Santa Monica Mountains Cyclery

For this project, Dave, the owner of Santa Monica Mountains Cyclery (SMMC) and also a friend of mine, approached me with the idea of creating a promotional video for his bike shop in Woodland Hills, CA. I immediately said yes, and for two reasons:

  • I’ve been wanting to create a corporate promo video/commercial for one of the locally-owned small businesses here in the Los Angeles area for a while now because I feel every business, no matter what field they are in, should be using video in their marketing plan, and I want to be the one creating that content for them.
  • As an avid cyclist and triathlete myself, I’m a regular customer at the shop, and I truly believe that it is one of the best bike shops in all of Los Angeles, both in terms of their inventory and more importantly, their friendly staff and incredible customer service.

We met one afternoon in mid-October at the shop to discuss what this video would be. Even though I was familiar with Dave’s personality and the shop itself, I still wanted to pick his brain a little to better understand his vision for the video. After the meeting, I walked through the shop and snapped some pictures on my iPhone so that I’d have something to reference later during concept development and storyboarding.

"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."

John Wooden

Concept Development

Over the next three and a half weeks, any time an idea for a shot came to mind, I’d jot it down on the white board in my office, or type it in the notes application on my iPhone. Sometimes I’d even sketch out what the framing would look like. I searched bike shop videos on YouTube and Vimeo for inspiration, and Googled some local bike shops to check out what they were doing, and was actually surprised to find that many didn’t have any videos on their website at all. I did this mostly so that I could ensure whatever ideas I came up were unique and not like what any other shop was doing. I gathered all my notes and sketches, had multiple conversations with my creative team, and exchanged some more emails with Dave, until eventually I came up with a concept that I felt best covered everything Dave and I talked about in our meeting:

  • they love helping people discover or rediscover the joy of cycling
  • they are knowledgeable about all things cycling
  • they care about their community

Pre-Production

Being a run and gun filmmaker mostly focusing on event videography, I’d never had the luxury of having a clear script with storyboards in any of my prior shoots. Since the budget only allowed for one day of shooting and very little time to edit, I knew going into this that I’d need to be super organized and have everything planned out in pre-production. I contacted a buddy of mine, a talented artist named David Green–who I met when we both worked at an Apple store a few years back–to create the storyboards. Over the course of the next two days, we met for lunch at a brewery and breakfast at a bookstore and went through the entire script, line by line, shot by shot. Referencing the pictures I took at the shop, I described the framing of each shot, and the camera movement, and David just started sketching away on his iPad. Two days later, I had a complete storyboard that I could send to the client to better illustrate the concept. It also proved to be one of the most useful tools on set during shooting. Since my crew wasn’t as familiar with the script as I was, they were able to reference the shot list and storyboards and help us move on to the next scene without wasting any time.

Casting/Schedule/Logistics

One of the biggest challenges I came across in this project was finding extras to be in the video. Even though we were shooting in a store, with customers constantly coming in to shop, I couldn’t rely on a steady stream of customers to provide me with enough b-roll. Additionally, with the shoot only being one day, and needing to cover nearly 30 different shots (including two sit-down interviews), I had to ensure extras would be available at the time I needed them to be. Finding people available in the middle of the day on a Monday to shoot for one to two hours was not easy. People work, and we didn’t have the budget to pay any actors. After posting on social media, and texting friends directly, I was able to find a few friends who made time to come help us. Scheduling everybody proved to be the second hardest challenge. Since they all were volunteering their time, and were only available during certain hours, I wanted to make sure I was accommodating to their schedules since I knew how hard it was to find anyone else. The spreadsheet I made with our schedule–along with the help of my production manager, Deirdre–made sure we weren’t wasting any minute of the day.

Equipment

I took the week leading up to the shoot to write down the kinds of shots I wanted for each scene and made notes of what equipment I would need to achieve these looks, and I met with my camera assistant Oren to assess our gear. I was on the fence about which was the best camera to use for this shoot. Luckily, I’ve got some options:

  • Panasonic AG-AC90 – the camera I own (also the one I’m most familiar with)
  • Sony Alpha a7S – the new camera my assistant just recently purchased
  • Canon C100 – a rental, and the one I’ve had my eye on for quite some time as a possible future purchase.

