Writer/Director: Benjamin Wilt
Director of Photography: Nicholas Matthews (www.nicholasmatthewsfilm.com)
Camera: RED EPIC
This commercial was something of a passion project that I recently wrote and directed for a small boxing gym located in Walton, KY. Not only did the gym itself have a certain quality that I couldn't stop envisioning thru a lens but the owner, Charlie Wartman, has a persona that's bigger than life and I couldn't shake the idea that this place needed a commercial.
This commercial was truly one of the most enjoyable pieces I've directed in quite some time. I have long been a fan of boxing and close to a year ago, I came across this little boxing gym in Walton, KY. I joined and began doing some training with the owner, Charlie Wartman. I quickly learned that even at nearly 70 years of age, Charlie is still a very fit and skilled boxer (he could kick my butt any time he wanted). The more time I spent in the gym, the more I realized I really wanted to shoot a commercial for Charlie to help increase interest in the local community. Also, if I were being completely truthful, I loved the look of the gym and Charlie's persona and really thought I could create something that would look good on my reel :-)
I talked with him about the idea and he was very excited to have me do something for the gym so I began working on a concept. It took me awhile to get the right idea down on paper because I really wanted something that was more than just your typical boxing commercial. I wanted something that focused on Charlie. When you spend any time at all in the gym, it quickly becomes obvious that this place has his finger prints all over it. He's been boxing nearly his entire life so there's a rich & fascinating history surrounding this now senior boxer, Charlie Wartman and it was incredibly important to me that this be captured somehow within the commercial.
Once I got what I wanted into a script, I then asked my good friend and quite talented young cinematographer, Nicholas Matthews, if he'd be willing to jump in on the project and light/shoot it for me.
I wanna take a moment here to talk about the importance of a good Director of Photography. As a writer/director, I don't spend my every waking hour researching all the technical aspects of lighting or pouring over the user manuels of the latest cameras. I honestly don't have time to devote what's needed to be great as a cinematographer. I'm sure there's some out there that are the whole package and can be awesome at everything but that's not me. I like to devote myself to writing/directing and leave a lot of the technical to others that have specialized within those fields. Nicholas has a huge passion for cinematography and I know that he'll give me the very best he has to offer on every project and that's a huge comfort for a director. Don't get me wrong, I do have a good deal of technical knowledge that I’ve gleaned over the years and I think it's important that a director have a certain basic understanding of how things work but your crew will make or break your project. I'm definitely an advocate for surrounding yourself with people smarter than yourself and relying on their expertise to achieve your vision.
Anyway, he was crazy enough to agree so we then began talking over what I wanted for the look and feel of the project. Once again, I very much wanted for the entire piece to be about Charlie so we talked quite a bit about how I wanted the rest of the gym to simply be a setting for Charlie. As Nicholas knows all too well, I love to play in the shadows. I have a love affair with a certain low key sort of lighting and I wanted to push that even a bit further on this project while maintaining a certain beautiful and polished look. I wanted to stay away from the all too typical 'grungy' look that is often seen in boxing commercials/ads.
The only way that I could shoot this project with the little money I had available was by taking advantage of the weekend rental of all the equipment that I'd rented for the Ark Encounter Teaser. We were shooting the teaser during the week and since we had all the equipment over the weekend and didn't need to have it back until Monday, we decided it would be our only chance to shoot this project at this quality level. This obviously leads to a great deal of exhaustion the following week but we decided it would be worth the pain.
The next problem with low budget is crew. We didn't have any money to hire any crew members so I called my brother, Ken, and asked if he'd be willing to help out. He was also crazy enough to agree and was invaluable on set. We honestly couldn't have done it without him. Also, just as a side note, if you think the director just sits in a chair and barks orders, not the case at all on something of a lower budget. Nicholas and I both did everything from dolly grip to rigging lights to driving the trucks. When on a project of this sort, you just roll up your sleeves and do whatever necessary to get things done. Not ideal but hey, we've got a commercial :-)
Nicholas and I had decided to shoot the Ark Encounter Teaser with the RED EPIC and a set of Cooke S4's and it was exciting to think that we could use that same set up on this low budget project. Nicholas will soon be posting a detailed blog about the cinematography that you'll be able to read here: http://nmatthewsfilm.wordpress.com/
I'll never forget Charlie's face when we pulled up to the gym with two grip trucks fully loaded and began unloading the Fisher dolly, RED EPIC and a great deal of lighting/rigging gear. He assumed we'd be shooting with some small camera and a couple of lights.
We did the lions share of rigging the day before our scheduled shoot because we needed to have quite a bit ready to roll when the boxers showed up the next day. I knew we would have a limited amount of time with them and was hoping to be able to work as quickly as possible as I had a lot in mind that I wanted to get recorded.
The shoot went very well and though I didn't get everything I wanted (I never do though), I'm very excited about what we were able to capture. We definitely wore out the boxers as I had to have them spar over and over to get the shots we needed but I also tried to break often and give everyone a breather. As a director, you have to constantly be thinking about the talent, the crew and getting what you need recorded. It can be a tough balancing act.
Once we wrapped on the boxers, we decided to come back the following day and shoot an interview with Charlie that I hope to one day work into a short documentary for his upcoming website. It was fascinating to hear a bit more about his boxing life over the years.
I decided to edit the commercial myself and Nicholas agreed to work on the color grade. I very much like having the Director of Photography as a key player within the color grading phase of the project. I know in our current digital culture, the DP often must move on prior to color and is not in any way involved but I would honestly hate this way of working. I spend a great deal of time talking over the entire look of the film with my DP and I strongly feel that he should be in control of this look all the way to the end. I realize it's not always feasible but as often as possible, this is my preferred working method.
During the editing process, I tried searching around for a piece of music that would work under the commercial but just couldn't find anything to my liking. I decided that I needed something custom and since I had such a great working collaboration with Michael Teoli (http://www.michaelteoli.com/) on my short film (www.inlovingmemoryfilm.com), I contacted him again and asked if he would be willing to compose something custom for me. He agreed and did a phenomenal job! I had a rather specific sound in mind and he nailed it.
Though a low budget project (which always translates into very little sleep and back breaking work), it was a blast to shoot in the gym with Charlie Wartman and some of the boxers he's training. I'm quite proud of the commercial as it turned out very close to what I'd envisioned from the beginning. Hope you've enjoyed watching as much as I enjoyed creating.