BEHIND THE SCENEZ: Producer Axuan Vrolijk Breaks Down a One-Take Spec Commercial

Posted by Anthony - May 31, 2013 - Commercials, Freelance Video - No Comments

This is the first installment of our new blog segment Behind the Scenez, in which fellow filmmakers share the raw stats, logistics and otherwise break down how they pulled off a project.  Our first guest is producer, Axuan Vrolijk, breaking down a one-take spec Coca-Cola commercial directed by HB no. 2 entitled, Morning Surprise.

Peep the video below and then read Axuan’s detailed breakdown of how the filmmakers pulled it all together…


MORNING SURPRISE from HB no.2 on Vimeo.



Budget: $12,000

# Production Days: 3 days
Day 1: rigging & lighting
Day 2: final rigging & lighting, rehearsal & minimal shooting
Day 3: shooting & wrap

Crew Positions:
2 producers
1 director
1 DP
1 cam op
1 AC
1 2nd AC
1 key grip
1 gaffer
2 grips
2 electrics
1 art director
2 art assistants
1 wardrobe
1 hair & MU
1 1st AD
2 PA’s
Arri Alexa

House on Rugby Road, Brooklyn NY

Craft services and catering. Craft service was purchased by producers/PA. Catering was provided by a local friend who would cook home meals and deliver the food to set.

Cast & Crew self report. 1 unit 14 ft cube. 1 G&E 14ft cube which included camera gear as well.

original music by a composer friend of director
2 weeks casting. A casting director set up auditions where the director was able to meet a variety of different commercial actors for the roles of the commercial.
2 weeks of location scouting, where the director and myself literally went from door to door asking if we could take photos of people’s living rooms. We were looking for a living room that had an old fashioned and warm feeling to it almost cozy, but big enough to fit a full sized crew and equipment. With that in mind we began scouting around the Ditmas park area south of Prospect Park, a neighborhood with large houses that are used often for film and commercial locations.
Fortunately we were scouting around January so a lot of houses still had Christmas trees and decorations up, a look we wanted for the commercial.
3 weeks of prepro where we assembled the crew and equipment necessary for the shoot. Most of this time was used to set up equipment deals with various NYC rental houses and also finalizing an agreement with the location owners.
The original concept for the commercial was a single rotating shot around a Coca Cola can on a dinner table with a family sitting around it. The season is Christmas time and as the camera rotates, the seasons and holidays change until it reaches the end of the movement and a new Christmas. The idea was pretty interesting and seemed to fit the Coca Cola brand of Coca Cola being a drink that is always present at family gatherings. However, this idea required us to build the set on a sound stage because no dining room would be big enough for a large circular dolly track set up. Also, by building the set on a stage, the art department would have to create and art everything in the shot.

With those limitations in mind the director revisited the idea, and decided to just focus on the Christmas theme but still involve a single shot take. What evolved from this was a long tracking shot on Christmas morning that follows the parents reaction through a living room filled with presents as their son goes from present to present until the camera stops on a side table with an empty cola bottle, a half eaten cookie, and a “thank you” note from Santa Claus.

This idea was definitely more doable in an actual location, but still required many essential components for its success. We still needed to scout a large, and long enough living room to fit a dolly, track, lights, and all of the presents. Additionally, because this was a one shot set up, it required a day and a half of pre rigging and lighting, along with multiple rehearsals, which mostly were for the camera crew to get the movement, speed and lens focus just perfect.
Once the lights were all properly set and the camera crew felt comfortable enough with the movement, the filming of the shot was really in the hands of the director. Therefore, when filming the shot, the director made sure he had plenty of options to choose from in terms of the speed of the movement and the different expressions of the actors, especially the enthusiasm of the little boy. However, at this point, there is really only so much you can do with a single shot in terms of movement and acting.
In my opinion, the time allotted for the multiple takes should have gone to wrap, and the rigging of the equipment should have been half a day less. When filming a project such as this one, a producer needs to keep in mind that the prep and wrap need the most buffer. Yes, you want to make sure that your director has enough space to work with during the shoot to get what he needs, but we ended up taking more takes than necessary, just for safety, and in the end after about 6-7 takes, not much more is going to change for the better. Ultimately, when you don’t leave enough time to wrap, you end up leaving a bad impression not only on the crew (who has to wrap in half a day what they built in a day and a half) but also your location owners because the wrap becomes a frantic mess.
We ended up wrapping fine, especially since we had a good crew. However, our location owner did get awfully nervous and because of that, I doubt they would be open to having us come back. This does not only prevent you from future filming at a location but also screws it up for other shoots who scout that location after you. That is why when working as a first timer or independent you have to take special care of your locations because you don’t always have the resources that a big budget feature or commercial shoot might have to do a proper wrap out of a location.

~Axuan Vrolijk, Producer

Directed by: HB no.2 (
Produced by: HB no.2, Axuan Vrolijk, and Parrish Newton-Tigh
Cinematography: Alex Gallitano (
Production Design: Justin Benefiel
Music by: Cliff Dweller (
Calligraphy designed by: Ilene Guliner (
Calligraphy written by: Margaret Neiman Harber (
…Thanks for sharing ,Axuan.  Each one teach one, baby! -Ant.

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