The ALEXA Takes to the Ice to Film the World's Best Hockey Player
Last month, NHL players laced up their skates and returned to the ice for another season of slick goals and epic hits, all in pursuit of the most prestigious trophy in sports, Lord Stanley's Cup.
In honor of the new season, our friends at Toronto-based production company Notch Video teamed up with Sidney Crosby, one of the world's best hockey players, in order to create a unique spot that would get fans pumped for the new season. Notch was also kind enough to put together some exclusive supplemental material for us that fills us in on all aspects of the production.
Before we get to how it was done, let's take a look at the commercial, which transports us into the hockey-riddled psyche of Sidney Crosby as he prepares for the season.
We asked the director of this piece, Yotam Dor, about the production process and he was gracious enough to detail it from conception to post production. Here's what he had to say.
When Sport Chek asked us to shoot a video with Sidney Crosby to celebrate the beginning of the NHL season, we knew it was going to be a fun challenge (and a personal career highlight). Our goal was for the video to feel like Sid was in his own world. In hockey videos, you always see athletes alone in arenas and you can’t help but wonder why they’re alone -- it doesn’t seem natural. So we wanted to give a reason to why he’s alone. The idea was that this is what’s happening in Sidney’s mind -- he’s so psyched up for the season that he’s hearing all of the slang terms for hockey in his mind.
When Sid is thinking of hockey, it’s the best. The best player isn’t thinking about anything other than being the best.
We collaborated with Sidney to come up with a list of hockey slang words that he liked. Then we designed everything else -- the visuals, lighting, music, sound -- around visually showcasing these terms. We initially started out with over 50 terms, but because we knew we’d have a limited amount of time with him, we could only shoot 10 terms and only focused on the ones we knew we were going to showcase in the video.
...and the Inevitable Hurdles
I knew we’d face some typical challenges: time constraints are the biggest issue since we only had a few hours with the talent. Sidney was incredibly accommodating and totally collaborative the entire time, but we could only do a few takes. Sometimes it was hard to move on because Sid and I would want to do a take again, but our first AD ensured we made our day.
It was incredibly hard to figure out what order the terms should go in. Some words were too long or had too many syllables; some words sounded too much alike; we wanted some words to line up with the visuals, but you didn’t want all of them to. Along with the post audio team we were able to come up with something that we all thought was really excellent, but it took a lot of searching and figuring out the right musical sequences.
The Uniqueness of the Space
I’ve done a few hockey spots before, so I had an idea of the potential difficulties with lighting an enormous space -- but I think every arena I’ve shot has been done with a completely different lighting set up. We wanted something really unique. When we started floating the idea of a large followspot, our biggest worry was the fact we were shooting sports: you don’t want the lighting to feel like a Broadway show, but you want it to feel special.
We wanted to bring something new and unique into the mix, so by dialing it down a bit we were able to create something we had never seen before for hockey.
Why the ALEXA?
We used the Alexa because of the dynamic range. Since we were working with a really large spotlight, it was really going to affect the latitude we were able to capture. Most cameras can only have a certain amount of latitude -- I mean, every camera is limited in some capacity – but the Alexa has a tremendous amount. We also knew we wanted to shoot it all at 120 fps so we could use speed ramps, which are such a great editorial tool for bringing excitement to a sport video. Sports are all about dealing with time, and these tools are great for speeding up or slowing down a moment.
Our editor, Shawn, was based out of Halifax. We worked with him because I knew he had cut a lot of our DP’s work before, and I liked the idea that he knew his style. I always like working with editors I’ve personally never worked with since you always get some pleasant accidents that happen along the way.
At the same time we were also working with a music team, Menalon, who were trying to find a creative way to make the spot sound like a hockey spot while not looking like one. They loved the challenge of doing something totally new and using the arena sounds -- the skates on ice, the stick slapping the puck -- as well as his words as instruments.
The color correction process was really lovely. When it’s all done it feels like you’ve been looking at this dirty window that hasn’t been cleaned in years which suddenly gets wiped clean and you’re like, "Oh, it's really is nice outside!" It’s like you’re looking at your video for the first time. Most editors or directors feel really safe in the editing room because that means the difficulties and unexpectedness of production is over. Personally, I feel really safe in the color suite because that means the craziness of the edit is over. I used to be an editor, so I know their pain.
The video did quite well -- it’s an amazing and exciting achievement to have a million views! Having it released to coincide with the start of the hockey season got a lot of eyes on it, and people reacted really positively.
We'd like to thank Yotam and the entire Notch Video team for helping us to share this with the No Film School community. If you have any questions about the production, leave them down in the comments!