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United and WeFilm shoot 4K HDR commercial with unsuspecting festival visitors

Bringing order to an uncontrolled situation.

Shooting a 4K HDR commercial featuring unsuspecting visitors to a music festival. That’s what WeFilm and United did in Sulingen, Germany. The result is a remarkable production with an anonymous cast. It attracted over a million views within a day of its release.

The set-up is a minibus parked on a festival site in which visitors are being invited to take a hearing test. Given the sheer volume of the rock music going on outside, this is ridiculous enough in itself. But WeFilm and United went a step further in their production for German health insurer Barmer. In a sort of cinematographic live action prank, we see unwary festivalgoers lining up to have their hearing tested in the specially equipped bus. At least, that’s what they think.

The commercial, devised by GREY Düsseldorf and produced by Rabbicorn Films, features a rather scary-looking woman about to administer the hearing tests. She nods and says a few words, inaudible due to the rising background noise. Suddenly she rips open her white coat. The walls collapse and loud music reverberates through the air, courtesy of the live death metal band outside. Hearing test lady suddenly starts gyrating and singing raucously, much to the surprise of the unsuspecting patients.

READ MORE BACKSTAGE.

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United and WeFilm shoot 4K HDR commercial with unsuspecting festival visitors

Uncontrolled situation

The sheer astonishment on the rock fans’ faces provides a very strong visual image. The response is ‘priceless’, but as director Roel Welling says, “You have to be lucky enough to have the camera on someone who is going to react like that. You could find someone who just shrugs his shoulders and walks off. It’s actually an entirely uncontrolled situation.”

This is why everything was planned as carefully as possible, leaving as little as possible to chance. “I get nervous if I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen,” Welling continues. “As director, you want to be on top of everything to achieve the best possible end result. But in this case, I didn’t have the first idea how things would turn out. That may be a wonderful adventure for some but it’s very nerve-wracking!”

“The only thing not left to chance was the technical equipment. Once you’ve got the set-up exactly as you want it – cameras, lighting, audio – you know you’re making progress. And if the first few ‘victims’ don’t respond as you’d hoped, you can always try to interest some more people in a hearing test.”

To ensure that absolutely nothing could go wrong on the technical side, Welling called on the services of United. “Most jobs involve a mixed crew from various companies, but for a technically complex project like this I had to be sure that the video and audio feeds were in place and working first time. I didn’t want to be sitting in the van looking at blank screens. United are always the best people for this type of shoot.”


New technology allows greater creativity
WeFilm and United devised the technical concept together. To achieve the necessary ‘cachet’ (“we always want to lead the way in technology,” states Welling), they decided to film in 4K HDR. “That level of resolution gives you more highlights,” explains Welling, who had previously attended United’s 4K HDR expert workshop. “It gives you a much more lifelike picture. Our results prove that new technology allows greater creativity.”

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which means that more details can be seen even in the lighter and darker areas of the image. A similar technology has been used in still photography for some time, but has yet to find widespread usage in the film or advertising industry. When combined with 4K ultra-high definition, HDR creates a striking visual experience.

4K HDR productions are relatively new, explains Thijs van de Kamp, who acted as consultant during the Barmer shoot. “When you see an HDR image next to a standard image, it’s as if you’ve been looking at everything through dark glasses all these years. There’s a much greater dynamic.”



In the Barmer spot, this is particularly noticeable in the close-ups. Eyes are more vibrant, facial expressions more telling. The singer looks more aggressive, the rock band more wild and colourful, and the innocent members of the public more astonished. “We express dynamic range in terms of ‘f-stops’,” explains Van de Kamp. “With HDR we are actually seeing ten f-stops rather than the usual six. That is obviously a huge difference.”

This was not the first collaboration between United and WeFilm. The two firms worked together on a series of full-length commercials for McDonald’s which involved cutting between over ten cameras filming live at various locations. The complexity of the project demanded highly efficient organization.”

“Our key role is to make sure the technology is in the right place and working as it should. The director can then focus on the content,” says Van de Kamp, who was one of fourteen United staff at the rock festival location. “It can be challenging to get everything just right but it’s extremely gratifying when you do.”

“It certainly helps when everything has been organized properly,” adds Roel Welling. “I was able to give the lead actress instructions through an earpiece, for example, to make things as humorous as possible. Technically, everything worked to perfection which is exactly what you want on a set.”

The shoot used a total of twelve cameras, from high-end professional equipment such as the Sony F55 and several remote-control Panasonic models to small GoPro action cams. All had to be hidden from view so that the hearing test ‘patients’ would not suspect anything. False walls with one-way mirrors were constructed in advance and installed on location.

The camera positions and angles were devised by Welling and Director of Photography Daan Nieuwenhuijs. Frank Houtenbos, United’s senior engineer, was responsible for the set-up and made sure that everything was fully operational. “A shoot like this has to run like clockwork,” says Welling. “It’s mostly a question of preparation. Do as much as possible beforehand and you can breeze through the shoot itself without too much thought.”

And that is clearly how the Barmer shoot worked out. The spontaneous reactions of the festivalgoers say it all. They go crazy!

 

Text: Ger de Gram

Want to get in contact?

Do you have a question or do you want information?
Get in contact with:

Merijn Visser
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