Thursday, October 20, 2016
  • Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2016
In-House Innovation At BBDO NY Yields Cinesurf
David Rolfe
Director Lawrence Chen creates tool to facilitate informed camera selection for varied projects
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The fact that Lawrence Chen’s directorial career is progressing nicely is hardly a revelation to SHOOT which included him in its 2012 New Directors Showcase on the strength of the online spot “Little Things” for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

What’s unexpected, though, is that Chen--during the course of his exploits as an in-house director at BBDO New York--has created a tool, dubbed Cinesurf, that helps directors, DPs, producers, agency creatives and others to identify the right camera or cameras to use based on a project’s budget, lensing scenarios and challenges.

“Over the last several years,” shared Chen, “I’ve been shooting as much as every two to three weeks. Different shoots required different cameras because of the nature and different aspects of the production. We’re at a time when digital cinema technology is growing exponentially--RED, Sony, Canon, Alexa. To keep track of all the cameras out there and that I’ve shot with, I thought why not put all the information into a database I could reference for my next shoot. For the most part all this information has been very segregated across the Internet, existing on manufacturers’ websites. I decided to put this data and specs in a centralized place, creating a straightforward digital database which you could go through based on your needs and budget. It’s been a tool I’ve found helpful and now I hope other filmmakers find it useful as well.”

The Cinesurf database can be found here and is free for anyone to use. Camera info can be accessed based on a project’s creative, technical and budgetary requirements. Not yet part of the database are GoPros, drone and VR cameras.

Chen related that Cinesurf has come in handy on a number of projects, including last year’s Bacardi “House Party” campaign for which several different mobile party houses were built that were driven around the country, hosting various festivities. “Cool stunts and cinematic events happened during the parties that we wanted to capture and create a film out of,” said Chen. “We needed cameras that were cinematic, that could accommodate slow motion, low light levels all in a compact profile so we could move in and out of the middle of the parties.”

After running those requirements as well as the budget through Cinesurf, ARRI’s Alexa Mini was chosen as the main camera, working in tandem with Sony’s A7S II mirrorless digital camera. “The cameras paired together got us through these tight crowd scenes and helped us achieve the look and feel we needed,” assessed Chen.

Utilitarian purpose
“Cinesurf serves a very practical, utilitarian purpose,” according to Chen who added that if he has the opportunity to develop it further into “something bigger,” he would consider monetizing the custom platform down the road.

Chen observed that most cinematographers have this database in their heads but sometimes taking inventory via Cinesurf can raise a possibility that might not have been considered otherwise. The database is even more helpful, related Chen, for those “one step removed from holding the camera,” providing them with a sense of the options within an allotted budget. Aspiring and student filmmakers can also find it beneficial to tap into Cinesurf. Additionally the info on the platform includes the lens mounts on a given camera body, proving useful to professionals interested in using a particular lens or lenses for a certain effect.

This database is also in line with the DIY approach to filmmaking that has become a cornerstone of agency in-house production. BBDO for example has been putting cameras on more occasions in the hands of producers and creatives on set.

David Rolfe, EVP/director of integrated production at BBDO NY, said that Cinesurf is a tool that promotes “nimble production” which is essential to in-house departments that have to be responsive on a timely basis to client production needs. Cinesurf also informs agency producers and creatives as to their realistic camera options whether working with in-house filmmaking talent or directors at production companies.

Cinesurf represents a toolset, continued Rolfe, that is important to have as part of the model he wants in place for BBDO’s in-house filmmakers. “If you’re a director at a production house, you want tools that help you to make your own things. You want to be a maker at large. I want that dynamic in place for our in-house talent, facilitating them, inspiring them and our creative department--and inspiring a client to come to us for what we can do in-house for their benefit.”

Chen’s abilities and expertise help to groom new talent for the in-house operation, added Rolfe who described the director as a rising star. Rolfe conjectured that Chen will ultimately end up being a premium talent on a high-profile production house roster. “For us to have him in-house now,” said Rolfe, “gives our department not only his aesthetic gifts but his technical knowledge, strengthening our infrastructure.”