Nobell x Human Case Studio
July 23, 2021
DOOMED TO FAIL, POISED TO SUCCEEDHow preparation, seamless teamwork and Zoom were leveraged to turn a COVID disaster into one of the biggest wins of my career (with style).
In March I won a bid to shoot the photography portion of an advertising campaign with Human Design for plant-based food company, Nobell Foods. I was beyond excited. Not only was I happy to be back on set shooting advertising work for a rad company whose product I supported, but I was PUMPED to be working with Human. I’ve been a long time admirer of everything that Human creates, so I was really looking forward to getting behind the lens with their production team and showing them my chops.
And to add to the excitement, this was also the biggest production of my career! There were 40+ people scheduled to be on set during a 4 day production, including my team, a full video team, talent, clients, agency, production, MUA’s, hair, wardrobe, seamstresses, food stylists, prop and plant stylists, COVID officers… the whole deal.I love big productions and the opportunity to collaborate with talented creatives, so for me this is what dreams are made of!
During this project, we would be photographing people, table top still lifes of food and then ending the shoot with a day of macrophotography featuring different ingredients and plated meals. The production was going to be fast paced and we didn’t have a lot of time to spend on each individual shot. And to add to the complexity of the production schedule, we were going to be trading off shooting times with the video team. So needless to say, there were lots of moving parts! Let's get into it...
Day 1 was prelight/set build and Day 2 was the first production day. Everything went super smooth despite the tight production schedule. But the well oiled machine that we had put into motion came to a startling halt early on the morning on Day 3.
I wake up really early, especially on shoot days. I like to ease into my morning and take time to enjoy coffee and breakfast and get ready for the day. And on this particular day I was doing just that at 530AM. My phone was on the counter next to me and I saw a text from my wife, who was still half asleep upstairs. When I opened it, I read the news that everyone dreaded receiving in 2020: “My COVID test just came back positive”. My heart immediately sank into my stomach and a giant wave of shame swept over me. Not only had I been exposed to COVID, the one thing that the entire world was trying to avoid, but it also happened in the middle of the biggest shoot of my life!
With the fate of the production looming, I called the producer and filled her in on the situation. She told me that I was not going to be allowed back on set (obviously) and there was also a chance that she was going to have to shut down the entire production. But after a couple of calls to the agency, the client and the COVID officer, it was decided that since everyone on set had been exposed, they were going to proceed with the rest of the shoot. However, it would have to be a closed set, meaning there was no option to bring in a new photographer to finish the shoot in my absence.
So what's a photographer to do when they get pulled off set due to COVID halfway through the biggest shoot of their career? You call up your assistant, Alden Bonecutter, (who mind you is assisting his first advertising shoot ever), and tell him it's go time. After explaining the situation over the phone, I told him that it was his time to shine and that it would be a “trial by fire”. He didn’t flinch or miss a beat, and simply responded by saying “That's the only way I know”. Exactly what you need to hear in a moment in crisis!
While Alden was en route to set, I took some time to quickly sketch up some lighting diagrams that he could use as reference for the remaining scenes. And because we had made such great use of our prelight day, I had full confidence that Alden would crush it and bring it home for the win (actually if I’m being honest, I was a definitely a little nervous because I’m a total control freak when it comes to creating a photograph and curating the vibe on set).
After all of the lights were set up and the team arrived on set, digitech extraordinaire Ryan Burchfield of Redtooth Imagery beamed me up via Zoom, giving me a live feed of every image coming in from the camera. And with the audio live, I was able to give direction to stylists, make suggestions for lighting and composition adjustments and hear feedback from the agency.
The next 2 days of shooting went off without a hitch. I was able to virtually direct while Alden manned the camera. Alden did a fantastic job shooting, interfacing with all of the talent, team members, client and agency. And to top it off, when we wrapped on the last day the client and the agency we're more than stoked! So much so that they went out of their way to send over post-shoot thank you email, which read as follows:
"Thank you for everything. It's been an HONOR working with you and Alden. You both exceeded our expectations for this project and we cannot wait to see the work. Your energy - both Wednesday on set and via Zoom on Thurs/Fri - was an incredible display of your determination, creativity and sense of teamwork."
So when all was said and done, what could have been a total disaster ended up being one the biggest wins of my career. This experience is a true testament to strong teamwork and how important it is to work with a talented, determined and creative team!
In the words of Henry Ford, "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself."