Makin ‘mercials. That’s what we call it. Ok no one calls it that.

Makin Commercials

Another tip- if your client has eyes that sparkle and dance like the ocean on a sunny day, you're done for.

You’re just a producer standing in front of a small business owner wanting them to hire you. They’ve got a script and a few thousand bucks. You’ve got friends who will work for free and bring their equipment along for the ride. You think, how hard can this be? I shot a 35-minute arthouse extravaganza on $50 and 3 cases of Red Bull I borrowed from the Nickelodeon set where I PA sometimes. Hold it just a second, buddy.

This isn’t really a normal commercial scenario- there is no agency involved and the budget is more on par with a short format reel/passion project vs. a normal broadcast commercial budget (which still never fails to blow my mind, coming from an indie film project world). This can work in your favor- instead of having Art Directors to please in addition to the Director and the client, you’ve pretty much just got the Director and Client. However there can be huge differences in finishing and delivering a film project vs. a commercial that is supposed to air somewhere.

My commercial experience is on the agency side, so the bulk of what I have done, involves someone else coordinating the actual shoot and us getting it through post and delivery (that’s insanely overly-simplistic and the bulk of MY work, please don’t think that’s an actual accurate description of an agency broadcast producer’s job). Here are a few basic things that all took me by surprise when I got into commercials, and that new producers should know when jumping into a commercial project vs. a film project:

  • USE- where are they airing this sucker? If it’s only posted on the internet, awesome. Usually it’s for a specific site (if not their own), or will be posted to a video hosting site like Youtube or Vimeo, and you don’t have to worry too much about rules. Even if it’s for something fancy like Hulu, they will be able to provide exact specifications for delivery. If, however, it’s going to air on network television, make sure you know in advance and request any and all delivery specs and requirements. I don’t have experience with actual media buys (chances are if they are buying network time, your budget is relatively decent), just make sure you know in advance and put it on your documentation so you can protect yourself if somewhere down the road they suddenly want to use the spot in some other manner and don’t have what they need.
  • DELIVERY- how do they want their final product? Again, if you’re budget is this small, chances are they are cool with an uncompressed quicktime. If they want the spot laid off to tape however, you need to know that in advance so you can put that in your budget- it can easily add hundreds of dollars.
  • PRODUCT- is it something highly regulated (i.e. gambling, alcohol, cigarettes, insurance, payday loans, etc.)? Just take the time to make sure you have all of the legal requirements¬†necessary before going into production (just in case there’s an issue with scripts). For instance, you’d never notice this but the Full Tilt Poker logo for commercials that air on NBC is different from the one on their commercials that air everywhere else. Why? Because NBC requires the logos for gambling to be one line of text straight across, as opposed to multiple lines like the normal logo. Seem arbitrary? Welcome to the world of commercial broadcast rules. There are a million of these things, and each network has its own set that can cost time and money, especially if you don’t know about them in advance. Even the legal copy- you’re smoking crack if you don’t think every single word is legally required, as well as the text size, length of time it’s on the screen, and sometimes even opacity. Don’t even get me started on delivering for ESPN…

These are just a few main things I would put on the bid/contract/whatever that you sign with the business to get the gig. It’s not about making it overly complicated- it’s about being aware that when someone asks you for a “commercial,” there can be a world of difference between the project you see as a 30 second super short film and what is being fast-forwarded through while America watches their latest TiVo’d episode of Friday Night Lights.


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