(Written by Bryan Bakker)
When Duca Farms Ltd., Marketing Director Erica Van Es chose Bizbio my first order of business, as per usual, was to drive out to see their operation. It was an eye-opening experience. Though I had been on a lot of farms in my days (My teenage years were consumed by working on Tobacco and Tomato farms) asparagus was a mystery vegetable I had not only never seen grow before but had never wondered about how it grew or where.
The first thing I noticed was that asparagus fields from a distance, in the lead up to harvest, look like empty fields. The shafts are so sparse and small relative to the field itself it was hard to see them driving past. Not until I got right up next to one did they become obvious.
Erica greeted me upon my arrival and we quickly got talking about the farm. Asparagus cannot be harvested in the first two years after planting. During this time the vegetable is building its root system so it can withstand the stress of the frantic eight-week harvesting cycle once into the third year. During that cycle the plants are fighting to turn stocks into sun collecting foliage while the farm fights to cut each stock well before it blooms; these stocks are the asparagus. After the eight-week harvest is past the plants can complete their cycle, replenishing themselves for next year’s harvest.
Choose to watch and hear this narrated Duca Farms Limited CASE STUDY. Narrated by Bryan Bakker, hear in his own voice how this project got started, the process involved in creating an effective approach and how the Bizbio team pulled the project together.
The facility used to clean and cool the freshly cut asparagus was also very impressive. Tens of thousands of square feet entirely refrigerated – I wondered at times what an electricity bill would look like in such a place. The process was fool proof. From the hydro cooler to the grading tables and then loaded onto inspected trucks everything had been thought of and every precaution had been taken to assure the cleanliness of the food and to maximize its shelf life.
Erica and her family had been asked by Farm Boy to produce a field to fork video that could be used both in their stores and online. They wanted to assure stakeholders that they were buying from a responsible cutting-edge farm and Erica saw the wisdom in it. After the first meeting I had a lot to think about on my drive back to the office.
Within a week I brought the project up at our Team meeting. Attending: Derek Lamoureux of LC Productions and Rene Defayette of Motion Cinematics. Initially I was planning on recommending an interview-based film that would allow Erica, her brother Menno and their father John to describe the process in their own voices. For many companies this approach makes the most sense as there is no better way to establish trust in an audience then have them talking about their passion. Derek disagreed.
“There is too much information here to share and to little room for error,” he said, “if they don’t nail things down succinctly in their interviews this video could end up being ten minutes long,” and it was true. Farm Boy wanted a video that could accomplish some very specific things and often interview based videos, though generally more authentic, can leave out details and make it harder to tell a story.
The longer the video the more important the story...
...especially in the context of what I like to call “a data dump video”, a video very heavy in information delivery.
We were left with a tough challenge: produce an entertaining field to fork video about asparagus, make it short and keep viewers engaged. Suffice it to say we didn’t solve that problem that night.
CASE STUDY VIDEO #01 - Field Timelapse
Often it takes me a few days to internalize a problem before solutions become apparent. Just as often its because of a conversation I have with a pro that breakthroughs are made. I had already decided that the theme of the film needed to be ‘time’ itself. In any artistic endeavour playing with varying contrasts can make things more interesting in organic ways. Erica had mentioned that they wanted a time lapse of an asparagus growing to prove something they had always talked about; asparagus can grow up to nine inches in a single day. Add to that the traditionally dressed Mennonite workers that filled out the farms employee rosters and I knew time needed to be a big part of the narrative.
But it wasn’t until I was discussing the project with a retired camera operator named Tony Bondi, that it all fell into place. When I asked Tony what he would do he simply said, “in a script like this the asparagus is the protagonist. Follow an asparagus through the entire process from beginning to end.”
My reaction: “Of course! That’s the story arc!”
