Video Production Support at the Farm Progress Show

Known as the “world’s fair of agriculture,” the annual three-day Farm Progress Show (FPS) is the nation’s largest outdoor farm show. Held alternately between Decatur, IL and Boone, IA, this year’s show featured some 600 exhibitors, including DuPont Pioneer, who contracted with The Iona Group for media preparation and on-site A/V support.

The Pioneer “tent” was 180’ x 100’, had an interlocking, hard floor, and was air-conditioned! This helped provide a more comfortable, enjoyable visitor experience, especially when temperatures outside were in the mid-90s. Inside the tent were dozens of “stations” highlighting the various products, services, and technologies offered by DuPont Pioneer. Included in many of those stations were monitors that played looping videos, which Iona compiled prior to the show.

Photo: Inside the DuPont Pioneer tent

In addition to the numerous videos playing inside the tent, Pioneer also utilized a 9’ x 12’ Jumbotron outside of their tent. The purpose of the Jumbotron was to provide schedules and information to attendees walking outside the Pioneer tent, but mostly to draw them into the tent. To do so, we “broadcast” portions of live presentations happening on the Pioneer stage from various ag experts speaking on a number of key topics. There were also hosts for these presentations, and we had them do “promos” out to the Jumbotron to entice visitors to come into the tent. Tim Martin ran camera, BJ Aberle was the audio engineer, and I ran the video switcher that fed the signal to the Jumbotron.

Photo: Jumbotron outside the Pioneer tent

Photos: Tim Martin mans the camera (above); BJ Aberle in the control room (below)

As with most things technical, there are always challenges, and this year’s FPS was no exception. We had some challenges with cable connectors and getting a signal from our control room to the Jumbotron, but once those issues were corrected, the show went very smoothly, and our client was very pleased with the final outcome.

DuPont Pioneer Business Conferences

For over a decade, The Iona Group has assisted DuPont Pioneer with their annual business conferences. This work has consisted of, but not been limited to, theme development, graphic and video creation, and staging the actual conferences. Until recently, this conference was a single yearly gathering of the entire North American sales team, held at various locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Beginning last year, however, the decision was made to go from one large meeting to meetings specific to each of Pioneer’s different business units (BUs). DuPont Pioneer still wanted to have a common theme among these smaller conferences, so Iona was again called upon to assist with the theme development, creative look, and the creation of an opening and closing conference video. In addition, three of the business units requested Iona to assist with the staging of their conferences in the last two years. This involved coordinating the AV needs for the general sessions and breakouts, negotiating pricing, and being on site at the conference to help with “teching” the general sessions.

This year, the opening and closing videos were tailored to include BU-specific shots that gave each business unit’s videos a customized feel. The videos consisted of high quality animation (created by Heather Ford and Matt Forcum) wrapped around clips from people in each business unit commenting on how they “Go for Growth” (the theme of this year’s conferences). In addition, “B-Roll” shots were included specific to each business unit. Video crews from The Iona Group (including Tim Martin, Matt Forcum, and myself) travelled to Mankato and Jackson, Minnesota; Chatham, Ontario; and Bloomington, Illinois to capture comments from various business unit personnel. The other BUs provided video footage from selected team members. These clips were used in the final, customized videos shown at each business unit conference, edited by Heather and Matt.

(Photo: from animated video closer)

I also had the opportunity to assist the Heartland BU with the AV coordination and staging of their conference (in June) at the Oak Brook Hills Marriott Resort near Chicago. This effort began several months before the conference, determining Heartland’s budget, desired room setups, equipment needs, etc. We then began working with the hotel personnel to create diagrams, negotiate pricing, and order required AV equipment and personnel. Once the conference was at hand, I was on-site to supervise the room setup, ensure all equipment was set and working properly, and then help tech the general sessions and awards banquet (running video playbacks and the video switcher). All things technical were ironed out by the opening session and went smoothly for the duration of the conference. Our client was very pleased with our efforts toward the success of the conference, as she summed up her thoughts to me in an email, as follows: “Thanks again for all of your help this year! I have no idea what I would’ve done without you there!!!”

(Photo: Ballroom setup prior to conference open)

It’s always enjoyable working for DuPont Pioneer, but I especially enjoy working the various conferences for them. I look forward to being involved in many more of these in the future!

Shooting a National Commercial in 4K Raw

Our task was to shoot a commercial for DuPont Pioneer on an isolated gravel road in Canada, with two pickup trucks (whose drivers stopped to hold a conversation in the middle of the road), and canola fields as far as the eye could see!

