How to make an ad film

Award-winning Neelay Shah shares the ingredients that make the process of ad film-making a lot smoother

We’re about to take a deep dive into the thrilling world of ad filmmaking from a director’s perspective. Imagine yourself sitting in that director’s chair, with a vision in your head and a whole bunch of creative chaos waiting to be unleashed.

But here’s the thing: you’re not a one-man band. It takes a good team effort to produce a great ad film. Therefore, remember that collaboration is the key to a successful outcome. Surround yourself with talented people and watch the sparks fly. From the cinematographer to the costume designer, everyone brings something special to the table. Teamwork always makes the dream work.

Here’re the ingredients that combine to make the process of ad film-making a lot smoother while keeping it creative;

Brief and budget: A brief is like a blank canvas, and you get to be the artist who turns it into a masterpiece. Now, here’s where the real magic happens – how you can elevate that brief. You’ve got a chance to sprinkle some directorial fairy dust on it and turn it into something truly unforgettable. It’s your time to shine, to make that ad pop and leave a mark on the brand. Most importantly it is crucial to remember to keep it real.

Planning, planning and more planning: Now, let’s talk about shot planning and the language of the film. An ad filmmaker is like a mad scientist, mixing and matching shots from their favorite films and paintings to create something totally unique.

A crucial part of planning is about understanding your audience and the product, speaking their language, and making them feel something deep in their bones.

Storyboarding: Think of it like a roadmap for your film. The more detailed, the better. It’s like giving everyone a GPS so they don’t get lost in the creative wilderness. Plus, it saves a ton of time and headaches in the long run. For a director it is about putting your vision on paper to explain in detail the narrative of the ad film. Besides narrating the story, the storyboard also shows the brand integration for client’s feedback and approval.

Pre-production: This is where the real magic starts to brew. Location scouting, casting calls, wardrobe, prop hunting — it’s like planning the ultimate party. Get it right, and you’re halfway to glory. For instance, the Iball MusiTwin film I shot in Istanbul, which had massive post work to be done, required countless hours of prep to decide to cover the entire street with a green screen to make sure we shot it in the right way to enable the post guys to work their magic.

Casting credentials: I cannot emphasize enough the power of good casting. The entire success of your film can sometimes rely on the performances of your actors. Never take this lightly, spend all the time and energy in making sure you are happy with your cast. It requires you to have good interpersonal skills as you need to make sure your cast is comfortable. This ensure that they are willing to deliver what you expect out of them.

Shoot day: All those late-night brainstorming sessions and endless cups of coffee and production challenges of location permits, casting and equipment availability, not to forget the constant budget restrictions by the producers have led to this moment. Sit back, relax and watch your vision come to life before your very eyes. It’s like conducting an orchestra of creativity. The one thing you need to make sure to have a clear direction for the actors and extreme clarity on how many takes you want to do. There is nothing worse than overshooting a scene and draining the cast and crew.

Edit and music: Never underestimate the power of a skilled editor. An editor can bring you a completely fresh approach to telling your story and help elevate your film extensively. A great reference soundtrack helps the agency and client get a feel for what the composed music could sound like. It’s like the secret sauce that takes your ad from good to legendary.

By Neelay Shah, an award-winning ad film maker and mentor at Colors Art Institute