The new 30-second spot for Big Fish features a lot of footage from the show. Filming it was much more complicated than I would have guessed, so I thought a rundown of the process would be interesting for both film and theater folk.
Because I know my way around cameras and film sets, one might assume I had my hands all over this commercial. I didn’t. I was strictly an observer.
The production team, led by David Kane, shot footage for the spot from 1pm to 4pm on Friday, September 13th, in lieu of normal rehearsal. (We had a show that night at 8pm.)
Actors wore their normal costumes, but no microphones — we didn’t want to see those little dots on foreheads, or microphone packs. The editors would be using separately-recorded audio anyway, and cutting is so quick that lip-sync isn’t a high priority.
Theater always plays in a wide shot. Video needs closeups, which means you have to rethink some things.
First, theatrical makeup is more extreme than movie makeup. Everything needed to be notched back.
Second, close-ups often require different lighting. Fortunately, modern theatrical lighting is amazing. On demand, the lighting team could bring up or dial down lights on any section of the stage. Between that and color correction, the team was able to create something that felt better than most Broadway production footage you see.
Broadway theaters are not camera-friendly. The stage is too high and too far away, plus all those rows of seats get in the way. So a huge help was the jib arm, the giant swooping apparatus the team constructed on a platform in the middle of the auditorium. With it, you can sell the feeling of meeting Karl the Giant (at :04) and keep the camera moving during ensemble dance numbers. (You can see a lot more of it in the longer video that plays out front of the Neil Simon Theatre.)
In the end, shooting a commercial for a Broadway show feels like a weird hybrid of theater and film. You’re trying to capture and edit something that by its very nature wants to be live and raw. But you also want audiences to come see your show, and commercials are a key way to do that.