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No room to film? The art of ‘Tardising’

Have you ever turned up at a corporate shoot where the brief is to capture the story of a company only to find that you’re only allowed to film in the boardroom?

It’s not ideal. You’d like a little variety and most boardrooms are less glossy corporate office and more police interview room. The colour of the walls was probably off-white when first decorated. It’s now seen better days and is not so much bouncing light around the room as throwing shade on your subject. You’ve also got more than one interviewee…you’ve got three or more, and you’re trying to create high production values and contrast from one interior. One!

What to do? A brief look through the viewfinder of your camera at the blank walls says only one thing, and that thing is detention centre.

You can’t afford to make your director level interview look fresh out of D wing, so there’s only one thing for it. Think like Dr. Who. It’s got to be bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. You Tardis it.

At Toucan, we’re fond of the verb ‘to Tardis’. To our crew it means we’re going make an uninspiring little box look much bigger to the outside world and great on camera. Here’s just a few ways we do it:

  1. Bring Lights. Lights are your saviour and the more you bring the merrier. If you’ve got three, two at the front and one at the back you’ll be able to create a three-dimensional figure. Light the walls, light through the walls. We once had one of those internal offices with smoky opaque privacy stickers on the glass walls. We lit from outside and, in the few minutes we had to play around, we created a great backdrop which made the subject look as if they were sitting in a professional studio.
  2. Look to your corners and work the angles! Not all rooms are perfect rectangles. You might create an interesting architectural backdrop from the alcoves or other shapes. Alternatively, that’s where your camera guys will be tucked away while your subject sits near the centre of the room, creating some depth behind them. Use the boardroom table. Sometimes this is harder than it looks because the table is attached by some intricate mesh of computer cables or extra legs made of reinforced steel that anchors it to the centre of the room, but don’t let that beat you! Your lovely interviewee can still casually lean against it. They can sit beside it or look across it towards at the camera and each of these poses adds variety to the mood and to the feel of the interview.
  3. Mix up the furniture. Sometimes changing the chair that the subject is sitting in makes all the difference to the shot. Look at the height at which the subject is sitting. It’s important to get this right as it subtly signals how much status they carry. Don’t shoot from a downward angle, it’ll make them seem less in control. Make sure they command the space.
  4. Stage the environment. Add plants, pictures, piles of books if the shot looks bland, or equally it might be better to remove clutter if the shot looks too busy. Borrow ‘props’ from surrounding offices but make sure you smile and ask nicely…and return them afterwards. Remember to look at the shot as a whole once it’s set. Plants in the background have a nasty habit of looking like they are growing out of your subject’s head so double check before you start.
  5. Make your subject stand. If the interview is quite short you might find that there’s more interest on the walls at eye level, also standing helps to lift a person’s energy and can help them speak in a more relaxed way.

Once you’re in the building, if you can convince your interviewees to let the camera guy or gal follow them for a little walk around the building, especially for b-roll, it’ll pay off hugely in the edit.

If you really are trapped in the boardroom it’s a good idea to ‘fake’ some b-roll of everyday work activities. Film your subject using their laptop or mobile phone. Grab some shots of them chatting with a colleague. Put them at ease and take footage of them smiling and relaxed, and every little piece of this glorious filmic variety will allow them to appear charming, efficient, approachable professional.

Days filming done, the Toucan team always leave things as they found them. We tidy up our coffee cups and put away our sonic screwdrivers then dematerialise in the carpark as it saves on congestion charges.

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