Frames Per Second: Rhea Anna’s Road Trip for Mazda

May 22, 2012

By Holly Stuart Hughes

© Rhea Anna

Rhea Anna used a suction-cup rig to hold the camera upside down in the car while recording video of the road ahead.

To highlight the gas mileage of the Mazda3, Mazda’s agency, Redwood in London, hired production company Novus Select to produce and edit a video of the car in action for the car company’s Zoom-Zoom magazine. While Novus Select’s José Azel acted as executive producer and staffer Jason Bosch oversaw the editing, the company hired Rhea Anna, a Buffalo-based advertising photographer, to record video and audio during a one-day road trip. The trip would test whether the Mazda3 could go from Toronto to Quebec City and then to Montreal, a distance of roughly 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles), on one tank of gas.

In a conference call last November, Anna recalls, a Mazda executive and Redwood creatives, including art director Jenni Doggett, explained how they wanted the video to look. “The objective was to make the car look cool and fun. They wanted us to create a sense of drama and suspense: Were we going to make it, or would it run out of gas?” Andrew Bardwell, an engineer and writer with a clear understanding of the car’s technology, would drive the car while Anna rode along, recording Bardwell’s commentary and scenes along the way.

“There wasn’t a tight script,” Anna notes. The storyboard included a dozen shots the client felt the story needed, including the fuel gauge, a gas nozzle filling the tank, traffic, and wide shots of the car on a scenic route and on an urban street. Anna had two days to gather and pack all her gear and get to Toronto before she and Bardwell hit the highway at 6 a.m. to beat rush-hour traffic, leaving her no time to research the route or map the scenery she would see. The shoot ended around 2 a.m. “That’s longer than it takes to do the drive, but we had so many stops,” including moments when Anna got out of the car to shoot additional scenery and interviews with Bardwell. Without this extra footage, she says, “we wouldn’t have any variety in the scenes.”

Logistics: “I knew I’d want an extra pair of hands, but I didn’t know how I’d fit a third person inside the car. I decided to be as nimble as possible,” Anna says. That meant she had to take time to switch rigs and lenses whenever she saw a shot she wanted to take. In hindsight, she would have hired an assistant, “a tiny person to hide in the backseat.” Says Anna, “I was overwhelmed with keeping track of sound recording, and ‘Where did I stick the last lens I used?’”

During the drive, Bardwell chatted with Anna, explaining topics like fuel efficiency, the car’s design and the importance of keeping tires fully inflated in a way that was easy for non-technical people to understand. Remarks that seem off-the-cuff sometimes took several takes to record. Anna says she would first chat with him without the camera rolling, or ask him to narrate their progress toward their destination. “Then I’d say: OK, I will get the camera rolling, then I’ll ask you the question again and I want you to tell me the piece you just said.” At times she asked him to repeat what he said more succinctly or clearly. He surprised her by spontaneously crooning a song he composed about the road trip. She used her iPhone to make notes for the editor on suggested takes to use in the finished videos, and to keep a checklist of the shots she had to take.

Gear: Anna took two Canon 5D Mark II cameras on the trip; she used one and had the other on hand as a back up. Her “go to” lens, she says, was a 24-70mm f/2.8; she also brought a 16-35mm f/2.8 and an 80-200mm f/2.8 she used when she needed shallow depth of field, as when she shot a truck rolling by through the Mazda’s side window. The “single most useful piece of gear I had with me,” she says, was a Fat Gecko by Delkin Devices, which allowed her to mount the camera to different points on the car with suction cups. “I mounted it on the hood looking back at the driver, and then I had it on the back of the car near the bumper so you could see the logo.”

At times she also handheld the camera, set it on a tripod or used an indiSystem DSLR rig. “They’re great and economical,” Anna says of the indiSystem rigs. She found that changing from one rig or setup to another was time consuming, as she tried to move quickly between the front and back seat to grab footage.

The wireless lavalier mic she brought picked up interference from the car’s electronics, so she relied on a Zoom H4n sound recorder. “In windy conditions, I used it with a windscreen,” she adds.

For lighting, Anna says she used LED bars that were “short and compact, about 12 inches long.” These she was able to place in the visor above the driver and on the dash while shooting Bardwell during the nighttime drive.

Post Production: She stored the video on 32 gb Kingston cards. She gave the clips, audio files and her log of shots to Bosch at Novus Select. During the editing she also suggested places for color correction, or as she put it, “spots that needed sweetening.” The two-and-a-half-minute video is now posted on YouTube, and is linked to on Mazda’s Web site. You can also view the video below: