What better way to start of the new year than recapping YouTube’s annual Rewind? A few weeks ago, the boffins at YouTube released a video recapping their top viral sensations of 2013. I had to luxury of interviewing one of the men behind the the six minute remix to talk about YouTube’s huge production piece that has captured over 75 million views.
YouTube Rewind: What Does 2013 Say?
The man of the hour is director/producer, Jonny Zeller. The Minnesota native is a co-founder of the successful California-based production house, Sweatpants Media. Sweatpants Media was called upon to help produce the 2013 Rewind. With Jonny, there’s always bigger and better. His above and beyond work ethic and attention to detail has helped him get to where he is today. The well-versed 27 year old phenom got his feet wet early with big budget projects, and has suited high profile names such as BMW, Toyota, Red Bull, and Schneider Optics, just to name a few.
Many working pros can attribute their success to a specific event in their life. Jonny majored in film, but dropped his studies to pick up a gig as a camera operator for the Democratic National Convention when Obama was running for his first term. At the time, his instructors told him he was making a big mistake, but looking at where he is now, that mistake is paying off with interest from the network and connections he was able to make.
Tell us briefly about Sweatpants Media’s involvement with YouTube Rewind 2013.
Sweatpants Media was contacted by the San Francisco-based company, Portal A, to co-produce the 2013 YouTube Rewind project. We didn’t really know what to expect, but the thought of creating a project for YouTube/Google sounded pretty awesome.
Portal A specializes in content for the Internet so they are very familiar with current online trends and the whole YouTube world. They knew the story they wanted to tell and what talent they wanted to use in order to do so, but they needed a little push to make this year’s video extra special. They wanted to add in some flair so they gave us their ideas and said, “Make these bigger and more epic. Go crazy and pull out all of the toys.”
We brought out our cameras, our crew, and the specialty camera rigs we use for a lot of our shoots. They brought their story and knowledge of the YouTube realm. Our two teams worked really well together because we brought such different things to the table.
A project of this magnitude requires lots of storyboarding and a large team to help you execute. What was your role and how large was your team?
The crew was around 50-60 people, plus roughly 20 talent each day. I was the 2nd Unit Director for the project and my team was about 10-12 people depending on the day. We handled all of the specialty shots including the helicopter/airplane chase, explosions, RC helicopter, and the last minute trip to London. I also worked closely with the Director to make sure each shot was as dynamic as possible.
It was a different workflow than what I’m used to, but it was a fun experience and I really enjoyed working alongside so many creative people.
This is where your experience comes into play, when a DP has an idea and requires your help to achieve the desired results. Not many people know or understand how this works. Tell us about this relationship and the back and forth you had during the prep and planning process.
The director and the DP need to have a good relationship. They need to respect each other and understand each other. A director and a DP look at things differently, so I think it’s important for a director to be open minded when breaking down a scene. The most challenging part is articulating your vision in a way that others can see in their mind too. I knew what I wanted to see on the screen, so we worked together during pre-production to make sure we were on the same page.
I like to have a detailed plan ahead of time, because the chaos on set can sometimes make it difficult to be creative. I always consider my DP’s ideas, even if we don’t end up using them. After all, I hired him because he’s good and because I trust him.
How long did it take for your team to shoot and edit the video?
The entire project was like a tornado. Pre-Production was a four-week scramble trying to get prepared for what was to come. Countless conference calls, scouting trips, and creative meetings trying to nail down exactly what was going to happen and, more importantly, how it was going to happen.
There is always an eerie calm right before principle photography starts. You feel like you are as prepared as possible and know you have everything straight, but you also know how big of a storm you are walking into the second production starts. Production is a living, breathing thing that you have to tame and control like an animal. It’s absolute madness. Then the storm starts…
We shot 4 days in LA on rooftops, stages, flying through the skyline, and on a massive ranch in the middle of nowhere. Day 5 was shot outside of Nashville Tennessee and the final day was shot in Brighton, England.
After production ends, everyone sighs with relief and you’re kind of in the calm middle of the tornado, like the eye of the storm. Then the back half of the storm catches up: Post Production.
Post Production on this project lasted about four weeks. Portal A had three of their editors working around the clock to piece the six terabytes of footage together into a cohesive final video. There were two full days spent in a color studio and a week’s worth of intense CG work.
Drones, cine primes, huge grips, gimbals, and helicopters were just a few of your many toys for this shoot. Tell us a bit about the gear you used to help get the shots you were looking for.
We had two of our Red Epics running pretty much throughout the entire shoot. In addition to our Schneider prime lenses, we also had an Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm and the Fujinon 19-90mm.We mounted them in a real helicopter, our RC helicopter, on our custom gimbal, and of course on my favorite, the Ultimate Arm.
We had the opportunity to work with the Phantom Flex on one of the days. No matter how many times we work with those cameras, it is still always a fun experience.
We also had 10-ton trucks with enough grip and electric equipment to make any production jealous. Sometimes I think the grips and gaffers set up lights just because we have them… It always looks really nice, so I can’t complain too much.
Thanks for your time, Jonny. Who would you like to thank and how can people follow your work?
A huge thank you goes out to the partners at Portal A; Kai Hasson, Zach Blume, and Nate Houghteling, and their producers Davey Johnson, Finley Wise, and Jeffrey Sabin-Matsumoto.
Of course we never could have pulled this off without the amazing Sweatpants Media team – Andy Bell, Tim Frazier, Kristen Russell, Alex Jacobs, and all the awesome crew that works so hard on all of our sets.
To see more of our work you can check out the Sweatpants Media website, or follow us on any of the social medias @sweatpantsmedia. Swing by Portal A’s website too, or visit their social media pages @portala.
Press play below to watch the making of the video: