extremely pretty and photogenic, with unique and instantly recognisable architecture and landmarks, they were perfect to communicate loads of atmosphere in a short space of time.

For this particular video, we created three scenarios for our different citybreakers:

  • A family celebrating a birthday in Edinburgh.
  • A group of friends spending the weekend in London.
  • A couple enjoying a short break to Amsterdam. They would ride bikes, have a boat ride and go for an evening out.

Budgeting and technical costs

It’s very easy for costs to get out of control on a shoot like this; once you break down a script to all of the core elements you need, your bank balance can become as drier than the Sahara desert. This would be enough to put most people off, however, all it meant was that we’d need to be very creative in how we went about the shoot.

Once the project is fully scripted and storyboarded, it acts as a rough guide in terms of expenditure. We do this by compiling a cost breakdown. We break up the project into three stages; pre-production costs, principal photography and post-production. From there we can work out how much each stage in production will cost over the duration of the project.
Unsurprisingly most of our expense was hiring the talent for the shoots. In total, we had 12 characters in the film, which was ambitious given the budget. In total, the talent alone cost just over half our budget so we really needed to be picky as to where we were willing to allocate the remaining funds.

Locations and travel costs were second on the list. As most of the crew was based in London, this was by far the cheapest location for travel. As for Amsterdam and Edinburgh, the figures were more or less on par with one another. As well as being visually attractive, the two locations were relatively inexpensive to fly our crew out too. We still roughly paid around £650 for our travel costs, which included all of our airfares and ground transport.

Hair and makeup was a flat day rate of £100 per day. It is easy to underestimate the importance of powdering down an actor’s face during shooting. Sweaty faces quickly make your subjects excessively shiny; it’s unflattering and can make a production look amateur if details like these aren’t addressed.

You may be surprised to know that the kit we used was actually pretty inexpensive compared to everything else. We already own a Sony A7S which is a great camera for quick run and gun shoots such as this. The only things we needed to invest in were a quality lens to capture sharp imagery and stabilisation kit for any dynamic movement shots. Both of these were rented for a fraction of the cost it would have been to buy them outright. The LED lighting panels were already owned by us so we didn’t need to funnel any cash towards this area of production.

We also had to take into account the art department costs. This would cover any props that our cast would be interacting with such as glasses, presents, food, drink, cards; the list goes on.
Lastly was post-production. Usually, this would include things like editing, sound mixing, motion graphics as well as other areas in the editing process. Luckily my skill set covers most of these areas so we didn’t need to outsource the post-production. The only things we needed to purchase were any stock footage I wasn’t able to capture on the day as well as licensing for the music.

Casting and detailed storyboard

With our cast and locations agreed on, we then set about creating a detailed storyboard. This part of the process always quite challenging, without a cast or specific shot locations or apartments finalised, it can be difficult to visualise what a shot will look like and it tends to be very conceptual at this stage.

We essentially created a minute-by-minute story of 24 hours in the life of each group, highlighting the key moments that made it special or memorable, as well as aiming to incorporate brand and promotional messages wherever possible.

Casting is a key part of the process; the cast form an integral part of the look and feel of a film. When your budget won’t stretch to the A list, it’s a case of searching through thousands of faces on talent websites to find the people who represent the brand and who our audiences will identify with.

The cast needs to be the right balance between being relatable but aspirational, fun, friendly, warm and confident, as well as looking natural together and just having a certain je ne sais quoi which is difficult to put your finger on; luckily we usually know it when we see it!

Casting

We also began sourcing set locations around this time, central to which were the three serviced apartments we were going to feature in the film. These needed to be spacious, bright, and able to accommodate certain key shots from the storyboard. We also needed to decide exactly what our three city breakers would be doing on their holidays that would tell a great story.

Detailed shoot and lighting plan

You could have the best camera in the filming game, but that means absolutely nothing if you don’t take the time to carefully craft your scene, this includes your lighting setup. As well as allowing the camera sensor to capture images effectively, it also creates mood and atmosphere if utilised correctly. Because of this, it’s important to have an idea about the type of look you want to capture between the camera frame lines before you start shooting.

For the exterior, we would be relying a lot on the available lighting, in our case the sun. If it was a clear and bright day, we would need to soften this light up to create a softer look, which visually is a lot more appealing. We would do this by either using a bounce board or use a piece of diffusion sheet to spread out the sunlight which will generate a softer look.

As for the interiors we would be using a mix of practicals and LED panels to create our looks. Practicals are any light sources that are present within your frame lines; so in most cases desk lamps and ceiling lights.

The LEDs panels are necessary not only brighten up the space, but to create and add mood to the scene too. We can do this by attaching gels to light panels to add colour to the space, or creating shapes by blocking out some of the light that was being emitted. There is also the question of do we want to use hard or soft lighting during the scenes, in which case we’ll need to use diffusion to craft that look on set.

Some of our interior scenes were scripted as taking place at night which required various methods to pull off correctly, as we were often shooting out of synch to minimise costume and makeup changes. We would start by blacking out the windows to give the illusion we were shooting in the evening and we would be relying heavily on practicals lights and our LED kit to mimic an interior night scene. This would involve using coloured gels to give our interior a blue tint to mimic a nightscape, and contrasting the orange glows of the practicals to add a warm glow to the space.