One big challenge was to get familiar and comfortable with a new camera package and then tackle the logistics of shooting north of the border in a short amount of time. Creative Director Jim Ferolo organized a Sony PMW F55 (cine alta) package with a wonderful assortment of Sony prime lenses. The F55, with an attached AXS-R5 4K recorder was set up to simultaneously record raw 4K and MPEG proxy files (on SxS cards in the camera body). The proxy files were for screening purposes and an off-line edit.

Programming the settings for the F55 was new territory for us, but once the menu was set (for file format, linked recording between the 4K and Proxy files, frame rate, etc.), we could save the settings to an SD card and upload them on site. We had an F55 in-house for four working days, and so were able to familiarize ourselves with the camera before the shoot and then finalize the settings and record them to the SD card. We rented a similar F55 in Calgary, picked it up the day before the shoot, loaded the SD card and double-checked the menu settings for the following morning. We were able to use a set of Sony Prime lenses, a total of six, which ranged from a 20mm to135mm.

(Photo: Lens selection for every angle.)

If I wanted to describe shooting with the F55 in a few words, they would be:

  • Incredible latitude. We were able to push the exposure one to two stops, and bring it back down, retain the detail without creating any noise in the black levels while realizing tremendous detail and quality.
  • Large files and resolution. We recorded raw 4K files in which the native format was 1920 x 1080.
  • Flexibility and quality of prime lenses. We were able to grab the wide “drive into frame” shots with a 20 mm and 35 mm. Prime lenses offer a very sharp image with a great depth of field. Having a full range of primes gave us the advantage of choosing the right lens for each shot.
  • The value and benefits of teamwork.

Our creative director, Jim Ferolo, did a fantastic job of developing the right shooting package for this situation. His product knowledge and insight made us comfortable with our shooting environment. The latitude of these 4K files enabled us to push the exposure one, and sometimes two, stops (that would later be brought down in post to reveal a nice quality image). Jim’s on-location direction made the entire production click seamlessly.

Our shoot was storyboarded and produced by Matt Forcum; he was also our data wrangler. Rob Cody, who also spent hours before the shoot familiarizing himself with the F55, provided excellent camera support and monitoring. This proved invaluable when out in the canola wilderness capturing the shots we needed.

(Photo: Creative Director Jim Ferolo’s location keeps things running smoothly.)

Teamwork enabled the successful completion of this project. The three days prior to this shoot, Rob and I were in Alberta for a separate shoot with our own camera gear. Weather caused this job to run over into our setup day, which created a traffic jam of sorts. Rob drove to Calgary, picked Jim and Matt up at the airport, picked up the camera at the rental house (after going through the entire setup with them) and met at the hotel with our clients that evening.

The opening shot was slated for 5:35 am. Jim, Rob, and I went out at sunset the night before to check exposures and latitude. This enabled Rob and I to set the camera up (in the middle of a canola field) quickly, and we were comfortable with our exposure choices. While we were in the field for the first shot, Jim and Matt were the stand-ins for the talent, driving the pickups in the opening wide scenes.

There was a lot of “behind the scenes” logistical work done, on-site and back in Illinois, some of it at the last minute (literally). This included arranging for lighting, key grips, makeup, catering, pickup truck rental, and even porta-potty delivery!

The week before the shoot, Lethbridge (our location) experienced a severe storm that included hail. We were alerted that the rental pickups we had booked had hail damage and were unavailable. Our production manager, Jeanne Foster, did a Google search, arranging for two Ford F150 trucks (the agency’s choice). These were located just a few blocks from our hotel, making it easy to “pick up” and return.

This opportunity was daunting, enlightening, and exciting. It took a team effort to pull this production off, and teamwork made it a success. We look forward to the next challenge and task.

Breaking Out of the Pack

The conference and convention marketing business is a competitive one for cities.  They are often are given only a few minutes to market against many other visitors bureaus and the audience sees very similar booth graphics and brochures over and over (yawn.)

Jeff Hendricks, Executive Director of the Decatur (IL) Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, was very aware of this problem and lit up when he saw the iPad shuffle that the Iona Group had developed shortly after iPads were released.

“Now that’s how we can break out of the pack at a big trade show.  I want one,” Jeff said.  Iona worked with Jeff to create a custom version of the 3 iPad sleight of hand presentation that told the Bureau’s basic story using graphic movement, music, video and narration.

Jeff reports that the new presentation is so successful that attendees are seeking out his booth at trade shows, “We heard that we have to come see what you guys are doing.  Show us.”

“Standing out has been a big problem in the past.  Now, it is much easier to get noticed and start the essential one on one conversation,” Hendricks said.  “Our stakeholders are also really pleased with the new approach and feel excited about being part of this marketing effort.”