My long time cinematographer Ben Allan ACS and I were given access to test the Sony FS100 camera, and were tossing ideas around about what to shoot. We’d just come off a foodie project followed by going bush for another, so decided something urban and glamourous would be fun. It was a Saturday when we discussed the idea of using fashion for the test shoot, Sunday/Monday that we cast our talent, location recce on Monday/Tuesday plus mapping out a Director’s Treatment and shot list, and shoot on Wednesday on location at the Westfield City Tarvydas store.
Pre-production began with familiarising myself with the designer Ruth Tarvydas. A childhood friend of mine, Helga Lucas, who I’d known since I was six (!) was the manager of the store, so we were very fortunate to have the flexibility of shooting what was in stock and shooting on location.
Browsing through the Tarvydas website and looking through her 2011 collection, I began to get a feel for the tone of what would work for the promo. I was particularly taken by the ‘boudoir’ look that was on one of her pages, and remembered a song by Angeline Neville “Gravity” and realised that this would be perfect for the mood that I wanted to create. I decided to do an homage to 1920s Paris boudoir meets 1950s Hollywood glamour.
Given we would only have 2 hours to shoot, I knew we’d have to be super organised in order to try and complete what could only be defined as ultra ambitious. Ben & I pride ourselves on being fast, but I was hoping to shoot for up to 3 minutes of screen time!
I wanted to cast actors rather than models for this shoot as I was hoping to get across an ‘accessibility’ to the viewer so that the clothes, the sensuality, the styling were possible rather than unattainable. The actors were all beautiful, but they weren’t perfect 6 foot catwalk models a la Gisele. I was also interested in shooting a variety of looks – I was particularly interested in different shaped eyes.
The pacing of “Gravity” was slow and seductive, so I knew that shots would need to hold. I started scouring the internet for visual references. The French impressionist Degas was a visual inspiration – particularly the paintings of his dancers waiting in the wings. Pictures of boudoirs, Alberto Vargas, corsets, and women’s dressing rooms were part of my initial mix.
I cut together a reference edit based on these visuals. In the meantime, once we’d cast our talent, I started putting together outfits with girls. With just 2 hours to shoot, there was no time for hair/makeup so I made up a hair/makeup reference and asked the girls to come fully made up. I found a terrific ‘how to’ for a smudged eye online but brought extra hair product and makeup to the shoot just in case.
Helga kept me up to date on what outfits were available. I knew we would be relying heavily on Helga and her team to help us dress the girls and work out alternatives if the dresses I chose for each girl didn’t fit or just didn’t work. I figured if we were lucky, I could get away with a couple of outfit changes per girl. I sent Helga a wardrobe wish list.
All the girls turned up with great hair and makeup so apart from a little powder, no touch ups required! Since I was meeting most of them for the first time, I double checked that they were comfortable with ‘cleavage’ shots given the sensuality of the piece we were after, then sent them straight to wardrobe with my first choice for each girl.
Shooting with such a limited window of time was nerve wracking. I knew I had a bare minimum of shots to make sure the edit would cut together but there were so many shots I’d fallen in love with and just wanted to make sure to include, that it was really a matter of making sure each of the girls were in various stages of getting ready so that we could just keep shooting girl after girl. Whoever got dressed first was shot first, then it was just a matter of juggling outfits and girls so that we could shoot everyone.
In spite of the time stress, it was a pretty relaxed atmosphere on set. The girls got into character very easily – giving us real femininity with a hint of mystery and seduction. Most shots were max a two take deal apart from Gemma rolling on the floor and the finale with all the girls lined up and leaving ‘the wings’ which was the most extensive set up. Time, of course, flew and the extra props I’d brought for additional background detail to gain shallow depth of field – tea cups, petit fours, lamps etc – didn’t even have the chance of getting unpacked. Fortunately, the location lent itself to ‘generic’ shots that meant we could shoot most shots looking back at the dressing rooms, then shooting close ups against the walls or curtains.
I wanted to have a fairly distinct colour palette as this was going to be highly stylized piece so mostly chose whites, silvers, black & cobalt blue outfits to frame against the silver mirrors, black walls & purple curtains of the location and the occasional accent of red.
I kept checking the time after each shot and when it came to half time, knew I’d have to radically alter the second third of the reference edit in order finish in time with something workable. I decided to ditch all shots that would require a chance in location – either inside the shop where I wanted to see girls choosing dresses or reversing the camera to reveal the plush leather lounge where I wanted to shoot some of the camaraderie between the girls and one major glamour shot of one of the girls reclining on the lounge. There was also the added complication of having to shoot around real customers as the store had to open for the day.
With half an hour to go, we started packing up the gear to the bare minimum for the rest of the shots. We had literally finished loading all of the gear onto trolleys ready to leave when we noticed that there were suddenly no customers in the store so jumped at the chance of getting a couple more shots in the can. Since all the lights were packed away, we had to use available light.
We decided to get the shots in the store out of the way first and shot Sarah looking through the racks.
These were shots we discovered in our recce and just had to include. The final shot was Sarah in another outfit on the elusive lounge! We were a half hour over but since there weren’t any customers, luck was most definitely on our side – Helga told us later that a customer who had been in while were were shooting came back and bought the outfit!
After reviewing the footage, it took just three hours to cut together a first edit – which was a record! I kept checking the edit, but felt happy as it was short & sweet and kept you as the viewer wanting more so it ticked all the right boxes. It was hard though, as there were so many other beautiful shots – especially close ups – that didn’t make the cut, so we decided to wait a bit before moving onto the colour grade & sound mix.
It was surprisingly difficult to get the timing just so. The more avant garde beginning was difficult to follow with some semblance of a ‘story’ to have the edit flow and reach a conclusion. But as the edit came together, it was exciting seeing so many more shots start to work together – plus I was able to put the close ups back in!
For the colour grade, I gave Ben a couple of visual references that I felt indicated the overall direction I wanted to head with the look. We decided on heightened contrast and desaturated colours.
From idea to a final completed edit, this promo took a week and a half.
Click here to find out the results of testing the Sony FS100.