View Full Version : watching Commercials

Jim Brennan
05-06-2005, 01:21 PM
I've been toying with the idea of shooting some commercials for a couple of friends. I figure they get a spot, and I get experience. But surprise, surprise, it ain't as easy as it looks. I have good ideas, but I have a hard time figuring out how to shoot them. I am too used to being able to get a point across over a longer period of time. I have tried to read up on it, but the books I've found aren't much help. I figured the best thing to do (aside from finding a mentor) is to watch a lot of commercials. Are there any DVDs of commercials to be found? I want to be able to analyze them closely. I do try and pay attention to the ones that pop on TV, but too often it's the same ones over and over, ot they have a production value or subject matter that I'm not quite ready for. ANy help would be appreciated.

05-06-2005, 03:01 PM
hi , i read somewhere that most directors are either strong in freatures or commercials, usually not both. the film that comes to my mind most strongly is 'top gun', apparently the director usually did commercials then did tg, try watching it and you'll get tired quick, its like an 80+ minute commercial, whew! why not try using the strengths you already have and make a film-like commercial?

Jim Brennan
05-06-2005, 03:16 PM
I may do just that. Thanks.

Michael Bay is the rare example who has been able to do both succesfully.

05-06-2005, 03:41 PM
Ridley Scott and Tony Scott came from commercial backgrounds. Ridley directed over 2000 of them. "Black Hawk Down", "Gladiator" and of course the latest "Kingdom of Heaven" are some of his features.
When we do commercials, we try to brand the product, create interesting scenarios and in some cases misdirect the consumer. For a 30 second spot you have about 6 seconds to "grab" the consumer. After that...they're gone

05-06-2005, 03:53 PM
Some guys come from music videos into features.
Think: Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, et al.

Jim Brennan
05-06-2005, 07:54 PM
I didn't know that about the Scott boys...

05-07-2005, 07:05 AM
vjbrennan, I'm impressed about the fact of where you are stumped, it means to me that you have given this idea some thought and trial.
I have been producing commercials since 1987, infact my advertising agency has been based on audio and video products since that time.
The first thing you need to know is "shooting" is way down the line (in time) of producing a tv spot.
Also the purposes of a movie and tv spot are different.
The goal of a movie is art and possible revenue. The goal of a tv spot is to drive business into your client's door and create immediate revenue for you.

Here are some things to help:
1. In about 95% of all spots, it's audio driven. That means you should write the audio first making sure that you include all of the things the client needs to tell his potential customer.
Why audio first? It's easier for the viewer to comprehend the message from audio than if the video drove the meassage. (National branding or Manufacturers spots not included)
Also, in post adding the video to a completed voice-over is easy compared to attempting to add voice to a completed "video only" timeline. Try it, you'll only do it once.

2. When you write the script, outline the points that must be included. I can't stress how important an outline is. If you just start writing you will soon find yourself in a corner at 45 seconds without including any of the important things like address, phone numbers etc.

3. Start with a headline. If you don't get the attention of the viewer who's had just watched 3 spots before your's and has "tuned out", they won't pay attention to your's either. A headline can ask a question like "Would you like this for free?"
If you weren't paying attention, your curiosity should make you at least look up.
You can also make a provactive statement, make a command, show a benefit or make it newsworthy.


Avoid the temptation to make it humorous unless your are a comedy writer. History has proven that many of the spots that have won CLIO'S didn't do much to sell the clients product.

Finally you can now consider shooting. With the audio completed you can begin to add the video shots to compliment the audio.

Oh one other thing, you can start making money from your first tv spot and every one after that. I appreciate starving artists, but I like to eat and buy new equipment.
Good Luck

Jim Brennan
05-09-2005, 07:07 PM
Avoid the temptation to make it humorous unless your are a comedy writer. History has proven that many of the spots that have won CLIO'S didn't do much to sell the clients product.

