The shoot brief is a document that addresses everything pertaining to your production, from concept and technical specifications to casting and what to actually shoot. It provides clarification to communicate your vision, goals, and objectives. In other words, it can be the essential tool that drives your ideas to its final outcome.
Recently, I helped create a brief for a travel shoot by Pond5 artist Floris Productions. Knowing that the company was based in Sardinia, I knew they would have access to beaches, cafes, talent, and all of the other ingredients needed to pull off a stellar shoot. My initial conversation with Floris founder Francesco Bittichesu confirmed that hunch. And since the content would be owned by Floris and licensed exclusively through Pond5, it would be easier to negotiate rates below the standard production fees. Before I could begin to discuss a discount, however, I would have to create the shoot brief and weigh it against Francesco’s budget.
Developing the Concept
I came up with a travel-themed idea that I borrowed from classics like The Talented Mister Ripley and Purple Noon. I improvised the Sardinian location with images from both of those films and added scenes that I conjured up from Patricia Highsmith’s original novel. I pulled and scanned images for the mood board that would support the concept and inspire the artist and the overall mood of the shoot.
Before you choose the appropriate camera for your shoot, you need to ask yourself a few questions: Will there be slow motion? How slow? Weight? How heavy will the camera be if your intention is to do quite a bit of handheld work? We knew that we wanted to shoot everything at a minimum of 60 fps, with the majority of the setups being handheld.
We also chose to use natural light, the use of practicals and a bounce if needed, which cuts down the budget significantly. Francesco was able to secure the only RED ONE operator and owner in Sardinia, who also owned an Easyrig. My favorite lens is the 14mm — it’s a lens that’s almost mandatory for handheld work, capturing a dynamic wide image that’s hard to surpass. If you’ve seen The Revenant, you’ll understand.
Francesco shoots frequently on the island and has become quite familiar with the talent its capital, Cagliari, has to offer. A “real” couple that Francesco has casted more than a few times for photoshoots was ideal for the romance we were attempting to portray. The couple was extremely photogenic and, more importantly, very comfortable in front of the camera. The direction would be “on camera” without rehearsal or blocking, which lends itself to a spontaneity between the characters and a more natural interaction.
Since we shot everything MOS, directing talent while the camera is rolling, plus the luxury of shooting digital, allowed us to capture more content on the day and pick up the real moments that would be nearly impossible to recreate. Switch to a longer lens, lock down, and keep your distance and the camera rolling. I recommend that you also capture the talent when they’re unaware that you’re filming to seize those precious moments and reach the highest threshold of believability.
The Shot List
If you’re shooting with the intent of licensing your footage, construct as many shots as you can when creating the brief, then whittle down your selection based on what’s doable in a day and the situations that target the most potential for revenue. You’ll often repeat themes that have been successful for you in the past and subtract the ones that haven’t resonated with buyers as much. Research other clips and images within the Pond5 collection and examine the popular themes and categories — themes that pertain to lifestyles, business, education, healthcare, and sports are usually the most popular. Think about ways of translating the images within these categories uniquely. Do your homework, but more importantly, choose a topic that you’re passionate about portraying.
Francesco has had relationships with the owners of commercial businesses and locations on the island for years. We were able to secure a luxury apartment overlooking the bay, a café, and a yacht for a few hundred dollars a piece. Organize your shot list according to the locations you’ve selected. It’s also very common to secure a location by offering the finished media to the proprietor in exchange for a fee. It’s wise to negotiate with a friend or an acquaintance who may have a location you require. It’s possible that you can “lock it” for a minimal fee or favor.
We kept our locations within a three-mile radius so that we didn’t lose time traveling from one destination to another. Since we had decided to shoot under natural light, that would determine which location we would choose to be our first for set-up, and which would be our last. We decided to shoot in continuity and planned the day accordingly, shooting the waking up and coffee scenes at the apartment in the morning light and ending the day on the yacht during golden hour.
Before you begin to think of renting or purchasing props, remember that chances are you already own most of the props needed for your setups. In addition, it’s important to know what your talent has access to. Not only did our Sardinian couple contribute to the natural mood and setting, but they also supplied the production with their Vespa. If you ask nicely, you’ll find that your talent will be more than happy to accommodate your needs.
Check out some of the finished footage from this shoot in the Instagram reel below, then click through to view the rest in the full Floris Productions collection!