Watching Simone Biles during the Olympics was absolutely exciting. But knowing that Tim Tadder and his amazing crew got to photograph her for Upshot and Core Power and then see those ads in print and on air during the Olympics made watching her all that more meaningful. I thought the story of how the project came about was interesting so I asked him to share it with us on the blog. Here is what he had to say.
What I love about watching the Olympics is that dreams of a lifetime come down to one brief moment. You can see it in the eyes of every hopeful. They have put in countless hours of hard work. In their shoulders you can see the pressure of their parents, friends and country all weighing down on them to perform for one fleeting moment. When they live up to expectations there is nothing more beautiful. When they stumble, nothing is more painful. Its the most perfect form of sport, to be truly the best in the world, the best at one particular task out of 7 billion people. Imagine Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet or in this case Simone Biles, who many now claim as the greatest gymnast of all time.
Well before the Olympics, we were blessed with the opportunity to photograph Simone Biles. At the time I had never heard the name, and the assignment was not particularly large but the brief and creative were very much in line with our work. Dramatic action shots, heroic portraits, athlete with product for POP, and “B-Roll” motion for the web. The creative director Dave Nigh and I had worked together many times over the past ten years, so the call describing the assignment was collaborative. I really fished for what he wanted and shared my experiences on how to best achieve it.
One thing stood out though, the motion component while described as B-Roll, was in fact the desire for a strong narrative. The priority was stills, but the more we talked, the more I understood that the motion was much more than just following the stills. It needed full direction, a comprehensive storyboard and a shoot plan. I wanted to help make this happen. While the ask was for B-Roll, the want was for a visual narrative driven by VO that took the audience inside the commitment and passion of Simone Biles. As always, the challenge was that we had limited time with Biles, a hard stop six hours from arrival to departure, and a very modest print budget.
I have been in this exact situation before, and I felt confident that I had the experience to solve the riddle. The first trick for this to succeed was realizing that throwing money at the motion component would be the worst approach too take. I had built a strong motion portfolio on a personal budget so I knew that with a small team and minimal equipment I could absolutely hit a home run. I did not need a Red Camera and an army of people to tell a moving story. My approach is always less is more, make it about vision, not production, I did not need a Techno Crane to create a dramatic shot. Never underestimate the sophistication of simplicity, make it about the moment not excessive production.
The next trick was to maximize time, look at the day, find a way to shoot both stills and motion at the same time, and deliver the same quality results. This meant multiple camera operators, and placing them in the right place to capture the moments we storyboarded. While I operated one of the motion cameras, a second still shooter shot the same angle and light over my shoulder. We had three cameras running in a delicate ballet as we worked through the storyboard.
The third and final trick was to realize when to put away the motion and focus on the priority of the stills. We gave ourselves three hours to shoot motion, and three for stills, and while we shot stills alongside motion, we made sure that the client had ample time just focusing on stills. For me three hours with an athlete is a HUGE amount of time. Six hours is a never, so going in I knew there was no problem in making great assets in that time window.
The results were incredible. The stills solid, and our little B-Roll ran as a prime time broadcast spot during the women’s all around last week. Seeing the commercial on prime time reminded me of how amazing the entire experience was on so many levels, but as I ALWAYS say great subjects make great images. Over my career I have worked with many of the greatest of all time, they all share a special energy that commands respect and attention. Some understand they are human, others believe they float on clouds above all others. Simone Biles was unique, different, and for me truly the greatest of all time.
Maybe because we worked with Simone before anyone else, it was her first commercial and though she had won three world championships, she was still just an 18 year old girl doing what she absolutely loved. Behind her eyes I saw all the pureness that of sport that we all love, and in the person an incredible spirit that was collaborative, honest, unguarded, and as great as all the media hype bombarding us during the past two weeks from Rio. Simply put she is all that, and more, and as her 5 medals attest, truly the greatest of all time.