It clicked. The script would showcase the process from beginning to end and throughout we could involve John, Erica and Menno thereby personalizing the story to the audience while building suspense through the “perilous” journey each asparagus travelled on its way to market. The script would explicitly use time as a theme in it verbiage but also in how it was shot. We would capture a ton of time lapses from all over the farm and use them liberally to maintain visual interest and pacing.
Now it was time to set-up another meeting with the client, this time with all three of them: John, Erica and Menno to make the recommendation and if they agreed, nail down the specifics. When we all sat down together three days later I made my pitch and by the end they loved it. It made sense and they were in no rush to be interviewed. I left with three pages of notes and a clear idea of what the script would look like.
CASE STUDY VIDEO #2 - Sign Timelapse
It took a couple days to pull it all together in a pdf and another few days for Erica, her brother and dad to review it. They asked for a few changes – factual tweaks - and then were very excited about the approach. The next step was scheduling a shoot day on the farm.
In the coming week I drafted up a pre-production document and began contacting the team we would need to execute the script. Derek and Rene were of course on the list; their combination of skills, experience and gear make them huge assets in any shoot. In addition, a production assistant was warranted; this turned out to be my intern Destiny Vanbroekhoven who was a fast learner and a natural photographer, and finally a new person I had never worked with before who came highly recommended by Rene, Eddie Jeaneau. Eddie is a sound recorder who had worked in Toronto but had recently moved to London. This job required a lot of audio expertise both on site as well in post. I wanted parts of the piece to be audio only - the sound of the harvester in the field, of the lugs being loaded onto trucks. We needed someone good and Eddie fit the bill.
With the crew picked, the date set (along with a backup shoot date in case of rain) we were ready to go.
Weather on the day of the shoot was perfect. We had moderate cloud, good for outdoor shooting and time lapses. As specified in the pre-production doc the team was instructed to dress for the cold (a massive refrigerated processing facility) as well as the heat of summer day. We broke off into teams, Rene and Destiny working through the process inside the facility, Derek and I covering the harvester and field operations with Eddie going back and forth as opportunities arose.
As a filmmaker being able to give the guys the time they need to get quality shots is pure pleasure. It was another reason the scripted approach made the most sense for this project. Interviews would have taken half the day.
CASE STUDY VIDEO #3 - ASPARAGUS TRIALS
With the shoot done and all the footage backed-up it was time to get the voice over work under way. I have long used voices.com, based in close-by London, Ontario, for Bizbio’s voice over work. As I perused auditions Ben Patrick came up as a quick favorite; a bit pricer than some but worth every penny.
Once the voice over files were ready I quickly set them up using Premiere Pro. Editing is the part I love most – the giant jigsaw puzzle that seems to find its own path the more time you spend with it. Even in a script the opportunities to tweak with music, voice over and image engages like nothing else. Pulling the script together took only a few days.
With the tentative final cut ready it was time to review with the client. This is always a nerve-racking time for me. It never matters that we got sign offs all the way through, that internal reviews have been positive, that the logical side of my brain knows they are going to be happy if not very happy – I always feel insecure – like a meteor will crash into my car on the way there or the laptop will fry when I plug it in or the video simply –ridiculously – plays an old Elvis video instead of the one I had just spent days working on. I got out of my car and met Erica and Menno at the doors to their office.
"Are you guys ready?" I asked, not even knowing if I was.
"Yes," Erica said, "Let's check this thing out?"
CASE STUDY VIDEO #4 - High Flier
Suffice it to say the review went extremely well. They were made aware that this cut didn't have titling, hadn't been colour corrected and did not yet have a professional audio mix – they loved it anyway. I left laughing and downplaying compliments – it was a wonderful moment.
Over the next ten days Eddie mastered the audio mix giving it the depth and dimension it deserved and Adnan Selimovic colour corrected the piece, drawing the colour out from the s-log footage and then with clips that were captured using a gopro or the dji drone. On July 27th, seven weeks after being contacted, the finished cut was released.
Duca Farms Ltd. - Field to Fork