Tips to Shooting 30-second Commercial
Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Directing TV commercials involves more than just shooting a 30-second movie: there are some critically important issues that normally do not arise in feature films.
You must plan the fully edited 30-second sequence on paper, with accurate shot-by-shot timings – Absolutely vital!
If you ever have to shoot a 30-second project, the first thing that will strike you is just how tight the 30-second duration is.
Those 30 seconds go incredibly quickly, and you must therefore plan not just each shot, but also the precise duration of each shot in the cut sequence, which is almost never necessary in films.
You see, when editing a movie you have plenty of leave away when it comes to a shot’s duration in a cut sequence. For example, if you want to hold a shot for an extra couple of seconds for whatever reason, it is never a problem. Only musical issues can sometimes force you to cut a scene to split-second accuracy in a film.
30-second commercials are a whole different ball game.
The newbie director will be horrified to see that the brilliant tracking shot that took 34 takes to get right ends up occupying 6 seconds on the editing timeline, leaving no room to fit the other shots into the 30-second sequence. If a line was delivered in 5 seconds and there is no room for all of it, obviously you cannot just chop the last 2 seconds off. What you can do is direct the actor to deliver the line in 3 seconds, but you can only do this if you know in advance that this line must be delivered in 3 seconds.
The solution to this problem is that you must plan in advance how much screen time each shot will occupy in the finished sequence, including of course the product shot and logo.
Some thoughts on hiring crew members for TV commercial shoots.
Shooting TV commercials is like shooting a movie, but with two important exceptions:
1) The timing issues discussed above
2) The speed and pressure of shooting.
Seasoned TV commercial crew members are typically faster than movie crews, simply because the pace of TV commercial shoots is faster. A very experienced TV commercial producer once warned that a movie Production Designer would not be as fast during a shoot as a Production Designer. The same applies to Cinematographers, First Assistant Directors and everyone else: they need to deliver outstanding quality at a fast pace.
1. Produce your shot list as normal, then plan the finished sequence and decide how long each shot must last on the timeline, right down to the split second.
2. Bring the paper edit with you and refer to it constantly while you shoot.
3. Use a stopwatch to assess the effective duration of each shot and direct as necessary.
4. Hire crew members who are used to working on TV commercials – it is an even faster and more-high-pressure business than movies. You need specialists, especially when it comes to the Cinematographer, 1st AD and Production Designer.
As you can see, successfully directing and editing a 30-second project takes some serious pre-visualization and planning. In some ways it is the most sublime form of filmmaking, and it is not surprising that some of the most successful film directors started with TV commercials (examples include David Fincher, Michael Bay and Ridley Scott).