PDN’s candid chat with KN+SAW | Katrine Naleid & Stephen Austin Welch directing duo and still photographers
Having collaborated on ad campaigns for more than ten years, the San Francisco-based photographers and directing duo KN+SAW, Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch, have found a way to strike a balance between shooting motion and stills. They have discovered that one of the advantages of shooting assignments that combine motion work and stills is that pre-production planning for the video can elevate the still production and help the shoot run more efficiently while yielding a higher abundance of quality assets for the client.
On a recent assignment from SBC Advertising in Columbus, Ohio, the duo directed a 30-second national tv commercial for Elmer’s glue; and then, on a second shoot day, shot still photos for a rebranding campaign to be used in the launch of Elmer’s new website. After KN+SAW were awarded the projects, they began pre-production, which took place over 3 weeks. Welch says, “During this timeframe, we did a collaborative rewrite of the script with the agency.” Naleid adds, “That rewrite provided the vignettes that I shot the stills around.”
KN+SAW work collaboratively and co-direct equally as a team. As far as skills, Katrine is spectacular with directing the talent and draws out spontaneous, natural, real emotion; and Stephen is deeply involved with camera and lighting. Both keep up communications with the agency and client. On some jobs where it could not be avoided, Welch has shot video over Naleid’s shoulder as she is capturing stills, but the majority of the time the still and motion shoots are orchestrated to happen on different days. Katrine drives home the point, “Separating the tv spot from the stills is a must. If that is not done, both the motion and stills will be compromised to some degree.”
SBC contacted KN+SAW about the Elmer’s projects when the agency’s broadcast team had a meeting with the agency’s print division team and they found out both sets of creatives “wanted to work with the same Katrine Naleid!” says Welch. Then both divisions traded promos that KN+SAW and Katrine Naleid Photography had recently sent them, as well as the ones that they had kept on file.
Elmers “Let's bond” :30 spot directed by KN+SAW
From the beginning, KN+SAW contributed ideas to the campaigns. In the initial creative calls, chief creative officer Neil Widerschein explained that Elmer’s wanted to move away from touting the glue’s technical properties and build a lifestyle campaign, “Let’s Bond,” showing parents and their kids working together on craft projects. Welch and Naleid proposed a vision of how to accomplish the goals in the treatment they created, that landed them the jobs.
Naleid and Welch say that on video assignments, more than on still shoots, creatives “want to see where you can take their idea.” That experience has influenced how they communicate their ideas to ad agency creatives on all projects, they say. They now submit treatments whenever they are bidding on a campaign - whether it requires stills or motion - in order to “put our best foot forward,” explains Naleid.
For the Elmer’s shoots, which were produced and shot in Minneapolis, Naleid and Welch worked with their [previous] production company, Limey, to location scout for a single house where they could photograph all three family scenes yet have them read as unique individual houses. To ensure chemistry among the actors, KN+SAW spent a large amount of time on casting and call backs to cast the seven actors - who included only one real-life mom and son pairing.
During pre-production, KN+SAW also storyboarded each shot to determine camera placement and anticipate the blocking. “With the shots where the camera moves, it is important to discuss the reasoning about why the camera is moving and what we are revealing in the shot,” says Welch, “then budget time accordingly.” They reviewed the storyboards with the client in pre-pro at the location, explaining how each shot would tell the story. Welch expounds, “Being detail oriented on the front end is paramount; it gets the client emotionally invested in the storytelling process, so on the shoot day they are not saying, ‘Why are you doing this shot? - we need to show the glue bottle.’ Katrine adds, “We know we’ve done our job when everybody understands why we’ve scripted these shots.” Naleid also notes that, “We always take advantage of our location tech scouts and view the site not only as directors but also as photographers.” Be it motion or still, lighting diagrams are drawn up in advance by KN+SAW.
The tv spot was shot with the Arri Alexa, (which KN+SAW like for its dynamic range), that was outfitted with Cooke primes. To mimic daylight, they set up HMI lights inside and out. Welch describes their lighting tactics, “With both motion and stills our lighting style utilized large, broad sources that allow us to create light that wraps around the subject and has contrast; we were careful to keep our highlights intact so that we could have subtle detail to work with in post. Our goal is to always have the scenes look like natural light — even though we light everything from scratch!” As fate would have it, a rain storm on the shoot day forced them to tent all the exterior lights; yet the powerful generator provided steady power to all the units — even when the lightening storm caused the household electricity to go out.
Naleid and Welch always set up a “video village,” with a monitor and some comfortable seating, where the creatives and client can watch what is being captured. The video village is located in a separate room from the shoot - so Naleid & Welch can create a calm, natural, intimate set for their actors. The monitor remained in the same location on the still shoot day. While the video shoot required a crew of 40, they worked with about half that crew on the still shoot day.
tear sheets from the Elmer’s print/web campaign
Naleid shot the stills with a tethered Canon 5D Mark III paired with Canon glass. Her lighting was with ProFoto Strobes. Welch says, “we used a lot of bounce light that we then softened more with silks. Having these soft but directional side sources gave our talent refined shaping.“ In the end, the light looked very similar to what they had achieved with HMIs. During the video shoot KN+SAW were focused on creating a narrative; but when shooting stills, Naleid handheld the camera, which kept her liberated to explore close-ups and follow spontaneous interactions. Naleid explains, “With the still camera in your hands, there’s freedom to say, ‘Let’s try this.’ With video, you’re dialed in, because it’s all rehearsed in advance.”
KN+SAW also like to be involved in post. Welch says, “We strive to follow a project as far as we can, and that means we try to be in the editing booth on the first day.” KN+SAW had negotiated through their executive producer and the ad agency’s creative director to have some time with the editor as part of the assignment. After doing some rough cuts of favorite sequences “back in our studio” Welch flew to the editing house in Los Angeles at his own expense. He took a hard drive of favorite footage they had edited over the weekend. Says Naleid, “We want to put our stamp on a piece we so carefully handcraft, so we make sure the first cut the ad agency sees is essentially our director's cut.” The finished tv commercial and the still photographs, that KN+SAW delivered, captured refreshing, authentic, lifestyle moments and the storytelling that this duo’s is known for creating.
interview by Holly Stuart Hughes
To see more of their award-winning work, visit:
“behind the scenes” from the Elmer’s broadcast & print shoots with KN+SAW