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Say Yes to PhotoVideo!

I’ve just completed one of the biggest and most awesome projects of my career. You know, the kind of thing where a client you’ve never worked for totally buys into your vision and before you know it you’re creating an entirely new brand story one inspired leap of faith at a time!

Last summer I was invited down to Strathcona Tweedsmuir School (STS) to have a chat about the photo shoots they wanted to do in support of their new “Say Yes…” campaign. It’s a private school (or a ‘public’ school where I and all my preconceptions come from) which I knew little else about other than assuming it was just an expensive school for posh kids, our future overlords – you can take the boy out of Scotland but it’s trickier to take the Scotland out of the boy.

Calgary has no shortage of great photographers and I knew that I wasn’t the only shooter they’d be talking to, so I was excited to hear what STS was looking for. It’s definitely the kind of place you want on your client list. The market research & strategic thinking which informed the new brand campaign was downright impressive and the precision & scope of their intended story was beyond exciting to me.

I just had one question – why aren’t you planning to shoot video too?

Now I will admit that is a question I ask quite often in meetings – the Ewan PhotoVideo evangelism road show is something the world needs more of IMHO. But this struck me as a story dying to be told through stills & video and across all media. As I write this blog it’s even about to be the first TV ad I’ve shot! Anyway, the good folks at STS were quick to agree that the campaign needed stills & video. And Ewan.

I love to tell brand stories and with all the homework STS had done (they are a school after all) we were quickly able to work out that New Adventures, Opportunity, Belonging, The Future and Discovery would be our themes. You can safely say those are 5 concepts a visual storyteller can get excited about. And we’re talking about a school with 220 acres of WOW for a campus, more 3D printers than NASA and an official imperative to do nothing but one’s best so the only difficulty in building the production schedule was fitting it all into our 10 day budget.

I’m going to let the pictures do the rest of the talking now. Suffice it to say that many of the videos made STS insiders cry – I can’t ask for greater feedback than that. I don’t storyboard my work as I like to go where the interviews and visuals take me. My portfolio plus some favourites from YouTube are all I need to agree a stylistic direction. My approach might stress some clients but the support & encouragement I received from STS was inspiring & absolutely enabling. I love to have the freedom to go do what I do and when the client gets behind me there is no hill I won’t die on for them. Actually my knees pretty much did die on a hill for them, but that’s a story for another day.

Here’s the story of the incredible people, their astonishing community and the exemplary ethos that is why everyone should say yes to STS…

Say Yes to New Adventures

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about a drone shot or as emphatic in my driection as the opening shot of this video. Drone by New Heights Aerial – thanks Andy!

If there was one video in this series that I was born to make then it was this one. I love the outdoors, it’s absolutely my happy place and I was introduced to it through my own school’s outdoor education programme many moons ago. However, we kicked this project off late in a summer with unseasonably crappy weather and had to change our schedule repeatedly to catch the weather we needed. Snow was on the ground shortly after we wrapped this segment.

One of the thing’s STS is REALLY about is cross-country running. Like really, really.
This was Day 0 of the campaign and, no pressure, can you be sure to get an image that we can use immediately in a highway billboard? The image at the top of the blog did the trick.
This is just the little pond on campus. Totally 220 acres of WOW!
You might remember school being like this but it probably wasn’t.

Say Yes to The Future

I have to give a huge shout out to Lara Unsworth at STS for writing this screenplay. I knew I wanted to use one of my favourite SAP HANA ads
for inspiration but I didn’t know the school well enough to write the treatment. It’s safe to say that often when clients write screenplays it is just the beginning of a lengthy adventure en route to something that actually will make sense as a video. Not the case here.

The opening timelapse came within about 2.5 iotas of not happening. The sky looked way too cloudy, the timelapse the night before had been a cloudy disaster and I was knackered after an epic day of shooting. And then I noticed a star or two glimmering, a little patch of blue sky lurking and I was reminded that 100% of the timelapses you don’t shoot are absolutely unusable.

Yes, there should be a whole video just made up of the “Bring it on!” takes. She’s awesome!

Say Yes to Possibility

They’re not extra-curricular activities, they’re co-curricular because a whole pile of awesomeness in your educational experience is just another one of the school’s high expectations. You know, stuff like the 2050 Club that’s trying to find new ways to feed the world.

Say Yes to Discovery

It’s crazy to see the conversations that go on in the classrooms at STS. They sure as heck didn’t happen like that at my school. From a very early age it’s all about inquiry & discovery which makes it inherently student-driven and utterly fascinating to document. It’s also just plain fun to have license to wander the hallways and drop in on whichever classrooms seem to be doing the coolest stuff.

Say Yes to Belonging

This is without a doubt the video in the series that I would never have imagined making prior to getting to know STS. Cold showers, scary teachers and heartless discipline (basically Gordonstoun in Episode 9, Season 2 of “The Crown”) are the painfully British stereotype I carry around in my head when contemplating life at a private school. OWell, that could not be further from the case at STS!

Community, inclusion, belonging, diversity, support, acceptance, pick a buzzword and you’ll quickly discover that at STS they are not buzzwords; they’re the way things roll. Teachers going out of their way to form instruction around each kid’s needs, older kids mentoring younger ones, everybody dolled up in fabulous robes for Diwali, celebrating peers for their capability and my absolute favourite: the GSA that isn’t a Gay Straight Alliance because that’s not inclusive enough. It’s a Gender & Sexuality Alliance. And it’s been around forever. At freakin’ STS! Who knew? Hopefully a few more people now…

Behind the Scenes

The fabulous logos were designed by Joslin Green.
Logo animation & motion graphics by Michael Kohlweg.
Strategic genius & deep thoughts by Linda K. Williams .

I like to keep it cozy on set. 9 times out of 10 it’s just me and my assistant in the room. Photo credit for all BTS images goes to the wonderful Trevor Lalonde. He’s awful. Never hire him.
Having started out in photography, it’s great to now have LED sources available that are powerful enough to compete with daylight and can easily be shaped. Good times.
I love, love, love my Quasar Science LED tubes.
I love the feel that’s created by shooting video handheld. That whole photography background again. Plus the stabilisation on the GH5 is amazing & Sigma Art primes have the loveliest bokeh. GH5 colour also plays very nicely with…
…my C200. Which I also shoot handheld when I can. There’s a perfectly good gimbal back in the office crying.
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