The day before the shoot

We arrived at each city the day before the shoots. As we were relatively familiar with all our locations, we had a basic idea of the locations we knew we would be focusing on, however, there is always the chance that roads might be closed, scaffolding might have sprung up or any number of other logistical issues could come into play that might ruin a shot, so we always do a detailed recce to ensure that each shot will go as planned. We also would need to know exact timings of how long it would take us to get from place to place, incorporating hair, wardrobe and makeup changes.

This kind of meticulous planning is especially important when you are shooting to a demanding timescale and every minute counts. We needed to shoot each city in just one day and there are a million things that can cause delays. Your plan needs to take all these risks into account and have plan Bs (and Cs, Ds and usually Es) in place in case of unexpected issues.

With Amsterdam and London, we were lucky to have access to the apartments the day before the shoot. This allowed us to do a pre-light and a test shoot in the space. We got a chance to experiment with light positioning to get the desired look we wanted as well as working out what camera angles worked best for each scene. Having the extra time is always a godsend as it relieves a lot of stress on the shooting day. This gave us extra time on the actual shoot day by not having to work out these factors on the fly, which allowed us to focus our time on getting the best performances out of our cast as possible.

Arriving the day before also allowed us to scope out the shortlisted locations for the exterior shots. Viewing the locations in person allowed us to make more informed decisions in regard to where we wanted to shoot, as the location may not have mirrored the image you conceptualised during pre-production.

Shoot Day

This was it: months of preparation leading up to just three days of shooting in three locations. With the exception of Edinburgh, the shoots ran mostly in the same format. The crew arrived at the apartments a couple of hours before shooting the first scene. This allowed us to set up the kit, create a dedicated space for hair and makeup and see to the final set dressings. The only exception to this was Edinburgh, where this job was entrusted this to the crew while Nathan ventured into the city to capture cutaway footage that we wouldn’t have been able to capture in-between the shoot.

Once the actors arrived, they were sent straight to hair and makeup. It is at this point where we get an opportunity to chat with the talents and discuss their roles and describe the type of performance needed from them in each scene. Once all the final checks were done it was time to hit record on the camera!

During principal photography, it is sometimes beneficial to shoot the scenes out of order to maximise the limited time you have on the day. The criteria that dictate a shooting schedule are things like light setup changes, hair, makeup and wardrobe changes as well as the time of day. The minimum number of these changes you have to make during the shoot will yield more available time, which in this game is an expensive commodity.

With the outdoor shots, we were lucky in terms of lighting as the days were a mix between overcast and clear skies. The overcast days meant we had softer lighting looks falling on our talent which was the general look we wanted. However, it also means that we would need to do some sky replacement in some scenes in post-production. With the brighter scenes, we relied on bounce boards to soften the light as they are more mobile than lighting panels.

With a crew of just four on each shoot, it was all hands to the pump. We might have begun the project as directors and producers, but on shoot day we were all grips, gaffers, runners, best boys, prop masters, sound engineers and wardrobe assistants, as well as capturing the whole thing on social media…

On a shoot, there are inevitably many variables that you have to understand and be prepared to manage and often some curve balls! The weather is number one. This caused us many headaches, & despite the fact that Europe enjoyed an incredible heatwave that summer, it happened that on our shoots in both Edinburgh and Amsterdam the weather was very changeable, meaning we had to reshuffle shoot lists and make some last minute changes to our plan to shoot indoor/outdoor shots around rain showers!

Sometimes we have to make last-minute scene changes due to a location not being available, not having enough time to fit it in, or a shot simply not working like we envisaged it. It might also be spotting an unmissable opportunity, for example when we arrived in Edinburgh, a temporary big wheel had been installed and we knew it would make an incredible shot, so our plan changed to incorporate this.

That’s a wrap

These days are always full on, but with the right team who are all on the same wavelength it makes the whole process feel like an adventure and we always end up having a great time. Once photography wraps there is always a sense of achievement that reverberates around the space.

Post-production

Now for the magic to happen! After backing up all the footage onto the hard drive the first point of action is cutting all the footage down to the best bits. Whilst doing this, the main things we’re looking out for is the acting of the talents, camera movement and image quality. There may be some scenes and angles that work better than others so it is good to be a bit ruthless at this stage. This leaves you with only the best shots, and it’s these clips that will help sell this visual narrative.

Once the cutdown is complete it’s time to arrange the clips in a timeline to compose a rough cut of the film. Even though we had a storyboard to work from, it is important to be flexible as some scene may work better in a different order than originally planned. As soon I get the initial feedback from the rough draft, it’s time to make the amendments to the edit. This is the time where we start to tighten up the edit and giving the edit a bit of fluidity. Once complete and approved, we can move onto the VFX (visual effects). These ranged from wire removals from certain scenes were we couldn’t hide the cables for the LED lamps to complete sky replacements. Something I knew I wanted to add early on in the edit was lens flares, to make the frames look akin to Polaroid photos. It generates that idea of creating memories but in the subtlest of ways.

One of the more underrated aspects of crafting a filmic piece is sound design. Sound design is the little bits in the film that gives you a sense of the environment, so things like water trickling down a waterfall, the flapping of a bird’s wings or the rev of a car engine. It can either enhance the overall experience or kill it completely so it is good to know when to add these sound effects and when to leave them be.

Finally, when all this is completed we can add a colour grade to the image. Colour what sells the emotion in a scene. We wanted to portray the scenes as a happy, warm and exciting experience. This, in turn, would influence the look of the film which is why we went for bright, warm and summery look. We did this by warming up the scenes by adding orange to our frames, and where we contrasting this with strong blues in the sky.

Once finished I hit the export button and presto, one promotional video was ready to be released!

Victoria Jackson

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