Everyone knows zombies never truly die but it was still an unexpected treat for fans of The Walking Dead to see characters killed off in previous episodes brought back to ‘life’ in a series of commercial spots aired during the show’s finale.
To celebrate TWD’s 177th and final episode, four infamous characters who died over the series' iconic 12-year run were resuscitated for five ads aired on AMC in a first-of-its-kind marketing moment.
The creative campaign was the brainchild of Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort which together with AMC Networks’ Content Room executed the concept in just two shoot days by capturing all five on RED V-RAPTOR XL.
Each of the distinctive ads, for Autodesk, Deloitte, DoorDash, MNTN and Ring, were directed by Maximum Effort’s Bryan Rowland and photographed by LA-based commercial cinematographer Nick Mahar.
“Maximum Effort’s modus operandi is like SNL’s in the sense that they can move very quickly in coming up with inventive ideas and shooting them within days,” says Mahar. “They tend to write up to the last minute and ask for a very fast turnaround which gives the creative an energy that I love to match with camera.”
Mahar has been a passionate RED user since the start of his career and regularly uses different models on projects for clients Marvel, Meta and Google. You could say the camera’s selection for The Walking Dead campaign was a no-brainer.
“Both Bryan and I have been shooting RED for years and on many Maximum Effort projects because we love the color science and versatility of RED RAW,” he says. “That was the case here too but we had other factors in play. From the get-go, Bryan wanted to shoot anamorphic for some characteristics so we needed a large format sensor to capture all the lenses’ glory. We had some heavier VFX in the spot for DoorDash and Bryan was doing the post work, so I wanted to make sure we used his favorite format. The biggest reason to choose V-RAPTOR XL is because of its internal ND exposure management that was going to be key to moving very quickly and adjust on the fly.”
All five commercials were shot across two locations, in order to turn around finished spots in time to air with the finale.
“We had less than a week to prep which we did meticulously at my favorite rental house, Rare Breeds, so we would be ready to go,” says Mahar. “This included location scouting for the DoorDash spot near Northridge, Calif. It was pouring rain and foggy the first time we visited. The second time it was bright and sunny but on shoot day there were 60mph winds so couldn’t put up huge silks. We planned to have the sun backlighting us to maintain consistency, and the ¼ stop control of ND in the camera was pivotal for this.”
The four other spots were shot on three different sets on a soundstage pre-lit by Mahar, Gaffer Team Bashet and Key Grip Brandy Tannahill.
“The entire team is always on their ‘A’ game and ready for whatever gets thrown at us. The sets were basically ready to go besides some minor lighting tweaks when we arrived that day. Bryan is an incredible director who knows exactly when we have the shot, so we flew through our days. Generally, we shot two cameras including V-RAPTOR VV but if we only did one then the V-RAPTOR XL VV was our go-to.”
The spot for Deloitte involved an office setting with lots of heads in jars on the wall. It starred Laurie Holden who reprised her character of Andrea in The Walking Dead.
“We wanted this to look upscale but apocalyptic with bright colours through windows and all the heads backlit,” Mahar explains. “It was important for us to match The Walking Dead vibe but make it more polished.”
Shooting on RED V-RAPTOR XL 8K VV allowed them to shoot in 7K 6:5 at 2x anamorphic. “We wanted the anamorphic look but not something too dirty where everything outside the centre frame is distorted. That’s a cool look but harder for VFX. We were after a cleaner anamorphic look.
“We needed to pack a lot into a day so speed was the essence. That’s why adjusting exposure with the built-in ND meant we had no lag when adjusting angles. For me, having built-in ND with the V-RAPTOR XL body was a dream that I’ve been wanting with my RED for years. Instead of having to go find a filter, load it to the matte box, make sure exposure is correct - I can simply dial it in. It meant we moved so fast to pick off shots.”
Mahar adds, “Ryan Reynold’s Maximum Effort team is one of my favorite creative agencies to work for. Bryan Rowland, has been shooting on RED since the company was founded and is the reason they are able to move ridiculously fast compared to other companies. I love the adventure and challenges it brings; this shoot was no different. There’s never a dull moment!”
You can see all the zombie spots here.