By Randi Altman
Production company Native Content and director Sorrel Brae have collaborated once again with Rocket Mortgage’s in-house creative team on two new spots in the ongoing “More Than a House” campaign. Brae and Native had worked together on the campaigns first four offerings.
The most recent spots are More Than a Tradition and More Than a Bear. More Than a Tradition shows a ‘50s family sitting down to dinner and having a fun time at home. Then the audience sees the same family in modern times, hammering home how traditions become traditions.
More Than a Bear combines fantasy and reality as it shows a human-sized teddy bear on an operating table. Then viewers see a worried boy looking on as his mother is repairing the his stuffed animal. Each spot opens with the notes of Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me,” which is featured in all the “More Than a House” spots.
More Than a Bear was challenging, according to Brae, because there was some darker material in this piece as compared to the others — viewers aren’t sure at first if the bear will make it. Brae worked closely with DP Jeff Kim on the lighting and color palette to find a way to keep the tone lighthearted. By embracing primary colors, the two were able to channel a moodier tone and bring viewers inside a scared child’s imagination while still maintaining some playfulness.
We reached out to director Brae to find our more.
What did you shoot these two spots on, and why?
I felt that in order for the comedy to land and the idea to shine, the visual separation between fantasy and reality had to be immediate, even shocking. Shooting on an Alexa Mini, we used different lenses for the two looks: Hawk V-Lite Vintage ’74 anamorphic for epic and cinematic fantasy, and spherical Zeiss and Cooke S4 primes for reality. The notable exception was in the hospital for the teddy bear spot, where our references were the great Spielberg and Zemeckis films from the ‘80s, which are primarily spherical and have a warmer, friendlier feeling.
How did you work with the DP and the colorist on the look? And how would you describe the look of each spot, and the looks within each spot?
I was fortunate to bring on longtime collaborators DP Jeffrey Kim and colorist Mike Howell for both spots. Over the years, Jeff and I have developed a shorthand for working together. It all starts with defining our intention and deciding how to give the audience the feelings we want them to have.
In Tradition, for example, that feeling is a warm nostalgia for a bygone era that was probably a fantasy then, just as it is now. We looked to period print advertisements, photographs, color schemes, fonts — everything that spoke to that period. Crucial to pulling off both looks in one day was Heidi Adams’ production design. I wanted the architecture of the house to match when cutting between time periods. Her team had to put a contemporary skin on a 1950s interior for us to shoot “reality” and then quickly reset the entire house back to 1950s to shoot “fantasy.”
The intention for More Than a Bear was trickier. From the beginning I worried a cinematic treatment of a traumatic hospital scene wouldn’t match the tone of the campaign. My solution with Jeff was to lean into the look of ‘80s fantasy films like E.T. and Back to the Future with primary colors, gelled lights, a continuously moving camera and tons of atmosphere.
Mike at Color Collective even added a retro Ektachrome film emulation for the hospital and a discontinued Kodak 5287 emulation for the bedroom to complete the look. But the most fun was the custom bear that costume designer Bex Crofton-Atkins created for the scene. My only regret is that the spot isn’t 60 seconds because there’s so much great bear footage that we couldn’t fit into the cut.
What was this edited on? Did you work with the same team on both campaigns?
The first four spots of this campaign were cut by Jai Shukla out of Nomad Edit. Jai did great work establishing the rhythm between fantasy and reality and figuring out how to weave in Bob Dylan’s memorable track for the strongest impact. I’m pretty sure Jai cuts on Avid, which I like to tease him about.
These most recent two spots (Tradition and Teddy Bear) were cut by Zach DuFresne out of Hudson Edit, who did an excellent job navigating scripts with slightly different challenges. Teddy Bear has more character story than any of the others, and Tradition relies heavily on making the right match between time periods. Zach cuts on Premiere, which I’ve also migrated to (from FCP 7) for personal use.
Were any scenes more challenging than the others?
What could be difficult about kids, complex set design, elaborate wardrobe changes and detailed camera moves on a compressed schedule? In truth, it was all equally challenging and rewarding.
Ironically, the shots that gave us the most difficulty probably look the simplest. In Tradition there’s a SteadiCam move that introduces us into the contemporary world, has match cuts on either end and travels through most of the set and across most of the cast. Because everyone’s movements had to perfectly align with a non-repeatable camera, that one took longer than expected.
And on Teddy Bear, the simple shot looking up from the patient’s POV as the doctor/mom looms overhead was surprisingly difficult. Because we were on an extremely wide lens (12mm or similar), our actress had to nail her marks down to the millimeter, otherwise it looked weird. We probably shot that one setup 20 times.
Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years.