Radke’s Chris Muir speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about capturing musicians perform to deserving neighbours for a campaign for Canadian financial company Desjardins
Music has the power to transform even the darkest of moods. With that in mind, Canadian financial services company Desjardins has just launched a wholesome campaign called 'Send A Virtual Solo' where members of the public can nominate deserving people in their lives to receive solo performance by professional musicians during this period of Covid-19 social restrictions. The campaign was formulated by Bleublancrouge, Toronto and brought to life by Radke director Chris Muir. Through a meticulous planning process, Chris worked with specially casted musicians and their household members to execute the events and get the coverage needed. All cameras were live-streamed to the director, agency, and client and Chris was able to direct the talent and his proxy camera operators on the fly.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with Chris to find out more about the challenge.
LBB> What was the initial script like for this? And what were your thoughts when you first saw it?
Chris> The initial script from ECDs Chris Dacyshyn and Julie Markle at Bleu Blanc Rouge was great – and fairly close to what we ended up shooting, but obviously had a little bit more latitude in terms of the mobility of our performers. The idea was initially to send our performers to visit someone in need of a musical solo, which we ended up needing to make work within the parameters of social distancing.
The job came through on a recommendation from Brenda Surminski, at BBR. My first thoughts were both the excitement of landing the job and the ‘now what?’ that comes with any new project. Fortunately my ride-or-die, Katy Maravala, was available to produce, along with the full support of Radke Films – Scott Mackenzie, Scott Smith, Tony DiMarco, Dan Ford and Edie Weiss. You couldn’t ask for a stronger, more committed team backing you up.
LBB> What were the next steps from there? What were your starting points when it came to bringing this to life?
Chris> The most important aspect of the entire shoot was casting talent that were both appealing to us musically, and had a compelling story with regards to having a neighbour in need of some uplifting. We wanted to paint a broad musical picture as well, making sure we weren’t just casting a bunch of guitar players, but something that bore at least some semblance to the huge spectrum of musical styles we have across Canada. Shasta Lutz at Jigsaw Casting put together an amazing group of talent for us to pick from literally overnight. Katy and I spent a day doing interviews over Zoom to get to a shortlist, which we narrowed down with the team at BBR.
LBB> Tell us a bit more about the casting process!
Chris> The craziest part of the entire casting process was that we were casting not only the musician, the neighbour in need, but also the support of a family member or roommate that would essentially act as a second camera-operator and stand-in director for the shoot! There were some amazing musicians that we had the opportunity to speak to that just didn’t work out because of how specific our criteria was, which was heartbreaking.
LBB> The planning for all the shoots must have been a feat! Especially given social distancing. Tell us about that process.
Chris> It’s actually crazy just how strict the process was. But I can safely say that, other than the incredible frontline workers that shipped our phone packages to our musicians, nobody left their respective homes or put themselves at risk at any point in the process. Everyone adhered to social distancing. We wanted the shoot to be zero-risk, and Brenda and Scott [Mackenzie] had figured out the rules and restrictions ahead of time, and had already come up with a pretty comprehensive plan to get it all done at the beginning of pre-production, so we had a game plan pretty much from the get go. Everyone had to stay within their respective homes, including talent – so if there wasn’t anyone they could play to from their homes, they didn’t make the cut. Aside from the thousands of Zoom calls, the preproduction process felt pretty much like any other, which is a testament to the amount of behind-the-scenes work Katy and Brenda put in to get it that way.
LBB> Logistically and technically, how did you pull each film off? What was your setup as the director? Who handled the cameras?
Chris> Much to everyone’s chagrin, I wrote a lengthy ‘shoot it this way’ guide that we sent to each musician, essentially taking them through exactly how and what to shoot, both in B-roll and on the actual shoot day. We then did follow-up tutorial calls with each musician, and talked extensively to the family member that would be operating the second camera on the shoot day.
Tony DiMarco at Radke managed to track down 26 identical iPhone 11 Pros – and had them delivered to Katy, who then personally assembled and sanitised each camera package to be shipped out to our talent. Each musician had a main performance camera, a second camera operated by a live-in relative or roommate, and a third camera pointed at the neighbour.
The setup was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen – thanks to the technical wizardry of Manny Rego, our VTR, we had a live feed of all three cameras as they were rolling from within a Zoom call. Then, in one ear, I was on a phone call with the second camera (family member) the entire time, telling them what to focus on throughout the shoot, and relaying any directions I had to the musician. In the other ear was a line to the zoom call with Chris, Julie and Brenda at BBR, where we’d review and figure out any feedback or notes in real-time.
Each of our family members operating the cameras did incredibly well under the circumstances – I was actually surprised at how good the footage looked, and how painless it was to communicate a vision during the live performances.
LBB> How did you find the challenge of directing like this?
Chris> I could’ve never foreseen directing an entire campaign from my home office – never getting to meet the crew, agency, etc. I’m big into working up close and personal with talent, waving my hands excitedly and talking too quickly in jargon that nobody understands. Doing everything via Zoom and never actually being there in person was a monumental shift, but because it was such a new process, I think we all had open expectations as to how everything would unfold. Subsequently the entire team at Radke, BBR, Vapor Music, and Alter Ego were incredibly supportive and helpful in bringing the entire thing to life. Even editing remotely - with Mariam Fahmy and David James Findlay at Alter Ego - felt like a new process.
Also Zoom – where’d that come from, by the way?
LBB> It's a very wholesome campaign - based around bringing joy to people who needed it. Personally, how did you find working on this campaign and helping that happen?
Chris> There were some genuinely heartwarming moments that felt really special to help engineer. I got the sense that everyone involved in this was a little relieved to be working on something uplifting and positive given the current state of the world, and I think that translated into an enthusiasm that shows in the final product.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Chris> I think the speed of a live performance, paired with giving up the reins of the shoot to regular people unfamiliar with the process was one of the trickiest elements. One of our talents - Andrea, an incredible operatic singer - had her 14-year-old son Lucas as her camera operator, and my point man on the shoot. It was a bizarre experience hearing direction relayed through a teenager to his mom, about a performance tweak during a live, socially-distanced opera performance on their front lawn!
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Chris> I can’t wait to get back to directing in-person, and being a part of the energy that comes with the crew, the talent and the craft services on a shoot. As much as my wife and two kids enjoyed having to stay completely quiet for hours at a time during filming, I get a sense they won’t miss having an in-home director. Having said that, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to direct remotely, and being involved with such a good cause and with such an incredible team to top it off. Thanks again to Radke, Vapor Music, Jigsaw Casting, Alter Ego, Bleu Blanc Rouge, Katy Maravala, Manny Rego, Desjardins and the musicians and their families who went above and beyond to make it happen.