28th Jan 2013Posted in: Blog 2
Ahhhh, Working with Babies

As a director, there are a couple of adages that tend to have more than an ounce of truth.  One “Never work on water”  (remember Kevin Costner’s near career suicide with “Waterworld”?) and “Never work with babies”.  That second one we put to the test…and lived to tell the tale.

We survived, but it involved very bad singing and bruised fruit.

The project:  Direct a spot for United Way of Central Indiana on their initiative to make sure kids get quality day care service.  We got the call from our friends at WFYI, and United Way agency, Hirons, would drive the campaign creative.  Their spot script, written by the talented Tom Aschauer, was all about a kid.  A lovely, unpredictable 10 month old, BABY.  I know Tom laughed with evil glee as he typed it.

You see, kids that young can’t be coached.  Can’t be cajoled.  Can’t be tricked.  They know Mommy, Daddy and food are good.  Production crews with black cameras, bright lights and in need of shave, probably bad. So, they get uncomfortable.  The kids cry.  The director frowns and mutters, “Never work with babies”.

We tried our best to prepare. We used two cameras so we could shoot as fast as possible before a baby got cranky.  As you can see from this photo, we didn’t set our lights or focal length on the real talent as you might normally.  No, we gaffe taped a mock short person.

An indelicately taped Elmo helps us set our focus.

Then we selected, from our four potential babies on camera, the one who was the happiest, practically giddy, one on that morning.  Happy babies are GOOD for cameras.  But you have to keep them happy…

As soon as we put our baby in the crib for the master shot we needed,  She realized she wan’t in Kansas anymore and the waterworks began.  She was a sweetie, and we felt badly for her, but we were getting no shots.  We tried getting her Mom to come in an soothe her, but as soon as she was back in the crib, so came the tears.  Finally, a woman from the ad agency started singing happy birthday.  The baby stopped and looked.  Happy Birthday is a short song.  When it ended…crying.  More of us sang the song a second time.  The baby was rapt.  Babies are cute when they are rapt.  We were getting shots!  So we sang, and sang….AND SANG.  Everyone on set–crew, agency, parents, and yes, director– was singing.  And while it was horribly off key, it was working.  Cue the video.

We had to do one camera/light re-set to get what we needed, a reveal of a television.  After the re-set, Happy Birthday no longer held the same charm to our little baby.  And we couldn’t just start over with another baby.  We needed consistency.  This was where we needed to pull out all stops short of the gaffe tape.  We only needed about 2 solid minutes of reasonable baby to finish.  So, we went to a prop.  We went with the most interesting of the fruits (and the snack of choice for our lighting director Chris Elberfeld), the banana.  Cue the video.

Humiliating for all, but it worked!   We got the shot…and now, we have the spot.   Watch for it…and if you must work with babies…bring fruit.

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