In the run-up to Dave Laden’s lockdown birthday, he’d been plagued with an absolute lack of creative inspiration. His brain focused on all the negativity in everyday life right now, he couldn’t get into creative gear. But the Hungry Man director wanted to do something - something that wasn’t a commercial with a brand telling its consumers it was “here to help”. Via various conversations with friends and colleagues he was finally hit with a bout of creativity and a desire to create something humorous at a time when people need laughter. The resulting film, which you can see below, is a hilarious deep dive into the different personalities of Dave himself - naked VR gamer included - as each of them celebrate his lockdown birthday.
Eager to know more about the process of directing different versions of himself and stripping off in front of the camera, LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Dave and his editor Christjan Jordan (a co-founder at The Den) to find out more.
LBB> Dave, what made you want to make a film about your birthday?
Dave> Well, up until the week before my birthday I’d had zero creative inspiration. The pandemic had sucked all the motivation out of me to create. I was more focused on the negative and my brain was preoccupied trying to figure out this new normal. Christjan, Rachel (Seitel) and I had been chatting pretty much every day about the state of affairs in the world as well as our business, asking ourselves many questions about what is happening and what the future could look like. But, more importantly, what could we do now, what could we make, how we could help, etc., etc., etc., all while continuing to stay at home and stay safe.
We spoke a lot about tone too, especially from an advertisement point of view. At that moment in time we were being inundated with commercials and content that all had the same neutral tone: “we’re here to help”. And to be honest I felt like that was the right way to go. It felt too soon for comedy, especially for advertisers. But we weren’t selling anything! And we felt like we all needed to laugh a little. With the right concept and tone, maybe we could actually entertain, make something relatable and hopefully make some people laugh or at least smile. At the exact same time a writer friend of mine and his wife made something on their own and shared it. BAM. Inspiration hit. I called that writer friend of mine (Pat Mckay), shared an idea with him, Christjan and Rachel, took my clothes off and started filming.
LBB> And why these three versions of yourself? Where did you tap into to build these three characters?
Dave> These three characters were actually my reality. Literally. And easy to create. The naked gamer version of myself literally sat around all day naked, lazy, confused and constantly embracing the easy escape from what was happening in the world with VR games. My spiritual and self-care side was focused on staying healthy mentally and physically. The third version of myself was firmly in the middle. He understands and accepts both sides but chooses to focus on the joy and unconditional love that comes from his canine companion and friends and family.
LBB> How did you achieve the illusion of three versions of yourself all occupying the same house?
Dave> I knew I had to make three characters that were distinctly different from each other otherwise it would be confusing. So I dressed each version very differently, gave them each their own personality and tone and tried to stick to that each time I filmed. I wanted them to move through the space and or interact with the space they lived in differently. The wardrobe helped me a ton when it came time to actually shoot and change characters.
LBB> At what point did Christjan get involved in the project?
Dave> Christjan was involved from day one. I ran the idea by him and he had ideas instantly. We had a consistent back and forth before I ever turned on my iPhone to shoot anything.
Christjan> Dave looped me in pretty early. He wanted to work on something creative and lighthearted that could be made from our homes. I feel lucky that in our working relationship he always brings me in early in the process so we can come up with ideas and solutions together. He sent me test videos and I did some quick composites on my phone to see what the Daves interacting together would look like. Just from that, we knew that this was going to be a fun one.
LBB> How did you both work with each other on this job? And how did it differ from when you usually work together?
Dave> We were in constant communication. Literally. Texting and ZOOMing all day every day while we were ‘in production’. I was definitely annoying. I had a million questions and concerns regarding framing as well as technical questions regarding frame rates, comping and sound design.
Christjan> We had a lot of texts, Zooms, and calls. When we finally got to editing we worked on the cut together over our remote system where there’s no lag time. So it’s just like being in the room together but one of us is actually naked in their own home… I’m sure you can guess which one.
LBB> Christjan edited it in real-time, as opposed to you sending him a bunch of rushes and him piecing it together? Tell me about that process! Why did you take that approach? And how did you find it?
Dave> Well, I had a script that I wrote with Pat Mckay. That was my guide. For sure. But as I started filming, I realised that doing this by myself was really, really complicated and I underestimated it. So before I could move on from one set up to the next - or even get into different takes and or try a bunch of different lines and reads - I had to make sure everything was working because every set up had to be shot three times with the three different Daves. So I sent stuff to Christjan every single step of the way to make sure it was going to cut properly. He would then do a rough comp to make sure it was going to work and then tell me what else I needed in terms of coverage. To be honest, It was really satisfying. I would shoot. Send. And then wait. And within a matter of minutes - literally! - I could see what was working and what wasn’t. That was an incredible luxury that I have never had before! It felt like we were in the same room, pre-production and post.
Christjan> Our typical workflow for commercials is over postings and calls because there usually isn’t a lot of time for the editor and director to work together. Working this remote way, over a real-time editing system, made things more collaborative because we were editing and bouncing ideas off each other as we went. You also get to see each other's facial expressions so it's a lot easier to see what each other likes or hates.
LBB> So it was a bit of an experiment? What lessons did you learn that you could take into a branded project during this time?
Dave> It didn’t feel like an experiment at all, it was actually seamless. I would shoot with Pat feeding me lines on Zoom and then send the footage to Christjan. He would then send the scene back to us and we would adjust, either reshoot or do pick-ups to make the stuff look better or read better.
Lessons learned? I have tried to make a habit out of sending Christjan my boards in the past to make sure I have things covered properly but also to pick his brain creatively. The lesson is to get your editor involved early and often. 100%. The big picture lesson: Never ever take the people who make you look good for granted. I don’t think I do, personally, because I know I could never do this alone. Every single person I work with makes my job easier and makes the work better. I also realised how much talent surrounds me on every job. I truly can't wait to see them and work with them all again. #grateful.
Christjan> It didn't feel like an experiment. Dave always shoots with an edit in mind and gives me lots of options, but when we work on commercials we don't get the chance to do reshoots, what's been captured is what there is. Everyone is on such a tight timeline for the shoot and our schedules are usually staggered, so we aren't able to work together and decide if picking up something new would help the story.
I think giving the director and editor time to work together and involving the editor early in the process is super helpful. It does work to cut remotely, this project has made me feel like we can still feel the connection to each other even when we can't be together. And also that it’s alright to go to work in your pajamas.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Dave> The trickiest thing for me was making this look and feel real. The second this felt fake, it was a fail. I owe that 100% to Christjan and Artjail. The comping was flawless and the turnaround time to do so was ridiculous. And they nailed it.
Christjan> The trickiest thing was keeping the story focused, there were endless possibilities and Dave did a great job of giving me so many options and shooting it in a way that it cut together really well. The second trickiest would be creating and layering all the performances so that Artjail could do their compositing magic and so it could feel like they were all really in the same room together. Joel at Lime Studios did a killer job of balancing out the different source audio for us too.
LBB> How did you find the challenge of directing three versions of your own self?
Dave> Looking back, I'm so happy we made this. It did exactly what we wanted it to do. It made people smile in a time where the world outside was crumbling before our eyes. The Daves became my personal way of escaping the crumble. They still are actually. The Daves and Christjan. Oh, and Bob.
LBB> Christjan, you know Dave quite well. What are your thoughts on these three versions of him?
Christjan> I really did start seeing each Dave as his own individual person. Dave was really clear on each version of himself and how they would react to things and interact together. It's a lot of fun to see these three chat with each other, but I know there's a lot more to Dave than just these three.
LBB> Did you learn anything about your friend in this film?
Christjan> Naked Dave would make a bad roommate.