We all love good behind the scenes videos or articles but this one take the cake. Alex Buono breaks down “The Beygency” short they did for Saturday Night Live.
The detail in the post is great. They show location scout photos vs final film, lighting diagrams, what lights were used as well as some good film theory.
Alex goes through great effort walking us through the entire creative process. He starts with the discussion between him and the director and the choices they started with right off the bat.
They decided to focus on Tony Scott's visual style for the Beygency. They identified some of Mr Scott's key visual style indentifiers: shooting with multiple cameras, compressing space on long lenses, bold saturated color palettes, slick contrasty lighting, constant camera movement, atmospheric diffusion (steam, haze, smoke, etc).
One of the more powerful techniques they indentified was Tony Scotts use of “lines” or more commonly referred to as dutching the camera angles. By contrasting the “lines” in the scenes he was able to build tension and emotion differently than if the scenes were composed in a normal fashion.
What is crazy is how little time they had to prepare and shoot this piece. Apparently the script was approved on a Wednesday night and they only had 1 day to shoot the whole piece. When you are watching the video count in your head the sheer number of locations they had to find and set up to complete the video in a single day. Impressive.
So script approval Wednesday night. Thursday is set building, prop acquisition and location scouting for the night exteriors. Thursday afternoon they find out Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub agree to have a cameo so a scene is re-written and the 30 minute window for their scene is locked. And don't forget this isn't the only thing they are working on…
They had to build the interiors (they started shooting on Friday morning and don't forget the live show was rehearsing at the same time they were shooting this video) and they shot the exteriors on location at night.
The behind the scenes article goes into great depth on how each scene was lit and what lights were used to get the effects. I find that level of detail the reason you need to read this post.
Additionally, a really helpful thing is where Alex explains what he didn't like about the final product. For some of you out there reading this you will feel they had a bog crew and/or a big budget. What you need to realize we are all dealing with the same issues. It is how we deal with these issues that shape us as artists.
They had to deal with tons of talent (with limited availability for each shot), limited time for lighting, locations far away (at one point Friday afternoon moving from Long Island back to Manhattan during rush hour. They lost their actors and had to use stunt doubles for coverage.
For the exterior night scenes they had to use a generator and laid over 200 ft of cable up 7 flights of stairs. Don't you love “Hollywood” where everything is glamorous?! Due to the fact that actors were returning from rehearsals for the live shows check out the shots with silhouetted shots. Those are all stunt doubles so they could get the maximum coverage in the limited time they had with the limited access to the A list actors in the spot.
They shot with the Red Epic Dragon at 5K and it even addressed how shooting in a higher resolution helped them shoot faster under their tight schedule. There are many more gold nuggets throughout the piece so go check it out as it is worth the read.
How We Did It: “The Beygency”
My first step on any spot is a concept conservation with our director, Rhys Thomas. For this one, we talked about “The Adjustment Bureau” and a few other more recent thrillers but mainly we deconstructed Tony Scott. Now, if this were a feature film, perhaps we’d spend a week or two viewing Tony Scott movies together, digging into some deep cuts like “The Hunger” and “Beat the Devil“…really teasing out his influences…but we only get about an hour to figure this out before Rhys has to start making decisions. In that brief chat, we identified a handful of signifiers for Tony Scott’s visual style: shooting with multiple cameras, compressing space on long lenses, bold saturated color palettes, slick contrasty lighting, constant camera movement, atmospheric diffusion (steam, haze, smoke, etc)…all of it evidence of his strong graphic skills and history in the commercial world. Yet one of his most powerful techniques was far more subtle: his command of the visual component of LINE. He understood exactly how to use lines when composing his shots to carefully control the visual intensity of the story.
Below is a snapshot from “EOTS” and a great example of how Scott uses countering dutch camera angles to create contrasting lines and spike the visual intensity at just the right moment. Rhys and I knew right away that this dutch-angle technique was something we should definitely emulate.
Movie trailer spots are always the hardest spots to produce – they just require so so many locations, so many costume changes and so many shots to approximate the scope of a real movie. Add the choregraphy of a chase sequence on top of that and you start to really stretch what can be accomplished in a single shoot day.
As always, the script was green-lighted late on a Wednesday evening and as Rhys was describing the spot to me, my first thought was: holy crap – how are we ever going to find – let alone shoot – all of these locations in one day? The script called for: INT. LIVING ROOM, INT. DELI, EXT. ALLEY, EXT. ROOFTOP, INT. DARK CELL and MONTAGE…which actually doesn’t sound totally un-doable…except for that last part: MONTAGE – which of course is short-hand for: a whole bunch of other fun shots and locations, to be figured out…
The other challenge is that most of the script was set at night, yet we would have to start shooting Friday morning due to the live show rehearsal schedule (don’t forget: the live show has to rehearse those other 10-12 sketches at the same time that we’re shooting)…It became immediately clear that we would have to approach the interior locations as set builds while the night exterior scenes would of course have to be shot on location.
Rhys and Art Director Andrea Purcigliotti immediately identified the LIVING ROOM and DARK CELL as the most likely candidates to build on stage, and they got to work sketching out a basic layout. Rhys wanted the living room to feel like a Georgetown-esque townhouse, riffing on the “EOTS” vibe.
For the DARK CELL, we quickly researched different versions of prison cells: is it an interrogation cell? No – the Beygency are not cops…Is it an Abu Ghraib-style plywood torture cell? No – the Beygency should not evoke the military…It should feel more clandestine…how about a Cold War underground bunker vibe? Yes – something like that…How about a concrete cell? Yes – that works. What kind of concrete – cinderblock? No – it’s not a prison – more like concrete slabs. But not too clean – that will start to feel like a cool modern house…How about water-stained concrete…YES! That’s it.
Andrea spends the rest of Wednesday night designing the two sets, handing over the blueprints to our set shop, Stiegelbauer Associates by 6:30am. Stigelbauer physically builds the sets all day Thursday, delivering them to our stage on Thursday evening. Our rigging grips assemble the sets Thursday night by about midnight and our scenic team somehow gets them painted in a few hours – including that stained-concrete treatment for the DARK CELL. (Our secret weapon is our charge scenic, a true artist named Lyvan Munlyn). By 5am the walls are drying and ready for us to show up and start lighting.
More interesting stuffs about this on Alex Buono's article – How We Did It: “The Beygency”
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(cover photo credit: snap from Alex Buono)