A few years ago, NBC took a big risk with their live broadcast of the musical, Sound of Music, featuring Carrie Underwood. The gamble paid off with record numbers that justified a follow-up broadcast of Peter Pan and most recently, The Wiz, featuring Queen Latifah, David Allan Grier and Shanice Williams. For the most recent musical, Reddi-Wip came on board as the only presenting sponsor for the broadcast event. One of the branded spots NBC’s Creative Partnerships set out to produce was a documentary-style piece focused on a public school benefit concert aimed at raising money for the arts. The concert, made up of 30 students from around the Washington, DC area, featured music from The Wiz.
This was not my first job with the NBC Creative Partnerships team. Over the past two years, I’ve directed branded spots for The Voice & Sprint as well as Parenthood & Lowes; however, it was my first time working with Creative Director, Joseph Kanellitsas. After a couple initial meetings & calls, we easily agreed on the look and began zeroing in on the approach for the piece. The biggest challenges were 1) documenting the preparation and performance of an event as it was happening, and 2) incorporating the product in a way that felt authentic and did not trump the true heroes of the spot, the kids and the staff that helped provide this opportunity.
Weeks before we were scheduled to document the event, Project Manager, Mallory Norton and I had a call with Sherion & Shawn Cosby, a mother-daughter team who worked with hundreds of children at multiple schools in the area, providing the extracurricular opportunity to learn musical theater. The call put any concerns I had at rest. Their energy & passion let me know they would be great on-camera, serving as the thread of the piece.
From there, Moving Parts, Inc. Producer, Warren Farnes, began putting together the pieces to make for a smooth shoot. As is often the case with travel jobs, we hire mostly local crew; however, I was able to bring Director of Photography, Byron Shah (with whom I’d shot previous jobs for Esquire Network as well as NBC Sports’ behind-the-scenes for the NFL Sunday Night Football open with Carrie Underwood. What I love about Bryon’s approach is his ability to be a minimalist when necessary. We had a lot to shoot in one day and in multiple spaces throughout the school, so it was necessary to limit how much we were lighting the space. Byron and I both tend to use that limitation as a challenge and seek out the most cinematic ways of capturing a given moment.
There were, of course, instances where extensive lighting was absolutely crucial, and we focused our crew hours on those scenes. The biggest example was the stage performance. There weren’t enough lights on the stage to expose all the kids, so our plan was to have G&E spend the morning setting up a lighting grid above the drop ceiling and light the stage evenly with KinoFlos. While they were doing that, we spent our time capturing natural light scenarios throughout the rest of the school.
I had a great AD on the shoot with whom I shared a list of what was absolutely necessary for us to capture.Not just moments, but specific shots I wanted. But capturing a day as it happens also means you’ve got to be willing to adapt. He was able to keep me on schedule, roll with the punches and give me the freedom to change the game plan on the fly when necessary. I really value having a strong AD on set. There are times I have to do it for myself, so I feel like I have a solid understanding of what he/she is trying to accomplish in helping me make my day. However, releasing that responsibility to an AD allows me the opportunity to focus on the creative and be more present in the moment.
The shoot went incredibly well. The kids were absolutely delightful to work with, and the crew moved so efficiently that I walked away knowing we had the makings of a great spot. I was fortunate to be asked to cut this spot as well, which is very helpful in a shoot like this… I knew exactly where all the moments were because I was there.
I’m very proud of how the spot turned out.
The Huffington Post wrote:
The primary advertisers for “The Wiz,” Reddi-wip, is using the format to its advantage by featuring students from the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Hyattsville, Maryland, a public school for girls, taking a crack at a tune from “The Wiz” that appears in a segment that precedes their spot. The tie-in is flawless, the press has taken notice, and this live musical formal could ultimately become a “Super Bowl” of sorts for the client. Future sponsors could use this to their advantage.
As always, this is the result of the contribution of many. I’m grateful to work with a solid team that provides the resources necessary to tell the story as I see it.