Most recently, I wrote, directed, and shot “Special Delivery” – a Harry – Potter themed Admissions video for Boston College – and I wanted to write a blog post about the strategy, production, and results of the piece – hoping to draw some insights that can be applied to future videos.
Concept & Initial Storyboard
Like many others here at BC, I was drawn to the gothic, “Hogwarts – looking” campus as a high school student, especially when BC tour guides brought us into Bapst Library and pointed out its resemblance to the Great Hall. With this year being the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter’s release in the US, our Gothic architecture did indeed provide the initial inspiration for the Harry Potter theme. But the idea for this video actually began as a conversation I had with the Dumbledore figure of “Special Delivery,” Fr. Michael Himes. I was fortunate enough to take a number of independent studies with Himes as an undergrad, and with both of us being huge fans of the Harry Potter and often finding ourselves talking about the books, it was Himes who actually suggested the theme in one of our conversations last Spring, shortly before I graduated.
Last July, between graduating and starting my full-time role as Creative Producer here at BC, I worked for Boston College Athletics to film ‘Beauford’ the Bald Eagle on green screen, who was featured in the football team’s intro video this past season. After seeing the Eagle footage and feeling inspired, I put together a visual storyboard, using BC footage and Harry Potter movie clips, which was the initial concept that later became this “Special Delivery” Admissions video. The concept evolved quite a bit over the year, but the main concept from that storyboard – an Eagle in the bellower delivering the Admissions letters – remained the focal point of the video.
When I started working full-time for BC after graduation in August, I began pitching the storyboard to University Communications, the Admissions team, and the BC Band as early as September of this year – most definitely weary that a new-to-the-job 23 year old pitching a concept like this might very well be laughed away. Fortunately, I discovered that many people have a deep love for Harry Potter, were similarly drawn to the visual similarities here at BC, and were willing to to offer their time and talent to the project. I also think my visual storyboard was my best persuasion tool, helping people to visualize the end product and the type of video I wanted to create – short, playful, tongue-in-cheek, and heartfelt.
In years past, our Office of University Communications has created one Admissions video, which is emailed to our Early Decision and Regular Decision applicants, and later repurposed as a social media video in the spring for current students and alums. This year, I proposed that we create two – one “BC Branded” video for Early Action, and a second “Creative Concept” video for Regular Decision, intended to be fun, exciting, and playful as students near the Decision Day of May 1st. Fortunately, Admissions was supportive of the proposal and let me take the risk to create something like this.
Though the initial inspiration may have come from the architecture of the campus, I wanted to unite the Harry Potter theme to BC in a way that might reflect a deeper sense of the Heights, and give new admits a sense of the mentors, friends, and community they will discover over the course of four years here at BC. BC is a community of strong friendships and camaraderie, which is not unlike the spirit which makes J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series so endearing and meaningful to this generation.
To make this possible, I knew the majority of this video’s time would be spent in the pre-production phase – pitching the concept, lining up the locations and on-screen characters, figuring out the candle special effects and eagle green screen, and testing a lot of different scenes and concepts before shooting.
Utilizing my visual storyboard and an excel spreadsheets, filled with locations and potential ideas, I tried to draw upon relationships, locations, and small details from many aspects of my student life at BC to make the video – such as the bookcase at Connors Center where I had attended many retreats – to make the best Hogwarts comparison I could. The key player, and the collaboration that gave me the most hope that this was possible, was most definitely the BC Bands Program – without Sebastian Boniauto and Kara Robbins’ generosity, we simply could not have made this video. After a series of meetings beginning in September, they provided the beautiful John Williams score, “Hedwig’s Theme” and “Leaving Hogwarts,” and also offered their time on a Friday night in January to film the closing scene of the film in Gasson Hall.
The first clips to be shot in the video actually came after our Social Media & Digital Business class. While there were still a few snow flurries in the air, I flew the drone late at night at BC, trying to fly in the most oblong, mysterious, and Hogwarts-esque fashion I could. The flickering lights on Gasson tower in the final video – which I lined up carefully with the music – became the first clip to replace trailer footage form my visual storyboard, which was altered and rearranged countless times until the finished product was released. From that night in late January up until March of 2018, I shot the Kerry Cronin opening, the Connors Bookshelf and Bapst Candles, the Belltower sequence and Band Finale, and everything in between. Except for the Eagle Footage (shot on a SonyA7sII), I shot the entire video using a DJI Phantom 4 Drone and a Panasonic GH5 on a Ronin-M DJI Gimbal.
