Behind The Scenes – Piggly Wiggly TV & Print Ads

I recently had the pleasure of shooting both the Summer print and TV campaigns for Piggly Wiggly grocery stores with the same camera: the Canon 5D Mark II. “The Pig’s” stores are found throughout South Carolina and Georgia, and are a Southern institution. One was even featured in the Oscar-winning movie “Driving Miss Daisy.” It’s a great brand, and Piggly Wiggly is one of the largest clients of Rawle Murdy Associates, which is one of the largest advertising agencies in the area, and my biggest client, so it was a treat for me to double-dip this way.

Although the TV commercials and print/outdoor/web ads all shared a common concept: a whimsical play on “Piggly Wiggly” that features folks enjoying “icely creamly,” “sweetly tealy” and so on, the requirements for the deliverables were very different, so they were two separate shoots.

The TV commercial takes place at backyard barbeque, so the first challenge was location scouting. We had to find a house and yard that were upscale enough to be attractive, but not so ritzy that the target audience, which is primarily middle-class, wouldn’t relate to it. Once we found the perfect yard, I discovered a hidden bonus: a 60″ plasma TV in the garage that the family uses for tailgate events. The lady of the house was kind enough to let me use it for a client monitor, which, as you might imagine, was a huge hit with the client.

The only problem with using such a gigantic monitor was that we had to keep moving it so that I could see it from the camera position. Next time, I’m going to use an HDMI to composite convertor, and then split the signal to my field monitor and to whatever client monitor I use.

Henry Mathieu, the agency’s associate creative director was the writer/director for this spot, so I was the DP, not the director. But since it was my production company, I was able to assemble my favorite crew for this shoot. Len Spears is my right hand on shoots like this; not only is he a fantastic camera operator, gaffer and crane/dolly grip, he owns, or can build and/or fix any type of equipment imaginable. Doug Hall is an experienced shooter in his own right, but his background in a New York rental house also makes him an outstanding key grip/swing man. Michael Fischbach is an excellent photographer who assists for me on still and video shoots, as well as helping to make sure that everything is going smoothly. The newest addition to my hit squad is Adrian Westendorff, who does a little of everything, but primarily helps me out as a grip and assistant editor. And, it’s not just a boys’ party; Ashley Perryman is my pick for the best hair/makeup stylist in the region, and Carlye Dougherty is the best – and most frugal! – wardrobe stylist around. Both of the ladies were on the crew list for this shoot, as well as Reina Davis, food stylist extraordinaire, and Bren Monteiro, who produced both projects for the agency, and whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with on several jobs.

Because we were going to be shooting outside, I made the decision to start shooting in the afternoon, to take advantage of the long Southern “golden hour.” Around here, sunrise lasts about 30 minutes, and the sun seems to stay directly overhead from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.. That overhead light is neither flattering nor easy to work with, so I wanted to shoot as much as possible, as late as possible.

While Henry and Bren positioned the extras around the background, I set up the camera on my HandySLR rig, and Len and the guys positioned large reflectors on stands around the yard. We had a couple of HMIs, which we used to fill in the darkest areas, but we tried to light as much as possible by bouncing sunlight where we want it. (Of course, the later it got, the faster the sun moved, so by the end of the shoot, Len and Doug were re-angling the reflectors after every take.)

We started off with an establishing crane shot. For this, we used a 12′ crane that Len built a few years ago. Low-tech, but rugged and perfect for this type of medium-budget shoot. Next, I shot a few cutaways of the food table hand-held. Next, we had a couple of shots on “sticks” (tripod), and finished up with an elevated dolly shot, again using a custom rig that Len built himself.

The weather smiled on us, the actors and crew were enthusiastic and upbeat, and the clients went home happy. It was a good day! Here’s the finished commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHP14dJiB5I

The photo shoot was much more contained. Basically we just needed a large yard, so we used a different location, and my only crew members were my assistant, Michael Fischbach, and Reina Davis the food stylist. The creative direction from the agency had been to go for a “hyper-real,” very poster-like look, so I lit the shots in a fairly stylized manner. I’m a huge fan of monolights, and shoot almost everything with no more than three Photogenic 1250s. In this case, I shot two monolights through a silk for the key light, and used the third, bare-bulb, as a backlight. The strong backlight gives these shots a very commercial, somewhat retro look, which fit the concept nicely. Here’s what one of the final photos looked like:

And here’s the billboard it appeared on:

Here’s another photo from the shoot, and the billboard it appeared on.

It’s always fun to work for an established brand, and I jump at any opportunity to work with my favorite team of pros. Plus, the fact that I shot regional print and TV with the same camera struck me as a nice example of how DSLR technology is changing the face of commercial production.

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