In mid-October, I got a call from McG to see if I was available to do a Mountain Dew commercial that was tied into the MW3 game. After viewing the boards and scripts, I was excited to collaborate with McG again. The whole spot centered around the First Person shooter style of MW3. I knew that this was a perfect job for the Canon 5D and the Doggicam Helmet cam that I used on “The Last 3 Minutes.” These two tools, along with amazing CGI layover, would bring this story to life.
McG selected a Mini Mart location that the SEAL team would raid in North Hollywood. It was a total mom and pop style place, slightly unkempt, but cool. The concept of the commercial was as follows. A SEAL team raids a Mini Mart of all of its Mountain Dew game fuel to hopefully earn points from the bottle caps. They hit this beautifully in the stack with their target acquired. One SEAL takes it upon himself to enjoy a Mountain Dew right then and there. We see him reach into the cooler, pull it out, see the bottle top and then slam it down. When he brings the bottle down, we transition from Canon 5D to film. We quickly realize that the SEALs are really just four gamers out on a 2 am refuel. It was all a gamer’s dream.
During McG’s discussions with the Agency we all agreed it would be best for the footage to feel game-like. We went to an EFX house to pull this off. They had done overlay tests on some existing footage and everyone really loved the look and feel. When we told them we were going with the 5D, they had no issue with this. The request was to keep the lighting flat and they would interject the contrast through their overlay process. I knew I also needed a large f-stop. In MW3, everything is in focus, huge DOP. I would have to light the Mini Mart to at least an 8-11 split. This would require a huge amount of light added to the store interior. I called on my Elite Team member, John Guerra, and his incredible team that did Act of Valor with me to pull this off.
There were a total of 18 4’ 4 bank house fixtures in the ceiling. I could not rig Kinos in there because we were shooting with a 21mm Leica and I was seeing everything. John would have to increase the level of each fixture by adding and hiding 4-bare T8 Kino tubes to every unit. This would require a pre-light, which I knew production had not planned on. These are the sticky situations you get in as a Director of Photography. The concept seems so simple, but when you peel the top layer off, there is a pit about 120’ deep. Most of this was driven by the concept as well as visual EFX’s wanting a flat look, a large Depth of Field and a very clean image. So, we shot at 160 ISO to lower the noise and help the VFX’s layer.
For the night exterior work, I employed a 14K Balloon light that had 4-1200 HMI pars in it and 8K worth of tungsten. Mixing the color temps is a personal preference and you need to decide what works for you in the moment. I flew the balloon overhead and flagged it off the front of the Mini Mart. Then I took 2-18k’s with full and a half Rosco CTS to mimic the High Pressure Sodium parking lot lights and side lit the SEALs as they approached the Mini Mart. I wanted to place these units fairly far away so that if I panned over and caught them, they would look like street lamps. An 80’ Condor was required to elevate the lights to shoot over a car wash down the street. Placing this light source was very important because McG had described exactly what he wanted to me. When the first person POV was moving in towards the Mini Mart, he wanted the SEAL’s POV to look up into the sky and catch another chopper that was flying overhead. When executed, I wanted to catch a flare, so that it felt real and in the environment. So, I crept over the 2 -18k’s in the Condor that was shooting over the Car Wash until I got a beautiful Leica flare in the right side of the frame. I quickly balanced the outside to about a 5.6 and inside was about an 11. I chose to use Technicolor’s CineStyle to pull this off. The VFX house wanted the image flat to begin with, but the main reason was the hot fluorescents that were in the Mini Mart’s interior. When I went to my Leica picture Style, they were burning up, too hot. So CineStyle gave me that extra overexposure latitude to make it work.
Now that we were lit, it was time to rehearse with the SEALs to get the timing right. This all had to happen in one shot, in 22 seconds. We kept on creeping closer to the entrance of the Mini Mart to cut time, finally we got it in the right pocket for McG and the Agency.
The First Person Shooter perspective could only be done on a helmet cam, and the one I chose was Doggicam. It puts the camera so close to the right eye, it feels like you are looking through their eyes. We tried several rehearsals using the real guys and then McG turned to me and told me I had to take one for the team. I would wear the 14.5 lb. helmet cam for eight hours straight, never taking it off. This is kind of dedication that we all have as filmmakers. We rocked this out about 25 times and then the words, “moving on” were shouted.
Now, it was time for a hook up. I did it all in one shot until we got to the cooler door. On the wipe of the door with a little helmet cam noise injected, we seamlessly employed a hook up cut, so that it continues to feel like one shot. I have to open the cooler, take the cap off, look at it to see the code inside and then slam the drink up high aiming down my throat. Yeah right!!!! I dumped so many of those bottles of Mountain Dew down my shirt, my arm, my back, you name it. That high caffeinated, sugary drink stuck to me like super glue. We tried to minimize the impact by draping me in a blue plastic bag, and we had some success. Once we did that, my Helmet Cam days were over and we slid in the Panavision Platinum camera to capture our Gamer coming out of his MW3 dream on 35mm motion picture film. This gave us a beautifully lit store, which felt real and not generated like the MW3 overlays and the First Person had.
Looking back at the day into night shoot, I have to say that there was no other capture device that could have done this with as much grace and ease as the Canon 5D MK II. It was the right storytelling tool. Period. Here is the spot: