The Making of Cartoon Network’s TMNT 2
Some of my most prized possessions are cassette tapes that my best friend Christina Brown and I made in the first grade, pretending to be radio DJ’s. Sometimes those late-night disc jockey sessions even bled into full-blown covers of popular songs. It’s always fun to see, as technology becomes more accessible to younger generations, that while the mediums change, the pastimes of youth still revolve around the simple pleasure of “pretending.” The latest trend of re-making and parodying movie trailers is no different than those treasured cassette tapes… the only difference being that my cassettes will never find themselves on the internet… and let’s keep it that way…
Our dear friends at Cartoon came to us with the knowledge of this hilarious trend and asked us to produce a “kid’s-remake” version of a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” trailer. Now, while a “low-budget-looking” parody trailer may seem like an easy task, easily done with an iPhone and some duct tape (though we did, in fact, use a LOT of duct tape), it was a unique and challenging experience that I think lends itself to an interesting essay on production and this producer’s love affair with live-action. Let’s break this story down into parts.
love and shorthand with your client
Production is a love-letter to your client and boy do I love Cartoon Network. We knew we wanted the spot to look like kids had made it in order to sell the humor, but we also recognized there is a broadcast standard of quality we had to uphold for Cartoon Network; tricky balance. This balanced needed to be found with an understanding and trust on both the client and vendor side. This is where a great client relationship comes in. Working with a client like Cartoon Network for as long as we have, you begin to develop what I like to call the “I-know-I-can-close-my-eyes-for-a-second-while-you-drive-the-car-and-not-worry-I’m-going-to-die” comfort. When there’s mutual respect between the two parties, you feel open and excited about collaboration and also trust that you have each other’s best interest at heart. You know what your client likes, fits in their brand and you begins to pass ideas in an abbreviated kind of way. #finisheachotherssentences
That said, as soon as we received the trailer, we were able to strap on our Jellies and light-up sneakers and think like kids again. We checked in along the way to make sure we were on track, but for most of it, Cartoon Network let us just have fun. Needless to say, I adore working on projects for Cartoon Network (especially those with live action shoots) and this one was an absolute blast to get in the mindset for.
THE most important thing to a producer is pre-pro time. For this project, based on the post-production schedule, we had about 20 days to put together this shoot. This is actually more time than we usually get, but once you get an understanding of what goes into even a “make it look simple” shoot, you gain a new appreciation for planning time.
The right cast is everything. We tend to work with children a lot in our portfolio because of the amount of toy projects we (happily) get to work on. That said, we’ve been able to find some wonderful resources for seeking out young talent. We struck gold with this cast. It was not only the easiest casting experience I’ve ever had, but one of the final selected boys had been on another shoot with us just last year, so we were familiar with each other – which helps tremendously! From there, we’re on to the mountains of GDOL approvals and next thing you know… we’ve got a cast.
Finding the right location was the biggest task on this one after such a seamless casting experience. We knew we needed a house to sell the “homemade” feel but we also needed something with a room large enough to fit all 4 kids, the crew, lighting gear, camera and monitoring stations for the client. Again, those handy resources some into play and we turned to our location scout. After sifting through many house options, we found this Massachusetts-born’s sports memorabilia DREAM house.
The only challenge with this otherwise perfect space, was figuring out how we could get away with so many copy-written and iconic pieces of memorabilia lining EVERY wall! This task, we decided, could be solved with simple lighting. The right amount of light fall-off to represent an already moodily-lit movie trailer could allow us to avoid any post-clean up work. This lighting decision also dictated some camera choices for us, as certain cameras simply yield better results in low light. In the end we landed on using a Sony FS-7 married with a Kino Divas light package.
Next item on the agenda – the perfect crew. We have always been so lucky to have relationships with some amazing professionals. Even more, we somehow have found a spattering of personalities that can not only hustle on set, but also still like each other afterwards… and trust me, I’ve tested this with some shoot-doozies… like 10 hours in 90 degree GA summer weather outside in open fields (been there). ASV, for one, is a company we work with often and they, as friends and vendors, never disappoint.
wardrobe / props …. thinking like a kid again…
This part was really fun! We turned to Megg Waddington, who does a lot of our costuming for us, and let her loose on some designs. As always, she knocked it out the park! Here’s some of her initial development that we stayed fairly close to it in the end. Everything had to be found-objects that a kid would actually be able to gather from around a house.
The rest of the props were a blast to come up with. Thinking like a resourceful kid was a fun challenge. The only issue we ran into was making sure they didn’t come out looking “too put-together.” Looking at the items in the trailer, like the cop car, we landed on solutions like using cardboard cutouts and flashlights covered in colored tissue paper for one of the actors to wave around.
There are a few things that a Producer holds dear; a sound shot list, a practical shooting approach, wiggle room on the shoot schedule and a little space for creative license. This shoot was very unique in that it lent an unusual mix of these wish-list items with some new challenges. On one hand, we had the amazing asset of a trailer to base everything on. This made life much easier as we were able to show the talent exactly what we needed, cutting down direction time. But when all was said and done, we still had 33 shots, multiple lighting set-ups and 8 hours with the kids… pretty much leaving us with 10 minutes per shot. This meant lighting re-sets, wardrobe changes and prop prep had to be a well-choreographed dance with the team. Also, only having 4 talent to play every role, we had to carefully plan our shot list to rotate the kids for wardrobe changes per scene.
PRODUCTION / RUN!
And now… the dance. While running so fast, there are only a few things you can keep telling yourself:
• Stay on track
• Keep you talent motivated
• Be flexible
• LAUGH – if you love your production, your production loves you. Let’s not forget, this all started with a love affair with your client and job. Relationships grow with challenges… am i right, Dr. Phil!?
Anything beyond those tips is a blur while you run around with your production book and stopwatch.
Running the risk of sounding a little braggy on our amazing crew… we ended up even magically wrapping an hour ahead of schedule… Ahem… * dusts shoulders *
POST / RUN!
Phew! All of that work and planning and you’re ready for a nap… but now the real work begins. In a one-stop shop like ours, we have to think through the whole process. Being the production company and the post company has some major advantages as we can problem solve and keep emergency post-solutions in our pockets as we go. This also of course means that we’re only hurting ourselves if we miss anything on set. Being aware of this detail motivates us even more to be totally alert and creative throughout the whole process. We know what we need and what we have to work with and how to proceed.
Now to dance again…
• Color-Correction and Sweetening
The thing we had to keep in mind during this post work was not make it look too produced. It had to sell the kid-production comedy, but it also still had to look good. Sometimes it’s harder to pull yourself back a bit from doing too much. This project was all about restraint.
The spot ended being so successful, that the Powers-That-Be thought it should run internationally. Excitedly, we jumped into production on those versions (which also involved some last minute shooting for the hand drawn endpages and various language versions of the title prop. Those spot ended up needing to air before our original domestic project, so we were back to the scheduling board to be sure we could juggle both without having to compromise any deadlines. It all worked out seamlessly.
So, after all of that, we slept… for a few hours and then it’s on to the next project! Such is our lives (and we love it!).
Let me sum up this diary entry by simply saying:
AMAZING CREW! AMAZING CLIENT! SUPER FUN CREATIVE!
Take-away: Accept the chaos, have fun… but plan the hell out of it. 😉
Thanks, Cartoon Network!