Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Brew-Fueled Close Encounter

Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Brew-Fueled Close Encounter

Article excerpt

Super Bowl Sunday has become almost as well known for its entertaining, high-budget commercials as for the actual championship football game itself. For this past January's gridiron engagement, Anheuser-Busch reached out to the farthest point of the galaxy to bring viewers a humorous look at a cadre of extraterrestrials in search of a cosmic buzz.

Entitled "Space Party," the spot opens on a deserted stretch of highway. Out of the mist-filled night appears a Budweiser truck that makes an impromptu stop because a tortoise has settled in the middle of the road. The driver, Gus, gets out to move the tortoise to safety, oblivious to the flying saucer that appears in the sky behind him. An enormous beam emanates from the ship's belly and lifts the beer-filled truck into the heavens, leaving behind an amazed Gus. Suddenly, the craft executes a screeching, 180-degree turn as the aliens remember that they should be responsible partiers. Gus becomes a willing "abduction victim" and happily swims upwards through the shaft of light to assume the role of designated driver.

Budweiser turned to Pavlov Productions, director Marty Weiss and Oscar-nominated cinematographer John Alonzo, ASC to find a fun but polished means of effectively promoting personal responsibility among beer drinkers.

Explains Weiss, "We tried to make every scene as realistic as possible, so viewers would think they were watching a tale about a UFO abduction. We shot the live-action footage in a cinematic style and took great lengths to test and perfect the computer-generated imagery, down to every light and shadow, so that when the responsibility message was addressed at the end, it would have the greatest impact."

Observes Alonzo, "Quite often, commercials have a claustrophobic look. Marty's vision was to have a big wide frame like in features. Most clients like to see their product up close, so we were very surprised when they agreed to let us open with a wide establishing shot using a windmill in the foreground of a vacant stretch of road."

For this shoot, Alonzo shied away from filters, which create more work in digital postproduction. He had assistant cameraman Jeff Greely order a Panaflex, a Primo 18-75mm zoom and Kodak's 5298 stock. Explains the cinematographer, "I would have used the new [Kodak Vision] high-speed stock, but when I checked with the effects people, they didn't care either way, so I stuck with Kodak's 5298 because it has more grain."

Though the spot is a marriage of live-action footage and CGI, some of the more daring effects were effected incarnera. Notes Alonzo, "We actually hoisted a real beer truck. Gary Beaird, who is one of the best key grips around, designed the pickup points so he could do it with one cable. Everything was figured out during a practice drill, so when it came time to film, the truck was lifted perfectly without any sway."

Alonzo devised a lighting plan that gelled with the director's preference for backlighting. Due to the intricate web of fixtures being utilized, the location took on the look of a giant erector set during the night of its 13-hour shoot.

"We used a 85-foot crane nose-to-nose with a 125-foot crane to hold a Xenon with a 5K globe and a 10K housing," explains Alonzo. "To get the light to shine down directly on top of the truck, Gary had a huge 5' x 5' mirror rigged on piping atop yet another crane. You can't aim these lights straight down, because they're designed as searchlights, so we shot the lamp into the mirror, which was set at a 45-degree slant. …

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