- JC Penney 1 – “Christmas Day”
- JC Penney 2 – “Decorating”
- JC Penney 3 – “Dinner Table”
- JC Penney 4 – “Hot Gifts”
Executive Producers: JC Penney, Intertrend, LA-18
Advertising Agency: Intertrend
Written by: Ming Lo
Directed and Edited by: Ming Lo
Producers: Mia Chan, Wenona Wynn, Ming Lo
Cast: Host/Mother, Yi Lin; Father, Steven Gee; Daughter, Stephanie; Son, William
Crew: Director of Photography, Joseph Setele ; Gaffer, Cricket Peters ; Grip, Mario Nichols
Sound: Alex Salmona
Make-Up and Hair: Randi Peters, Sharon Phillian
Props and Set Dressing: Mia Chan, Wenona Wynn
Craft Services: Mia Chan, Wenona Wynn
Graphics: Diego Taracena
The Project. JC Penney’s advertising agency, Intertrend, and LA-18 had been talking about doing some Christmas commercials for some time. Just before Thanksgiving, LA-18 was given the green light for four 2-minute Christmas spots.
The Creative Challenge. Truth is, this shoot was kinda crazy. Because we got the green light at the last minute, I literally had a little more than a week to put it all together. And on top of that, we hadn’t worked out all the details beforehand. As the shoot day approached, I discovered that the client’s expectations and my understanding of the project weren’t aligned. In other words, there were high expectations and very little time, a tough combination. Still, we had committed, so there was nothing else to do but do our best.
Behind the Scenes. In my mind, this one was all about execution. Make no mistake, the creative component was critical. In fact, this project required so many seat-of-the-pants decisions that I don’t think I could have done this project a year ago (experience made a big difference on this one). Still, the clock never stopped on this shoot until it was over.
– Script. I wrote two versions of the script, neither of which the client liked. On Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I finally got to speak with the client directly, and although they approved production (scheduled for Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend), the script wasn’t quite what they were looking for. So, I thought about it, and rewrote the script as we shot. Not only that, we translated into Chinese on the spot, and our host, Yi Lin, gets all the credit for thinking quickly on her feet. Saturday morning, halfway through the first piece, I got approval to shoot 90 seconds instead of 2 minutes, so not only was I rewriting, I was cutting and editing on the spot.
– Shopping. Believe it or not, shopping was a huge deal. In each spot, we had to feature JC Penney products. Larry Potter, the sales rep, spent several afternoons buying – at JC Penney stores and online – the products that were to be featured. Unfortunately, several products weren’t in stock, so he bought alternates, but there were specific products that could be “featured” and others which could be “in the shot” but not featured. And there were at least 50-60 products and accessories that had to be managed (e.g., candelabra, candles, matches and gift boxes, not to mention a Christmas tree and all the associated decorations). Poor Larry, I think he’s done enough shopping for a decade, and my poor producers, who had to manage and track all these things for every shot. Okay, I’ll throw a poor me in there too. I amazed we kept track of everything.
– Shooting. Normally you shoot 30 seconds in a day. With four spots in two days, we had to shoot 90 seconds in a half day. No time for coverage, no time to mess up, lots of set dressing, script changes, and seat-of-the-pants shot lists. All wide shots of homes (which meant more space to light, more set dressing to be done). And all of it had to be done by nightfall, because once it became dark, it would be really hard to match daylight.
– The Miscellaneous. And then there are the random issues. Like we were always using 2000w lights outside to shoot light through the windows, and we blew the breakers a couple times. Now if we were renting the nices houses and had a big budget, it would be less and issue, but these were friends doing me favors, so that was no fun. And at the end of the second day, two furni pads were missing. My crew looked at me like, “well, obviously you didn’t load it in when you rented the equipment.” The rental house actually video tapes the loading dock. They checked the tape and yep, I had loaded in the two missing furni pads. So someone stole them somewhere along the line. Not a big deal, but disconcerting when it happened. And there were other random things like, my producers weren’t available the week leading up to the shoot. Are you surprised when I say that it’s all about execution?
– The Result. I was pretty happy with the result. I think we did a lot under less than ideal conditions. With friends loaning me two very nice houses, and great lighting and set design from the crew, it definitely looks like a lot more than we spent. JC Penney and Intertrend were quite happy as well, and they played the four commercials very often through the month of December , 2006.
The Team. I can’t say enough about what a great team I had. You see all the challenges, and you only overcome them with great people. Mia and Wenona, my producers, were wonderful with managing details, props, set dressing, craft services, and whatever else came up. My DP, Joe Setele, who I met on the set of Tremors 4, was great, and really made the commercial look fabulous. He and his team, gaffer Cricket Peters and grip Mario Nichols, lit really fast and well. Alex Salmona, my go-to sound guy, did great on sound and there’s never a problem when he’s on board. Randi Peters covered make-up and hair on Saturday, and also helped with props, and Sharon Phillian joined us for make-up on Sunday. And of course, Yi Lin was a fabulous host, and our family, Steven Gee, Stephanie, and William worked really hard as well.
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