Cinematographer Philip Rang ACS films his ‘dream job’ television campaign in Vietnam for OEXPO paint brand client 4 Oranges – by Vanessa Abbott
Cinematographer Philip Rang ACS had filmed commercials previously with 4 Oranges paint company, and he was grateful when he was contacted by a production company he hadn’t worked with before to ask if he would direct and film their new campaign. It was the client who specifically wanted Rang.
“Truly, the dream client as they trusted and believed in what we were doing,” says Rang. “4 Oranges are very intelligent in their vision for the brand which is a very softly-softly approach, respecting the beautiful cultures and traditions of Vietnam in bringing out the qualities of their brand and products.”
Unlike the generic perception of decorative paint, OEXPO approaches branding, and advertising in another light by honouring culture as one that needs to be celebrated, valued and preserved. Such values align with the essence of the brand itself, for OEXPO continuously aims to innovate and re-innovate in fulfilling the ever-growing demands of the decorative paint industry.
Rang threw around ideas and concepts and they came up with the very simple and effective idea of respecting Vietnamese culture, beauty and traditions in the UNESCO world heritage site Hội An. “Work with the producers and creatives was collaborative, and we supported each other. If the client had other ideas, we just adapted our approach,” explains Rang.
Hội An is an ancient city, a tourist destination, which has been devastated by the global pandemic. “This once bustling city is now dormant,” says Rang. “The visual concept was with our talent, Helly Tong, alone in the famous city receiving a gift and looking to discover who might have sent it to her.” Initially, Rang was contracted to make two 6-second and two 15-second spots, but once 4 Oranges had seen the footage they commissioned a 30-second edit. “A client really happy makes all the effort worthwhile.”
Rang lived and worked in Paris, France, for the past twenty years and drew upon two French directors who he appreciates as an influence on campaign. “French director François Rousselet gave me inspiration for the low-angled tracking shots, as well at the attitude of our lead looking directly into the camera,” he says. “For more of a beauty reference, I liked the work of filmmaker, photographer and contemporary artist Bruno Aveillan.”
Keeping the look and feel of Hội An was important to Rang. Production designer Stephen Wang, a friend of the cinematographer, was present during location scouting two weeks before the shoot. “We talked about painting some of the walls on exterior which had been damaged by floods but just decided to keep everything authentic,” says Rang, who added colour by hanging three-hundred colour lanterns cris-crossing the streets.
“We predominantly filmed the location as it was,” he says. “We added a bicycle and the lanterns but that was about it. Of courses adding smoke always takes the edge off my image and creates that ‘mystical atmosphere’. The ‘wet down’ is a classic technique that always works well on night exteriors, it just helps to add that little shine to the image.”
Rang is very happy using the RED Cinema products. “I like the quality which comes out of the RED Helium 8K. It’s really extraordinary. I can push the sensor to its limits in low-light conditions.” The glass Rang chose for this job were ARRI Ziess Supreme Prime Lenses, as well as the Laowa 24mm F14 Probe Lense for just a couple of closeup shots
Rang did get together with the crew at Lens Pro, the rental company, prior to the shoot for camera tests. “The tests were also important to meet in a familiar way so we could get to better know each other before our adventure in Hội An,” says Rang
The cinematographer operated the camera himself which made the whole process very efficient. “Our first assistant director and producer would view and verify selected takes with the client, and we would move on quickly. I find this to be a super-efficient way of working. Of course, all the shots were discussed in detail during pre-production meetings and we were very well prepared.” Shots and frames were designed in pre-production using storyboards as well as during location scouting. “I had basically shot what I had planned and referenced,” says Rang. “We did shoot a few more shots which never made the cut but with only 15 or 30 seconds you can’t use every shot.”
One of the most striking shots in the campaign features the lead on a small boat at night, surrounded by lotus candles floating on the water. “That was a little tricky,” explains Rang. “It was done with a single source of an ARRI Sky Panel with a wide pink spread. I had looked at a frame with a backlit M18 from across the river but it just didn’t work. I canned that and ran with a simple light source. I put the RED Helium at 1200 ISO, closed the lens down a touch to T4 on an 85mm lens and with the beauty of the RED camera in low-light. you can see the results. The scene does need to have some light and of course all those candles floating around in the water and in the boat gave a lot of light of as well. I was very lucky indeed.”
“As director and cinematographer, I was 100% involved and present every day during post-production,” says Rang. “In the off-line edit we only worked off the selected takes from the client. We did have a couple of versions which were not selected and ended up in the final campaign.”
Additionally, Rang made the argument that it was important to have music approved before the shoot, as the cinematographer wanted the music to accompany the images, not just stick on something at the end, much like the way you would edit a music video.
Post-production workflow became very simple and there are only three shots in the campaign which needed visual effects added. “Our colourist for this project was a passionate guy by the name of Khao,” says Rang. “He’s an avid photographer from Dude Pictures in Saigon. The grading was very straight-forward with colour balance, skin tones and matching each frame with a saturation of the colours and help with the lanterns and the candles.”
“My favourite shot in the campaign is something you would perhaps see for a car commercial, but the movement really works,” he says. “At the beginning of the shot we’re looking down one different angle on a corner of two different streets following our lead as she turns, looking towards the camera at 50 frames-per-second on a slider as we change angles on the street from one to the other street. It was just a thought to begin with and to put this thought into action and to see it work like a gem is very satisfying.”
“In hindsight, what I would do differently would be to make it clearer with the client every step of the production. When you let something small slide there is no coming back as everyone gets used to the colour or the framing or the idea. You might get a little lazy and drop your standard for a second and then it’s like having that error set in stone,” explains Rang. “As well as using a look-up table (LUT) even in a television commercial I think would have been useful.”
“For me this was really the dream client,” says Rang. “A client who trusted and let me get on with the task of making a beautiful film for them. I am very grateful.”
Philip Rang ACS is an Australian cinematographer based in Sydney, working globally.