EMILY SHUR FOR FRONTIER & HILL HOLLIDAY
This past spring, during the height of lockdown in Los Angeles, Emily Shur did what was at the time unthinkable: She pulled off a major campaign for national telecommunications brand Frontier Communications and agency Hill Holliday. Below, she explains how. Spoiler alert: She shot it at her home and used herself, her dog, and her friends as talent.
I had worked with both Hill Holliday and Frontier on a pretty large-scale shoot last year in LA—lots of preparation and planning, multiple days of shooting, different locations, full production, crew, talent, etc. It was hard work, but a great experience overall and a great team. So I was really excited when Hill Holliday called again about another potential shoot for Frontier, even though many, many things had changed since our last job.
Initial Zoom call (featuring my dog, Momo)
The conversations began in very late April/early May and were mostly about figuring out what, if anything, was possible. We discussed what Frontier’s needs were and what the mandatory minimums in terms of deliverables would be in order for the shoot to be worthwhile to them. From there, I collaborated with the creative director at Hill Holliday on some initial conceptual brainstorming, which was fairly unusual but also necessary in order for the agency to present concepts to Frontier that were actually doable.
Initial agency concepts
To get the ball rolling, I suggested ideas I felt I could accomplish at home with little or no crew. Kevin, the CD, incorporated some of those into a deck with additional concepts, and from there, we talked through each one. Then we played a bit of ping pong on the creative back and forth.
There were some compromises that had to be made on both sides. After extensive conversations with various legal departments, it was decided that neither agency nor the client’s legal would approve or consent to having outside talent or crew on set during the shoot in my home due to legal regulations at the time. That meant that I had to photograph the people and animals around me—myself included as one of the talent in one of the concepts—at my house, light everything myself, and style/set dress each shot myself.
Identifying where each concept could be executed in my house
There were some concepts that I knew I could execute under normal circumstances but unfortunately not under these quarantined circumstances, so that helped us narrow down and eliminate some of the proposed concepts due to either safety concerns, talent availability, or time-management concerns. We were able to agree on a group of ideas the agency felt confident presenting to their client and that I felt I could execute safely and successfully.
Prep, Shop, and Drop
Props team kickoff call
We were able to bring the prop and wardrobe stylists from our previous Frontier shoot on board in sort of a “prep, shop, and drop” capacity, and everything was delivered to my house a few days before the shoot began. Mood boards were made for each concept so I could get approval on as many things as possible ahead of time, including locations, angles, time of day to shoot, props, and wardrobe in an effort to streamline my workload on the actual shoot days. I really wanted to get as much guidance as I could before beginning work on each shot.
I worked with my longtime digital tech, Justin Ruhl, remotely (via Zoom), so he was able to organize files and handle that side of things while I was shooting, making adjustments, and moving from shot to shot. We’d bring the agency creatives into the Zoom meeting once I felt we were in a pretty good place with the current shot to get feedback from them and fine-tune all of the elements. At that point we would invite the client into the Zoom meeting to join my set to give their thumbs up and be present during the actual shooting. Essentially, everyone involved was “on call” over the course of the shoot days, but because it can be a tedious process to watch remotely, I tried to be mindful of how much time we asked everyone to be in the Zoom meeting with us.
Presenting the creative team with the shot
One obstacle that came up during the concept-ing phase was that it was important to Frontier to have at least one shot featuring a child. Since I don’t have kids and we did not have approval to bring outside talent on set, we had to figure out a workaround. I brought in a “second shooter,” Justin, my digital tech. Luckily, he has a 7-year-old son, so I suggested that I could photograph the overall scene at my house that would act as a background plate and blueprint for Justin to use. I’d take notes and measurements on my setup, and he could photograph his son in a way that would fit seamlessly into the image I had already photographed.
Because we’ve been working together for over 10 years, I knew this wouldn’t be a problem for either of us, as Justin is very aware of my photographic style and I completely trust his abilities. So on our last shoot day, I oversaw and directed Justin’s shoot with his son, Everett, via Zoom, which was yet another new experience for me, but I think we were able to match everything up really well.
A Positive Experience
There was an understanding amongst everyone involved that we were all taking on a challenge here and trying something new. From production, to agency, to client, to crew, to my reps and myself, we were all patient with the process of figuring it out as we go. I’m really happy with how everything turned out. Plus, it was fun to actually have a positive new life experience right now!”