BMW launched branded films in collaboration with Universal Beijing Resort two weeks ago, instantly attracting millions of views. We talked to director Roni Shao and cinematographer Paul Morris to know what it took to bring the Jurassic World and Transformers, blockbuster projects to life. While the brief includes a major premium car brand and two Hollywood blockbuster franchise from Universal Studios, we quickly learned the scale of the production was not what we expected.
Transformers director’s version
Roni shares that when he received the brief, his first reaction was “WOW”, followed by surprise. For one thing, he’s never worked on such a big IP before and second, he had never shot a car commercial. But the agency TBWA didn’t want a traditional car commercial. Paul Morris, who has already collaborated with Roni on several projects before, echoes this sentiment:
One of the first things that Roni did was going beyond the goal of the brief.
“The original brief was 30-sec spot for both Jurassic World and Transformers. We made it into 2 minutes during PPM”, shares Roni. He thought the most exciting thing from the brief was that the car was meant to be a living character in the story. In Roni’s mind, that didn’t fit into short 30 seconds.
He continues: “If we approached the spot more like a film trailer, 30 seconds is definitely too short. Even one minute is too short. You need to give the audience enough room, enough time to get to the pace of a story. [This kind of change] is very rare in market, and I really appreciate that both the agency and the client trusted me a lot to create something, that I believe works better”.
Jurassic World director’s version
The longer duration of the commercials, however, did not translate to prolonged shooting time. Two days production time for films like that is not much, according to Paul. Especially considering the travel time between locations in Beijing, Tianjing, and Shanghai. Roni and Paul brought it on themselves to rise to the challenge of emulating the look and feel of the two huge movies with a fraction of resources, in a fraction of time. Both know that Jurassic World and Transformers are undeniably impressive due to their visual and technical executions. But as it turns out, shooting both the two BMW commercials combined with logistics-induced constraints, also necessitated a considerable amount of technical execution to pull off correctly.
Both the stories in Jurassic World and Transformers had to take place at night time, but they were not both filmed that way. The night look in Jurassic World spot was added later in post. Paul says, they considered shooting at night with use of practical light, but doing a pre-light in a forest would’ve taken a day, which the schedule didn’t allow. “I’ve shot day-for-night a few times before and I really liked it. It has its own quality, something a bit unreal. I like that you can see into the distance. If you’re lighting a forest, or a big space at night, usually you don’t have that. Everything kind of feels like it’s coming from a light source. It’s not easy, there are tons of things which will catch you out, I was definitely nervous”, Paul shares.
Meanwhile the Transformers spot needed to have a lot of car action shots, which was also a challenge within their limited resources. But Roni and Paul repeatedly give credit to the production house of both films for their support, expertise, and great locations. The Filmmateteam together with Roni and Paul balanced what was best for the commercial with the production realities of the project. Like including the scene in the old shipment factory for Transformers, which wasn’t accounted for, but added another dimension to the film, to the story.
Both filmmakers admit, it would’ve been great to have more time and a budget that matched their ambitions. But both, are proud of the way they managed to turn the series of branded spots into movie trailers with BMW cars. Paul shares: “Once you step back and say, OK, we don’t have, say, Transformers [the movie] budget, what do we have? Then that gives you lots of opportunities to be creative”. Roni’s convinced:
Paul agrees, adding: “If we were given like 10 days for one film, and client wanted it to look like a Hollywood version of Transformers but in China— that’s something different. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to do it. But it’s more fun to do things a little bit more “low-fi, a bit more “raw” .