Oh one other thing, you can start making money from your first tv spot and every one after that. I appreciate starving artists, but I like to eat and buy new equipment.
Good Luck

I appreciated your whole post, but these 2 items really struck me. Generally, I am all about "whatever works", "look for the fruit on the tree" and "Function over form" I always wondered how the same stupid commercials can be on over and over. I guess the answer is "they work". I started out as a writer, and I want it all to be funny, or poignant, or moving in some way. But the client just wants customers. I think a lot of people new to commercials (like myself) look to national branding and image branding for cues when they are doing a local spot. NOt only is it too much to reach for in production value (probably), it might not even be the best tool in the shed for the job. I'll definitely keep that in mind.

I too like to eat and buy new gear. Better still if I can make $ behind the camera and use it to buy new gear that I can use on more personal endeavors. That's my goal right now. If I can pull down 10-15 K a year doing local spots or some other industrial work, doing it part time, I'd be thrilled. I'd be able to buy gear, write it off as an expense against the income, meet some people that I might work with in the future and gain a ton of experience.


05-09-2005, 08:08 PM
If you'd like to see what some of us have done in the Group 101 Spots program look here:
my spots from 2004 are here: (Mercedes, ACLU & Wilson Golf)

This program requires you to produce one :30 spot every month for 6 months. You then take them to different ad agencies and Prod. companys to get feedback. At the end you usally get three good spots for your reel and a good amount of exposure.
You do have to apply to get in and there's a $1000 entry fee.
It's well woth it if your serious.

Jim Brennan
05-09-2005, 08:27 PM
I thought the Wilson was funny, but I really dug the cinematography in the ACLU one. Especially the reflection of the flag in the guys eye.


05-10-2005, 12:28 AM
Thanks, I shot that one as well. I've only directed two broadcast commercials but it's a slow process. You havve to sell your ass off, and you gotta keep shooting!

05-10-2005, 05:21 AM
It's unfortunate (for some) that local and regional tv spots are not sexy, but they are in fact a tool, a marketing tool that must perform a task. . . . Get customers or sell product. The point that many people miss is that to do that successfully you must be pretty creative. But in a much different way. It's a powerful feeling when you can make your client successful because of your efforts.
As you pointed out about national branding and image spots, they have a much different goal. Because they are making viewers aware of a product or service that they can get the next time they go to a store anywhere they do not need the utility parts of a local or regional spot . . .the address, specific location or local phone number. It does give you more leeway to be more creative for arts sake. You simply have more time to do it.
As you might have guessed by now, even though I have been doing this for a long time I still enjoy doin it.

Jim Brennan
05-10-2005, 08:20 AM
That's good to hear. I'm getting a bit of a late start (I'm 39), but I love the creative aspect of this stuff. While I would love to make films for a living, I see how intriguing it would be to have a career behind the camera in other venues.

Any recommended resources to look into this further?

05-12-2005, 06:04 AM
Resources umm. In my opinion the best way to get started is to study the principles of advertising. These principles apply to all forms, Magazine, Newspaper, Radio, tv, etc.

The easiest formual is what's called A I D A with C.

A= Getting attention i.e. the headline discusion we had earlier.

I= Make it interesting so that the viewer will watch because its interesting to them.

D= Create a Desire for the product or service by showing the benefits and "what's in it for me" That's what all of us consumers like about buying something.

A=A call to action. Call now, Come in, etc.

C= The final point is credibility. The spot must be credible in all aspects of what you have done from the above 4 points. If the spot is not credible then the consumer won't trust the info you've presented to spend their money or get off there butt's to go anywhere.

As far as studing other people's work, there are 2 pitfalls.

1. What if the work is terrible and you don't have enough experience to know it yet?

2. A successful tv spot is custom created for that client. Including the things that are important to his customer and his business. When you view a spot without knowing any of this you could make a judgement that "it's lame" but in fact it works very well for what's its intended for.

Oh boy, here I go giving more information then you probably want. Anyhow, get advertisng and marketing info and begin to study the needs of the advertisng and then begin to apply the the principles, from above, in very creative ways. It's a start anyhow.

Jim Brennan
05-12-2005, 08:09 AM
Actually, that stuff is great. Thanks :)