I took the next day to think over my options, assess costs, and finally make a decision. I ended up renting the Canon C100. I figured since I was considering buying it one day, this would be the best time to test it out in a real world setting on an actual job. I also wanted a more cinematic look and the ability to have control over the depth of field, so that eliminated my Panasonic. I was temped to use the Sony, with its amazing image quality, great low-light capabilities, and low profile, and also because it wouldn’t cost me anything. But in the end, actually getting my hands on and testing out a potential future purchase proved to be an opportunity I couldn’t miss taking advantage of.

The camera arrived on a Friday from LensProToGo, and the shoot was scheduled for Monday. That gave me the weekend to learn how to use it and test it out with some of my stabilizers. Most of the shots I had planned were stationary tripod shots with very minimal panning and tilting. There were a few slider shots, and maybe one or two handheld shots. It also helped that my assistant had used the C100 on a previous job, so at least he had some familiarity with it.

Packing

Packing for the shoot was a great opportunity for me to take inventory on all my gear and better organize my production-in-a-box tote. Of course I over-packed for the shoot, but I felt it was better to be prepared than find myself missing a crucial piece of gear like a tripod plate, or an extension cable. Here’s a useful table I put together of what I think are “Essential Items” and “Nice to Have (you just never know) Items” that I packed for this, and all my shoots:

Essential

  • Sandbags (4-6)
  • Gaffers tape
  • Extension cable (2-3)
  • Extra batteries (rechargeable)
  • Battery chargers
  • Power strip (1-2)
  • Multi-tool
  • Baseball hat (if filming outdoors)
  • Sunscreen
  • Lens cloth
  • Stepping stool or ladder
  • Extra copies of schedule, script, storyboard, release forms

Nice to Have (you just never know)

  • Folding table (4′)
  • Backup camera, mic, tripod
  • Gloves
  • Business cards
  • Pens
  • Coins
  • Moist towelettes
  • Hand truck
  • Clipboard
  • Film slate

The one thing I didn’t have from the above list for this shoot was a step-ladder (luckily the bike shop had one we could use) and a hand truck, but only because my tote has wheels and a telescoping handle, so I was able to put the tote holding my sandbags and electrical equipment (weighing 65 lbs.) on top of that and roll the two together. But it’s on my list of things to get for future productions.

Production

We arrived on set at 7:00am and shooting was scheduled to start at 8:00am. We spent most of the hour organizing our staging area inside the shop’s changing room, and setting up the lighting for the interviews. I made sure to schedule the interviews first thing in the morning so we would have a quiet, empty store, and sufficient time to set up lighting and do a sound check. Having Oren, my First Assistant Camera, and Deirdre, my Production Manger there on set helped make my job so much easier. I was able to focus on composing the shot and communicating with the actors, while my team took care of setting up the gear, and ensuring we were on schedule and prepping us for the next shot. Everything on shoot day went according to plan, exactly how I pictured in my head, and the shots were exactly how David drew them up on the storyboards. We even managed to shoot some extra b-roll footage of the shop dogs and added an extra ad-libbed scene in, while eliminating some others that the cast didn’t feel comfortable with. Sometimes the ideas you plan out in your head don’t always translate well in real life when you get on set, and you have to be flexible enough to just roll with it and move on to something else. Immediately after wrapping the last shot of the day, we rushed to clean up and pack the car. After loading the last piece of gear in the car and walking back in the shop to thank Dave, I looked at the time. It was 5:32pm, and we were scheduled to finish packing up at 5:30pm. Running only two minutes late on a film set? I’d say that’s a job well done.

Post-Production

Since I had everything so well-organized and thought out before even turning on a camera, editing was almost a piece of cake. All the shots were numbered on the shot list, and we used a film slate before each scene. I renamed each clip in Final Cut Pro X to correspond to their shot number, sorted the clips by name, picked the best takes, and dropped them in the editing timeline. After selecting what I determined to be the perfect soundtrack, the video basically edited itself. Three days after shooting wrapped, I had a first draft of the video ready to submit to Dave for the first of his two revisions. After a week and a half of re-editing per Dave’s suggestions and edits, color grading, and fine-tuning the audio, the final product was submitted and ready to be published. I’ve never felt that good after finishing a project, especially because it was complete a fews days ahead of schedule.

Check out the finished video here: SMMC Promo Video

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