Sarah Chatfield Takes Original, Artistic Approach to Covid-era Filming with New Spot for Curoxen.

31,000 FT agency tapped Sarah Chatfield to direct its clever new campaign for Curoxen, all-natural and organic products that promote skin healing and prevent infection. Instead of featuring subjects interacting on Zoom or a scaled-down cast, she worked instead with an average-sized cast who appear to be interacting via an entertaining action-driven montage. Known for her work across commercials, branded content, fashion and music videos, Sarah adapted to directing remotely with a European cast and crew from her home base of Los Angeles. The process, she says, took away the unknowns and enabled her to understand how to run a remote shoot smoothly. 

You can view the centerpiece spot HERE, and Sarah shares some highlights of the remote production in the Q&A below. 

Q>  This spot was produced during the pandemic, but doesn’t appear hindered by production restrictions. Can you talk about your approach and the process developing it with 31,000 FT agency?

SC>  We were originally supposed to shoot in Los Angeles, but pivoted to a remote shoot because of the pandemic. We didn’t need to compromise or change the creative at all because of the remote approach. If anything, together the creatives and I fleshed out the original concept and vignettes and made them more unique and interesting than before as we went through pre-production. For example, someone getting a paper cut on an envelope became getting cut while making an origami animal. Getting burnt on a stove became getting burnt on a tropical fruit BBQ grill. We didn’t hold back. I was confident that we could pull off whatever we wanted even though this was a remote situation.

Q>  What approach(es) did you take to filming all of the characters featured, either remotely or with a limited crew?

SC>  Working with the cast was a lot of fun. Of course it’s not the same as being able to talk to someone and be in the same room as them, but we made it work. I was on a continual Zoom call with the set and on speakerphone, so in general everyone in the room could hear my direction when we were setting up a shot. When I needed to direct the cast, or especially when it was something sensitive, the AD would just flip around the iPad to face the cast member so that we could see each other and I could talk directly to them to give them the direction, and in some cases, demonstrate the action. This was particularly necessary with this project because there were some very specific “mouth movements” and expressions we needed to capture. So there were lots of moments of me contorting my mouth in many weird and wonderful ways to demonstrate to a very amused cast what I was looking for from them.

Q>  Where did you cast your diverse group of actors and what were your specs?

SC>  We had to cast locally in Lithuania and I was a little nervous about it, as I had no idea about their talent base or whether we’d be able to achieve what I wanted. The casting director was fantastic though and really worked hard to achieve my brief. As well as looking for a cast that ranged in ethnicity (a difficult ask in this part of Eastern Europe), I asked for interesting, expressive, unique and quirky faces. People that had something different and memorable about them, like a quirky handlebar moustache, a fun haircut or unique freckles. They also had to have great acting and comedic chops, being able to give us a range of reactions both big and funny, as well as smaller and more natural and genuine. I pushed hard on this with the casting director, and we ended up with a select but a fantastic range to choose from. Ultimately, agency, client and myself all fell in love with the cast and I think it’s one of the strongest elements of the films.

Q>  What inspired the spot’s look and standout art direction? 

SC>  This sort of “spring green” color is the brand’s color and I made it my mission to subtly weave this in throughout the spots. Just as I did with my Hippeas spot, with the subtle punches of yellow that come in and out to subconsciously reinforce the branding, here it’s the green that pops in. I worked hard to make every frame full of character. Even though I knew that it was going to cut super quickly, the fun of it for me was filling each shot with as much story and interest as possible in the props, wardrobe and set decor. Creating a bit of a “world” and a personality for each character, even in just that quick snippet of time. 

Another key thing for me was the overall look and feel of the cinematography. I wanted to go for a very soft, organic look to the film, rather than anything too stylized. The main strength of the product compared to its competitors is the fact that it uses all natural and organic ingredients. So it was important to me that the footage felt natural and organic, too. With this in mind, the DP and I selected the lovely Canon K35 lenses to give a soft look with a lot of drop off in focus and a low contrast feel to the footage.

Q>  Who edited the piece? In collaborating with the editor, what were your objectives?

SC>  Keith James at Republic Editorial. He was fantastic to work with. And everyone loved the pacing!

Q>  Who did you work with on the music and sound design, and what vibe were you going for?

SC>  The idea for the spot was to try and make all the “ouch” sounds create a sort of rhythmic/musical flow. I proposed making them work alongside the can-can music and tuning the actual “ouch” sounds somewhat to the melody, making them hit the notes and rhythm. I think this is a little subconscious touch which really brings out the quirky humor of the spots. But it meant that we needed some very careful and detailed planning. So my sound designer/composer Dan Weinberg and I worked in detail on many versions of animatics which brought the storyboards to life with temporary ouch sounds that edited along with the music. In this way, the agency and client could see and understand exactly how what we planned to shoot would work in a musical edit (and also fit in to the tricky length of :15 when there was a lengthy middle product section to factor in, too).

Q>  Was this your first collaboration with 31,000 FT? What was the communication process like? Where were you working from?

SC>  Yes! They were all in Texas, I was in my home in Los Angeles, and the crew and shoot was in Lithuania! The agency and I got along great, we had many Zooms prior to the shoot to make sure we were all on the same page as I prepped and planned with the team on the ground in Lithuania.

On the shoot things flowed really smoothly because so much detailed planning had gone into it. Prior to the shoot, I had done so many in-depth lining up of shots with the DP and other HODs on the ground in Lithuania. We really over-prepped to make sure that we were all clear on every shot. I felt like it was really important to get the crew even more inside my brain than usual during this prep period, so that there was no margin for error or confusion. This meant that on the shoot days, we moved extremely swiftly from set up to set up, and then once we were shooting, it gave the agency and client plenty of time for feedback and suggestions as we went along, which they were really happy about. Everyone was surprised at how smoothly it went, given that this is such a whole new world of remote working! So I now feel really confident with this way of working. You just need to really put the time in prepping, and work with a team that are as detailed and perfectionist as you about planning!

Q>  What did you learn from the Curoxen shoot that will be most helpful for upcoming remote and scaled-down shoots?

SC>  How to manage remote shooting – it’s taken away the unknowns for me and made me understand how to run these types of projects. This was also a perfect one to start with as the shots were all locked off. It was a simpler project to shoot than some of the sports spots I often do, which generally require more epic locations and big camera moves. So now if it’s necessary to jump to something of that scale to shoot remotely next, I feel much more confident in taking that on.