Shooting a Parody Commercial with the Foo Fighters
We chat with DP Michael Dallatorre about working with Dave Grohl on this hilarious parody of pharmaceutical commercials.
We’ve all seen these commercials on television. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones with soft tones and emotional music swelling as morose characters walk around their homes in slow motion. The voiceover describes their symptoms and declares that their love of life has gone. Suddenly, the tone changes and a new miracle drug or treatment is introduced, and instantly things are looking up, while a voice quickly mumbles out a long list of side effects at the end.
However, just because you’ve seen these commercials, could you recreate one on your own? That was the task handed to cinematographer Michael Dallatorre when asked to man the camera as director of photography for this latest ad for FreshPotix.
What’s FreshPotix you might ask? Well, it’s a made-up cure-all medicine for those suffering from coffee addiction. And, it comes from none other than the legendary rocker Dave Grohl, as he and his band Foo Fighters are the creative forces behind bringing Dallatorre in to shoot their infomercial. We chatted with Dallatorre on how he was able to bring this parody ad to life, shoot with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K, and work under the comedic direction of Grohl.
How did this parody project come about?
Ha, Dave just comes up with these crazy ideas and sometimes it’s like: Hey, can we shoot this next week? So, they called me up and I had actually just received a test kit from Blackmagic with the new URSA 12K and had been doing a bunch of tests, but hadn’t had a chance to shoot any real content yet, so this worked out perfect.
This was not Dallatorre’s first time collaborating with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, but as he tells it, chances to work with them can come out of the blue and happen very quickly. Luckily for Dallatorre, when he got the call for this project, he’d already been taking a new camera through the paces to work in a timely environment, like this viral video shoot.
Dallatorre also confirms that Grohl, who came up with the idea based on his real life coffee addiction (which actually landed him in the hospital back in 2009, and spurred this original parody back in 2010) was the driving force behind the concept and directed the shoot with Dallatorre as his camera expert and DP.
Tell us about your experience shooting with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K.
I had the camera already to do some tests with it and to give some feedback. But, this was the first project where I got to take it through an actual production. And especially from all the testing I was doing, I was really impressed with the color renditions. So, I wanted to try it out with actual skin tones and with the unique challenges of this shoot.
For this shoot, which Dallatorre knew was going to be uploaded for audiences online, he and Grohl made the decision to utilize the URSA Mini Pro’s ability to shoot 4K at 96fps to help get that “Hallmark pharma-commercial look” we’ve all grown so accustomed to from ads on TV. With the high frame rate, they were able to get that “slowed down” quality for all the B-roll without compromising any image quality with the 4K recording.
Dallatorre also noted that their decision to shoot 4K instead of 8K or 12K was partially based on his memory storage capacity for the shoot, noting that if they were pushing 12K at 96fps, he was going to be filling up 512GB cards in a few minutes. But, because of the unique needs of the project and where it was going to be uploaded, the decision to work with 4K worked just fine.
Do you have any advice on working with famous performers like Dave Grohl?
I got lucky with Dave and the Foo Fighters because they’re all really cool people. It also helps having Dave as the director as he’s essentially the director of the band, so they already know how to work together and collaborate on certain things. They were all coachable, but also since they’ve been around for so long, they understood how to handle staying in frame for closeups and other nuances like that.
Speaking generally, when working as a DP or director on shoots where the principle subjects are going to be non-actors being asked to “perform” for certain scenes and roles can be a bit tricky. However, even as Dallatorre admits that Grohl and the Foo Fighters were seasoned pros for on-camera performing, it’s actually not too daunting as long as you can stay patient and commutative about things like framing and what you’re looking for in each scene.
And, thanks to the band’s experience in front of the camera, Dallatorre confirms that they were able to shoot the entire project in one day, with the band’s portion being completed in the morning before covering all of Grohl’s individual shots in the afternoon.
What was your process for recreating this drug commercial look?
Honestly, being bombarded by these cheesy ads all the time, recreating them is pretty much second nature—handheld, slow-motion, vignettes. And, Dave knew exactly what he wanted. Tone-wise, we started a little bit darker at the beginning, then after the “drug” is introduced, it gets a bit brighter and the music gets happier, which is something I did in the color timing.
In many ways, all great cinematographers and filmmakers are parody artists. We’re constantly consuming media and copying, learning, and developing our own unique looks and styles from all the other films, videos, and commercials that we see day to day. For Dallatorre, the process for re-creating (and parodying) this one specific look really wasn’t too hard, simply because he—like many of us—had already seen so much of the content.
For their on-set adjustments, Dallatorre shared that they broke up the production into two segments with unique, but similar, looks for each. First, they had the darker “before FreshPotix” section, which he shot with a cooler color temperature and look, before leading into their “after FreshPotix” section, which he “turned up a stop hotter” to create a distinction for a happier visual tone.
How did you find the workflow between the URSA Mini Pro and DaVinci Resolve?
The color correcting was pretty minimal, and Blackmagic has a base LUT built-in that I used and it’s actually quite comparable to what I use on an Alexa, when I shoot on those. It’s a very good starting LUT, and very little to do besides adjusting for color temp. I added a little vignette in some certain areas. But, no one ever felt too green or magenta, as I tend to find on other cameras.
While Dallatorre didn’t do the edit for the video himself, he did do some initial color correction and touchups by bringing the URSA Mini Pro footage into DaVinci Resolve. Similar to how they worked in-camera on the production with the distinctive looks “before” and “after” using FreshPotix, he looked to darken the “before” footage a bit and brighten the “after” shots to give them their own emotion.
Once his colors were set, the project was then transcoded for AVID and the project was passed off to the editor. Dallatorre’s work was done and, as you can see in the final product, he was able to come in, collaborate with some famous professional rockers, and shoot an on-the-nose parody send-up to help bring Grohl’s creative vision to life.
For more interviews and cinematography insights, check out these additional articles.
Cover image from Dave Grohl for FreshPotix via YouTube.
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