When Cinema Meets Real Estate – Part 2

The case study of filming a property before it’s even built.

The challenges of one-upping your own work

In a previous blog post, I described in detail how going against one of real estate’s biggest myth paid off for us.

A quick advice that can be applied to pretty much any industry: when you have a winning formula, don’t sit on it. You need to one up yourself so your competition is always playing catch-up with you.

The sellers from our previous project were so impressed by their quick return on investment that they immediately called us to create a video for an unannounced project.

I like a challenge. If I’m always operating in my comfort zone, there’s no room to improvement and self-fulfillment. That new real estate video sure was full of challenges.

If I’m always operating in my comfort zone, there’s no room to improvement and self-fulfillment.

Here’s a rundown of the challenges that was shared with us before shooting:

  1. The condo complex we were advertising wasn’t even built yet.
  2. The target audience was 50+ years old.
  3. The sellers wanted a storyline (we had carte blanche) but they absolutely wanted a couple as actors.
  4. We had to use a different actor than Vince (he was the realtor/actor from our previous film. He can’t be in two different ads plus, he’s younger than the target audience.)
  5. The short film won’t have any dialogue or text. The story will be told by the actors’ performances.

Overcoming the challenges

Vince checked with Agence Caractère, his casting agency, to see if there were two available actors that matched the criteria of the sellers. The two actors were slightly younger than the target audience but, as anyone in the marketing industry will tell you, viewers see themselves younger than they truly are so we decided to hire them.

The biggest challenge (by far) was shooting a script where the set doesn’t even exist yet. We don’t have the budget to shoot in front of a green screen.

The biggest challenge (by far) was shooting a script where the set doesn’t even exist yet.

Good news there: the team in charge of the construction had a 3D model made by a professional architecture firm that they kindly gave to us. This add on was in the back of my mind when I was writing the script.

The script

Since the condos are advertised for those who are leaving the family home behind (kids are out to college – they’ve moved on), we had the idea of seeing a couple where the husband is not ready to make the jump to a condo after living most of his life in a house – his house. His wife, on the other hand, is ready to make the jump. It’s life’s natural progression.

This means both of them are out of sync.

We see them walking in the forest and with the subtle nonverbal cues (the wife reaches to hold the hand or her husband and ends up just grabbing one finger or them walking in front of each other instead of side by side), we can see that this is not a cheerful couple. Something is off.

Woman holding the finger of a man

While walking (in the actual location the future condo will be built), the couple look at an empty field. We now cut to close ups of the 3D building taking shape. It looks like the condo complex is being built at superhuman speed right in front of them.

Man and woman walking in an empty field

While the couple is looking at this phenomenal, the husband is the one grabbing the hand of his wife. She looks at the end than at him wondering why the sudden switch. He smiles at her and that smile says: “Ok. You were right. This is our new home and it’s gorgeous.” She smiles back, relieved that she’s not the only one ready to make the move.

That couple, who have been together for many years, are now back in sync.


The shooting

We couldn’t have ask for better weather for this shooting. We aimed to shoot the entire sequence just before sunset (at around 4pm).

When looking at the 15+ shots required for the day, I thought of the idea of shooting the key and final shots at first. That way, we would make sure the sun is in the right location and we have enough natural light.

At the very last minute, I decided to shoot in chronological order. My reasoning behind this sudden switch was that, after all, we were following the quick journey of a couple that go from being out of sync to finally end up on the same page about an important life event. Since both actors didn’t know each other, I thought it would be easier to show that introversion which would translate to them being out of sync on screen.

Since both actors didn’t know each other, I thought it would be easier to show that introversion which would translate to them being out of sync on screen.

That was a considerable bet since the very first few takes usually end up taking the longest to complete (setting up the camera, getting everyone up to speed, dealing with the stress of completing a “good” take). This meant that if we wasted too much time, we would potentially risk obtaining the key shots at the very end since the sun would be gone by then. Plus, we only had the actors for a total of 3 hours. We didn’t have the budget to hire them for a second day.

Turns out, that bet payed off. All of us could tell that after each shot, the actors were getting more and more comfortable with each other. They would joke around between takes and have conversations about everything and nothing.

Actors laughing between takes
The synergy between the two actors was at its peak as we were filming the final scene.

The final take where the man takes the hand of his wife, look at her and smile was done in as little as two takes. It was perfect. I seriously doubt that scene would have been as effective if we started with it like we originally planned.

We ended up completing every shot with the actors in a little over 2 hours even though we had them for 3. All parties were more than happy that our shooting was done in record time.

It was now time to start the post-production process.


The editing

Editing this film was done in record time since we didn’t have to film an infinite number of takes. The actors gave the performance we wanted and I had the storyboard to help speed things up.

What can be time consuming and it’s tough to plan ahead in this scenario, is finding the right music.

The sellers were looking for a slow audio track preferably with piano. I set my sight (or hearing) on premiumbeats.com and found the perfect song by using the tags “movie production” & “emotional”. I was watching the footage while auditioning my music and when I found the song after 20 minutes, I was smiling. That’s exactly what I was looking for.


The return of 3D

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was impressed with the 3D quality of the final render but I was disappointed that the 3D model was too subtle for my taste.

I was quite nervous about having 3D play such a key role in this short film. On the previous project, if the 3D tramway didn’t work, we could just take it out. No harms, no fouls. But this time, if you take out the 3D, what are the actors going to look at? An empty field? It’s like Obi-Wan fighting a guy in a green suit in front of a green screen… it kinda takes you out of the immersion.

3D is a tough thing to master and 3D tracking is no exception. We hired the same 3D modeler to animate the building sequence of the condo complex. Most of the 3D shots will have the building as an overlay on top of it. These shots were filmed with our drone and we really didn’t want to risk having the tracking gone wrong so we shot two takes. One with the drone circling around the futur location of the condo complex and another one perfectly still.

Everything was right on track except for one crucial aspect: we don’t yet have the 3D model of main building.

So the shooting, editing and color correction is done… all we need to do now is wait for the 3D model to be shared so we can insert it in the video.


What I learned

Hire professional actors.

When you have to think about a hundred things while filming, you don’t have the time to explain how to act. (“No uncle Phil don’t look at the camera, look at the empty field!”)

Oftentimes, I asked the actors: “in this situation, how would you react?” And with their answers, I told them: “that’s exactly what I want you to do”.

Just like paying for your music (versus royalty free music), hiring professional actors is money well invested to take your real estate film to the next level.

Having a storyboard is not only a tool, it’s a must.

I can’t draw to save my life. I simply don’t have that skill. Way too long ago, when I was learning 3D animation at college, one of my teacher told me: “I give a crayon to a 3 year old and he’ll do a better drawing than you” to which I replied: “I have to agree.”

Back to the storyboard, good news for me (and my pride), Vince (the realtor) is a gifted comic illustrator and he volunteered to draw the storyboard. Not only were we able to get the seal of approval from the sellers, we also had a visual aid to show the actors exactly how the story unfolds.

The end result

The customers were blown away by the video. They called me immediately after watching it and simply said that’s exactly what they had in mind.

Both my business partner Simon and I were especially proud at how fast we had the end product done. Shooting took 2.5 hours, editing and color correction in under 6 hours. Total of 8.5 hours (not counting the 3D since that was done on contract by a 3D artist).

The end result will be uploaded soon. Stay tuned!


RP Plourde

Husband and father of two, likes movies, videogames and flying drones. Cofounder of Superficie Media, a drone video company. Favorite movie: The Matrix (the first one, of course)