Earlier this year, We Are Social undertook a process that ended in the most successful branded TikTok LIVE show ever. The campaign, made for Pepsi, was to announce that Camilla Cabello would be performing at the UEFA Champions League Final Opening Ceremony at The Stade De France in May.
Shot at Universal Studios in Hollywood, using a 150-metre green stage which allowed the team to create a magical 3D world in post production, the technical challenges were unprecedented, when it came to both creative and production.
Driving over 2 million viewers to witness the big show, it more than did its job. But when we saw the behind-the-scenes details revealed, we wanted to dig into the broader narrative this production sits within – that innovation in the tech world is changing video production faster than ever. And that requires both a creative and production approach that can make the most of that.
To reflect on these themes, LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke with We Are Social creative director Kenneth Moore and director on the Pepsi project, Anthony Rubinstein.
LBB> We loved seeing the behind-the-scenes work on your TikTok LIVE show for Pepsi’s UEFA Champions League Final Opening ceremony! Can you talk us through some of the technology that you used on that shoot and how you worked with We Are Social?
Kenneth> We worked very closely with Anthony Rubinstein (director) to bring the original vision of placing Camila Cabello in the centre of a football pitch as it came to life with all the cultural energy of the Champions League Final night. Originally, we planned to shoot on a real football pitch so the drone could move freely and then add the amazing visuals into the world like an augmented reality Snapchat lens. But when collaborating with Anthony, we decided a massive green screen studio would allow us to use even more innovative tech.
Anthony> Technology-wise - the drone we filmed the campaign with was pretty unique. We had originally always talked about this as a ‘one-take FPV [first-person view] drone film’ in the style of the swooping and dynamic clips that have been very trendy over the last couple of years for exploring buildings or chasing fast cars. However, on those nimble racing drones, the camera is locked facing forwards, which really doesn’t work well for a performance on one spot. What we ended up doing was mounting a gimbal on top of the FPV drone so we still had all the agility and freedom of the done movement, but crucially had independent 360 camera control too. The camera was also mounted vertically and we needed safety guards on the propellers so we could get up close to Camila, which meant what we ended up with was a completely one-of-a-kind custom drone build, expertly piloted and constructed by the world-class Beverly Hills Aerials team in California.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges and how did you get through them?
Kenneth> The journey towards the shoot raised numerous challenges. Camila's performance and interaction with the drone was at the heart of the whole thing so we worked closely with her choreo team remotely in LA. It was also important to walk the line of the balance between the presence of Pepsi and UEFA branding while being authentic to Camila Cabello's world. We did this by naturally inserting Pepsi brand iconography and just the right amount of football visuals with a fiesta feeling.
Anthony> When working with what was effectively a prototype piece of DIY camera equipment, there were always going to be challenges… The main issue was overheating and incredibly short flight times as the drone really drank up the batteries. Coupled with a short shooting window with Camila and additional things to capture on the day, we were up against it in terms of time pressure. We’d worked out a really tight pre-vis to sync the camera move with the choreo and fortunately, it didn’t take long for our drone pilots to have mastered it, but we still had a precious few attempts at getting everything all together - given the main part of the film was a 25-second continuous shot where everything needed to run flawlessly.
Above: Kenneth & Anthony
LBB> Are there any broader trends that this speaks to around how production technology is opening up new creative options?
Kenneth> We wanted this work to show that impactful and premium creative content also works well on TikTok beyond just mobile phone-shot content. We made sure to protect the simplicity of the 'one shot' drone movement to avoid the work feeling over-edited.
Anthony> I think it’s really cool and freeing to shoot things that are designed to be watched on a phone screen held vertically, rather than the frustrating middle ground of needing a vertical and horizontal edit for everything. Shooting this horizontally and cropping in would have really compromised the wide swooping perspective so I was adamant from the start the camera needed to be vertical. I hope the trend keeps moving in this direction and that more brands and agencies are willing to give up their landscape versions entirely, so we can make more high-end stuff with the camera this way round, and make full use of the vertical frame. On the subject of trends, the big moment here was the outfit transition which is easy enough for a TikTokker to do with a static camera, but a bit more of a challenge with a moving drone shot! I think the fun creative puzzle (and something we’ll probably see more and more of) is taking what’s popular online and elevating it using the full might of commercial production technology.
Kenneth> New production technologies - like combining fluid and previously impossible drone shots with high-quality post-production - are allowing us to create super impactful campaign visuals and memorable social moments that set fire to channels like TikTok.
LBB> How do you work with the production side of the business to make sure you are having ideas that can be achieved, but also push the boundaries of what people have seen?
Kenneth> We are lucky enough to have our own in-house production arm, We Are Social Studios. This means creatives can go directly to one of our amazing producers at any time and all share the latest and greatest directors, creators and makers that we want to team up with. It was a conversation around Anthony's work that triggered this partnership.
LBB> Creatively, what can't technology allow us to make (or at least not at the right budget), that you'd love to see become possible soon?
Kenneth> I'm excited to keep levelling up social-at-scale campaigns for brands. There is a time and a place for executing smart, tactical, fast content direct with creators - as well as developing big, global, social-at-scale campaigns that not only tap into trends but create them. The leaner, meaner and more creative technology becomes, the more we can lead the future of marketing by always looking forward to what's next and not getting comfortable with traditional production methods - and by traditional I mean 2019. We're moving faster than ever.
Anthony> I think it’s hard to understate how much AI is going to change our production processes in the next couple of years - I’m certain that gigantic chunks of the VFX process are just on the cusp of a massive democratisation. In the way we’ve seen text-to-image technology explode this year, the same will happen for video I’m sure. At the moment, creating a magical VFX world like we did here is a really expensive and challenging thing to do, but give it a few years and I think it’ll be as simple as typing a few lines of text into a computer. I’m personally really excited about this future and getting to grips with all the new tools on the horizon. Fundamentally, filmmaking has always been about how best to use the tools available to tell a story and AI is only going to unlock a whole new frontier.