Perhaps the best story from the shooting of the piece was the Belltower sequence. Due to liability concerns from BC, myself and a guide from facilities were the only people able to enter the Belltower to film – preventing me from shooting students or faculty like I had planned. Honestly, I was panicking, because this was the whole point of the video – without the ‘courier Eagle’ theme it suddenly lacked a story- and the last thing I wanted to do was film myself in the tower. In my mind, I think it’s safe to say that the man who saved this project is John Luniewicz, a member of our Carpentry Shop at BC who was kind enough to provide my escort to the Gasson Belltower. He had absolutely no idea that I was going to ask him to be part of the video that night, but he generously played along with the Harry Potter theme, donned the cape, scarf, and lantern, and circled the bells many times in order to get that shot with the Eagle. He truly could not have played a more perfect part – he quite simply had “the look!” John is a proud father of two daughters who currently attend BC, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for starring in the video in such a fun way.
Post-Production & Effects
When it came to the effects in the film, Paul Dagnello, my partner in crime in the Office of University Communications, and I worked endlessly on the Bapst Ceiling Candles shot that linked BC to the world of Harry Potter. As pictured on the right, we shot a single candles 8 different ways on green screen in order to reflect different flicker rates and shadow direction. We then arranged them on the ceiling of Bapst in Adobe Premiere, having to come up with ways to give them proper scale, relationship in space, random arrangement, different levels of focus and sharpness, etc. It’s most definitely not an Industrial Light and Magic special effects result, but I’m proud of our end shot and simply could not have accomplished this without Paul’s post-production savvy and systematic approach to the process.
Additionally, I worked with Owen Edwards, one of our freelance designers, to create a green-screen Heights newspaper cover, which would allow the moving drone overlay during Kerry Cronin’s opening scene. I included headlines such as “Lighting Changes in Bapst Library” and “BC Pleased to Inform New Class” to mirror fictitious Daily Prophet language, and key-ed out the green screen to create the effect.
Lastly, I worked for weeks on many different Eagle green screen shots. I had over an hour of Eagle footage and played with many different angles and types of shots, but ultimately determined this slow-mo shot, with a bit of added zoom for a slight “zolly effect,” was the best way to make the Eagle look as real as possible. As you can see below, the Eagle was shot in broad daylight last July, so I did a lot of color grading to make the exposure, contrast, and look of the Eagle match that of the nighttime belltower.
Funny enough, I decided only 3 days before to release this video in color. Originally, I had been creating a video that turned black and white once entering the newspaper, only to return to color during the hyperlapse of the St. Michael Statue and the opening of the Gasson doors. Although this was done to create a different fantasy, vintage feel, I mostly went with the black and white thinking that it would be a “crutch” that allowed for better special effects work. After feeling more confident in our Eagle and Candle special effects than I ever hoped initially, I opted for a color video that I think was ultimately warmer, more inviting, and more fitting of the tone of an Admissions piece.
Admissions/Social Media Treatment
For the first time at BC, we committed to a platform-focused treatment of the video, and drove all traffic to our Admitted Student Microsite, created by our class’ talented guest speaker, Melissa Lesica Beecher. The full video was 1:24 for Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo, we made a 0:30 Instagram version, a 0:30 Facebook cover video, and even a 0:15 teaser video for Instagram Story and Snapchat the night before it was released. Even further, Melissa created a “Making Of” page, which allowed prospective students to click on links, explore program offerings, and learn more about the BC elements featured in the video.
Results – Analytics & Press
|Harry Potter Admissions Video Results|
|As of 4/15/18|
|Babble (Disney Sponsored)|
- Circular approach to digital strategy – website, social, email – that drives everything together is most effective (more to come in next blog post)
- Playful, story-driven, short video is best for social
- Platform – specific formatting is crucial
- The more people involved in a University video, the better (especially the BC Band!)
- Pre-Production & aligning concepts to actual marketing strategy makes creative freedom and fun projects possible