Natasha Braier is an Argentinian director of photography whose work includes visually striking feature films like Honey Boy, The Neon Demon, and The Rover. However, a commercial she shot for Hennessy X.O is as eerie and atmospheric as her previous work, and she mentions she's taking her slightly creepy aesthetic from Neon Demon a step further here...which makes sense since the commercial was also directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Take a look at the Hennessy ad below:
CookeOpticsTV invited Braier to discuss the elements of this big-budget cognac commercial in a recent interview. Be warned, parts of the commercial are NSFW. Check it out below:
Braier says she used a scuba camera and got into the tank in a wetsuit to capture the shot.
She doesn't say what camera she used, but a waterproof action camera would certainly do the trick here.
How to blow up trees
Another stunning shot in the commercial is when a forest of bare trees all explode on cue. She calls this "the most challenging shot" on the commercial.
The trees were custom-built with explosives packed in their centers. For the shot, Braier had the trees backlit with 18K lights positioned as close as possible. There's also a China ball-style light set up within the trees themselves, providing a practical light source.
They shot the sequence at a high frame rate so that it could run in slow-motion.
Putting your lights in unexpected places
Braier explains one desert-like set up in the studio that involved a painted eye. She spent a long time trying to figure out how to get the perfect atmosphere for the shot, and finally she decided to cut a hole in the eye and have the light source shining through it.
She talks about the breakthrough with a laugh. The brief on this project was very open, so she was free to simply come up with crazy images and put them together in the exact style she wanted.
This lighting choice is a really good example of being willing to get creative and nontraditional just to see what you end up with. If you have free license on your shoot, go nuts. You might think of something simple but unique, like this.
Working in both commercials and film
Braier says she loves working in commercials and film because it allows her to be picky about the projects she works on. She can make an excellent living shooting commercials, and then she has the freedom to choose one film per year if she finds something that matches her arthouse style.
She also works with the same crew on every project.
"I take my crew to all the commercials, and they all make a lot of money," she says. "Then when I have a tiny budget arthouse movie that I really want to do, I have a top-notch crew that's going to come with me and do that, because they know they're going to get their money back later."
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