Director/Partner • East Pleasant, New York City • www.eastpleasant.com
By Christine Bunish
Markee: You began your career doing production for MTV Networks and got into commercials through the production department at JWT where you ended up directing. Then you made the move to East Pleasant, which is known for its reality-based advertising work.
Xander: “I joined East Pleasant from JWT and immediately started working on some programming for Madison Square Garden Network (MSG), including Emmy Award-winning NYC Soundtracks, a documentary-style show about subway musicians. Then I started to apply the TV aspects of production to the commercial work we were doing at East Pleasant, and it worked right off the bat.”
Markee: What are some of the tricks to working with real people in spots?
Xander: “You have to treat people well and make them feel comfortable on set; if you do that you create the best situation for people to perform.
“The process of shooting digital also benefits real people. Digital is not as precious as film, so you can roll more takes and make sure people are really comfortable in front of the camera. We’re pretty camera agnostic right now and try to use the right tool for the job. In the last year, we’ve used Sony F3 and F1 cameras, Panasonic AF100, Canon 5D, RED, 16mm cameras and GoPros for POV shots and as a throwaway camera.”
Markee: Tell us about your second campaign from JWT for Royal Caribbean, “The Sea is Calling. Answer it Royally,” which had its broadcast debut during the Super Bowl.
Xander: “We did a test for it last June, and JWT got a really nice reaction to it so we turned it into a full campaign. The concept features an actual Shellphone. People on the street answer a ringing conch shell and talk to the ‘Voice of the Sea,’ who asks them when they’re going to visit her again.
“We shot in New York City; Austin, Texas; Portland, Maine; and Chicago with real people. We did some street casting before we got into town, going to cafes and shopping areas to find people who could talk for a minute, who could emote and give them a time and place to come for the shoot. But they were given no prior direction; they didn’t know what was going to happen. The more preparation you give people the less genuine they will be. We left traffic open so people could walk through the shots, and the cameras were set pretty far off so it wasn’t a tense environment. People hardly noticed the camera pointing at the shell.”
Markee: What kind of technology was involved with the Shellphone?
Xander: “We had a transmitter and receiver, a speaker and a ringer. We created this weird little phone out of plastic shaped like a shell – we couldn’t use a real shell because we discovered that it affects radio frequencies!
“The actor performing the Voice of the Sea was in a motor home off set with a monitor so she could see the people she was talking to. We couldn’t pre-record this. It was important for her to take on the personality of the sea and get a great response from people.”
Markee: What cameras did you choose?
Xander: “We shot with three RED EPICs to allow us the opportunity to shoot HDRx, so we knew we could bring out details in highlights and shadows in post. We also knew we could roll as long as we had enough mags, so we could capture the right moment, line, smile, look – we’d be rolling for all that. On location we had DITs downloading and duplicating footage. It was a big job: Everything had to be redundant and there’s so much data pushing through. Then the drives went back to New York where our postproduction company did all the transcoding.”
Markee: East Pleasant has sister companies Pleasant Post and EP*Vision for motion graphics and design. How important are those companies for a continuity of vision on a spot like “The Sea is Calling?”
Xander: “Agencies love having Pleasant Post here. What’s better than for production to move seamlessly to postproduction? There are cost benefits, too, and I feel more responsible through to the finishing. I know I’ll be working with someone I trust, in this case editor Will Znidaric.
“About 75 percent of East Pleasant’s work stays with Pleasant Post. We keep the companies separate, but a lot of agencies love the idea of one-stop shopping. And it’s always fun for us to keep a job in the ecosystem.”