Scenes from the KFC spot. (Courtesy David Procter)
Since 2008, cinematographer David Procter and London directing duo Institute for Eyes — aka Luke Seomore and Joseph Bull — have collaborated on numerous commercials and music videos, as well as several documentaries that earned plaudits including a Golden Frog nomination at the Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography in Poland.
The team’s documentary chops came in handy on their most recent assignment, a commercial for KFC, the fast food franchise. Procter calls it “a very different piece of advertising.” The goal was to lend the brand a more human, organic and earthy quality — and the cinematography of the spot was an important aspect of communicating those ideas to viewers.
The spot opens at dawn on a winter morning in farm country. A farmer with his dog tends his chickens. A connection is drawn from the farm to the KFC kitchens and a family eating at the restaurant at sunset.
“The treatment read like a piece of poetry,” says Procter. “It was based around the rich, organic textures of the English countryside and the rustic tones of nature. We were trying to get that feeling of a crisp, cold dawn onto the screen. To capture those tones, film seemed like the only option.”
In devising the look, the filmmakers referenced natural light cinematography in films like The Tree of Life, shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, shot by Gökhan Tiryaki. Procter had also recently seen the film Of Gods and Men, which was photographed by Caroline Champetier, AFC on KODAK 35mm Film.
“I felt that Of Gods and Men was just perfect,” says Procter. “The tonality, the naturalism of the colors and the earthy feel — it couldn’t have been anything other than film. You could feel the grain. This advert had to have that about it, as well, and that’s why I chose KODAK VISION3 250D [Color Negative Film] 5207.
“We shot the entire spot on the 250D stock, including the kitchen interior, because I didn’t want to go from this beautiful outdoor light to a tungsten-lit kitchen,” he says. “It would feel too claustrophobic compared to the rural landscapes. We bounced a light to make it feel brighter, more inspiring and clean.”
The exterior locations were in Winchester, not far from London. The restaurant scenes were filmed in one of KFC’s flagship restaurants in Heathrow villages. The three-day shoot involved two ARRICAM LT cameras, one generally rigged for STEADICAM and the other handheld, and an ARRI 435 camera for overcranked shots. Seomore and Bull were keen on keeping the camera moving to impart a sense of fluid dynamism and visual energy throughout. The agency requested that Procter shoot in 4-perf format to maintain the freedom to reframe or push in at the post production stage. The lenses were older ZEISS SuperSpeeds.
“I’ve always been a fan of older glass, and these lenses lent themselves perfectly to the aesthetic we were striving for,” says Procter. “They are not overly sharp, and the way they flare is beautiful.”
Flares were an integral part of the visual design, both to help sell the feeling of a magical sunrise and sunset, and to offset the gray, overcast conditions. The cloudy skies meant Procter had to create his own low-angle sunlight using large 18K HMI fixtures. In post, he asked the colorist to leave the flares in, and to stay true to what had been captured on the emulsion. Vividly green grass and trees were not called for. One shot required sky replacement.
“We enhanced some elements,” he says. “We pulled out some more colors in the skies, and we warmed some shots up to act as a bridge to the daytime feel. What’s lovely about doing that on film is that it doesn’t start to break up. You can pull it quite far and it really just feels natural. It’s lovely. We also used subtle vignettes in some places to draw the eye, but you’d never notice it — it’s more subconscious.
“When it comes to color, film wins, as far as I’m concerned,” says Procter. “I think sometimes people shoot digitally and they’ll add grain to it, and they’ll try and make it look like film. We wanted this to be unmistakably shot on film. I love shooting on celluloid, and that 250D stock, for me, was perfect. The directors agreed, and we are very pleased with the result.”
KFC - The Hard Way from David Procter on Vimeo.