Covid Case Study: Chronicle Cinema Re-Writes its Production Playbook to Pull Off Viral Woodford Reserve Spot
Louisville, Ky. (May 1, 2020)
Garnering more than 1.3 million hits in about 24 hours, Woodford Reserve's My Old Kentucky Home video both celebrates the Kentucky Derby and laments its COVID-induced delay. Produced by Chronicle Cinema and featuring cellist, writer and composer Ben Sollee, the spot will run during NBC's Virtual Derby at Home Party, Saturday May 2. While the ad tells a compelling story, the making of it during a global pandemic is a story of its own.
The breath-taking piece takes place inside an empty Churchill Downs with Sollee's version of the state song echoing throughout the hollow structure before being lifted out with the wind. The minimalist motif is beautiful in its simplicity, but the production was anything but simple. Ten crew members cautiously maneuvered around one another to maintain social distancing as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on logistics.
"I saw the visual concept and heard Ben's track and immediately got goosebumps, but then thought this was going to be a daunting task," said Chronicle Cinema owner Zach Meiners. "We developed a new playbook for this shoot. There was no room for error. And, I couldn't be happier with the process and the product."
Advertising agency Energy BBDO (Chicago), working for Woodford Reserve, came up with the concept and the visual elements. They contacted Chronicle because of its reputation for high-quality cinematography established around the country. Chronicle also has a wealth of experience working with top brands in the Kentucky bourbon industry. Energy BBDO, was on an extremely tight deadline and knew Chronicle could produce.
"Because of travel restrictions, we needed a talented team in Kentucky who could do this well and do it quickly," said Brett Jeffreys, Brand Manager at Woodford Reserve. "Chronicle met a demanding deadline, produced an incredibly beautiful video and kept everyone safe. It truly is a remarkable achievement."
Energy BBDO reached out to Meiners on a Saturday to gauge his interest. With business at a standstill, Chronicle was in a rare position to devote its focus solely on the project. However, the deadline was extremely tight and the precautions had to be even tighter. Zach had hours to map out a production and safety strategy, the likes of which he had never encountered.
The team had exactly four days to organize the shoot, assemble equipment and crew, as well as completely re-think and strategize how to safely execute the creative safely.
The team of ten was divided into three groups. A specialized backpack was prepared for each member with sanitized equipment, gloves, masks and food. Each team lead had their own wireless monitor for playback. Crowding around as a group to view and provide feedback wasn't an option under social distancing guidelines.
An Arri Alexa anchored the camera set up, while two people worked the DJI Inspire drone for the aerial unit. A time lapse cameras covered the 150,000 seat stadium. Yet, one challenge remained: How do you record quality audio on a windy day from at least six feet away?
"This was top of mind for me," said Sollee. "I have three children, including an infant. I couldn't put myself or them at risk. At the same time, we had to create something we're all proud of on a bonkers timeline."
"Acoustics, of course, were not friendly with virtually nothing around to resist sound. Yet, Sollee found beauty in what transpired. There were soft echoes where spectators with loud, colorful attire would have stood. Birds chirped in the background, which became part of the soundtrack. The sound and visuals, he felt, captured the melancholy mood, while also offering hope.
This was an authentic earnest expression of how we feel as Kentuckians, how it has affected each of us by being postponed. It is a beautiful piece of cinematography. It is a testament to Chronicle's adaptability and preparation."
VIDEO PRODUCTION’S NEW NORMAL
“This was one of the most challenging timelines and high wire acts that I’ve done,” said Sollee. “Production-wise, this was the most well-staffed crew that I’ve worked with. Top of my list working here in Louisville.”
Meiners believes more video production companies will be tasked with rethinking their playbook and adapting it to accepted COVID standards to compete for the limited amount of business in the market. He thinks it will take time for the business to recover from strained marketing budgets and logistical concerns for agencies. That’s why he hopes the Woodford experience serves as a case study of sorts, and that companies will see value and possibility through their coronavirus-tinged vision.
“Right now is the time for companies to be producing content because audiences are captive in the digital world during this pandemic,” said Meiners. “However, it’s important that the content is creative and well-executed. I think we’ve proven safety isn’t the enemy of quality.”