Several years ago, one of my good friends and frequent collaborators, Jason Winn, called me to pitch an idea for a PSA. He said that being bullied was like drowning. He pictured a kid being pushed under the water and drowned as a group of children looked on, doing nothing. He wrote the script, a storyboard artist drew it out frame by frame, and we went to work trying to pitch it to groups to get it made.
Flash forward, and we’re finishing the third project in a row with an ad agency in the South. The spot ends up being a big revenue generator for them, so Jason mentions this PSA he’s been wanting to get off the ground. They agree to the pitch and up the budget to make it an entire campaign.
We got the greenlight in December, so we had to find a swimming pool that would still have nice weather. We narrowed it down to Florida or Southern California, and ended up shooting the project in Los Angeles.
The day before, my ACs prepped the EPIC and the underwater housing at Hydroflex. We also rented 3 Hydroflex underwater 1200w Pars to round out our lighting package.
- RED EPIC and a HydroFlex Underwater Housing on the set of “Drown”
We shot the spot over the course of two days. The first day was entirely underwater. We shot everything underwater in 5K at 96 frames per second, so for any shot we had the option of slow-motion, regular speed, or a speed ramp from one to the other.
We had wet suits and dive gear for a number of the crew, and several of us were under water for the majority of the day, including myself (working as both DP and operator), Gaffer Jon Breitkreutz, Key Grip David Bartholomew, and the safety diver, Matt Hrovat.
Jason communicated any minor changes or underwater directions for the actors through a speaker system that we placed in the water. He would speak into a microphone and the water would carry the sound waves of his voice throughout the pool. Here’s a fun behind the scenes video from underwater:
Above ground, the AD would ask if I was ready over the microphone, and I would signal yes or no by moving the camera up and down or left and right.
Our key light, for the duration of the underwater day was an 18K HMI rigged close to the water, shooting almost directly into the lens. We had a row of 6K HMI Pars for additional accent lights.
In addition, we had our three 1200w HMI Pars that we could bring in for close-ups to shape the light from underneath.
I had known from using underwater lights on previous projects that the light you cast is quickly diminished the farther it travels through water, so to be most effective we had to get these lights close to the subjects, oftentimes right under neath them to provide an additional subtle backlight.
Day two, we spent the majority of the day above water. For the entire day we either lived on a 30 foot jib, or on a dolly.
When doing the closer dolly shots of the spectator kids, I lit them with an 18K book light (bounced into an ultrabounce, and then softened even further by a 12×12 LiteGrid). We backed the 6Ks up to provide a nice subtle backlight on the groups.
All-in-all a very fun shoot. The weather cooperated (it was 70-80 both days) and then the next week it hit record low temperatures below freezing! Here’s the finished product: