Behind the Scenes of “Set Yourself Free”

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the 13+ million people who have already seen “Set Yourself Free.” In this gorgeously filmed PSA, a cadre of nubile youngsters (of the type most often seen in Pepsi or Honda commercials) escapes the drudgery of school and sets off for a carefree day at the beach, with – ahem – unexpected results.

This video is extraordinary, both because of its outstanding production quality and the incredible viewership it has achieved in just its first week. The wizards behind the curtain of this pièce de résistance are the Australian production company of Henry & Aaron: Henry Inglis, Aaron McCann and Lauren Elliott.

Aaron, Henry and Lauren

Henry & Aaron have a number of other very impressive projects under their belt. Aaron’s zombie film, Perished, was very well received at SXSW in 2012. Henry & Aaron’s 7 Steps to Superstardom is a comedic web series that lets you get up close and personal with the creators themselves. You’ll never look at a tech college the same way after watching It’s a Snap. And, if you’re in the mood for some holiday spirit, you probably don’t want to watch Henry & Aaron’s ABC2 Christmas Special with your kids (tagline: “Because naughty boys deserve to be punished”).

While Henry & Aaron’s other projects are hilarious and fairly popular, nothing has (yet) matched the global reception of the frisky and ill-fated teenagers in “Set Yourself Free.”

Sean Penney, Gabrielle Meys, Clare Gibson, David Shire

I was curious about how Henry, Aaron and Lauren made such a beautiful piece, so I reached out to them online. Apparently all the attention hasn’t gone to their heads yet, because they were generous enough to share quite a bit of behind-the-scenes information for CrewOfOne readers. Here you have it, straight from the Aussie horse’s mouth.

Clare Gibson, Sean Penney, Nicola Bartlett, Chloerissa Eadie, Gabrielle Meys and David Shire

“Set Yourself Free” is staggeringly popular. How did you feel when you realized that your work was truly going viral?

Aaron: It was pretty humbling at first to think: “wow, so many people love this, that’s awesome.” Then it hit 2 million views in 24hrs and then 10 million views in 5 days and it became an exercise in stroking our own egos, constantly checking the counter every few minutes and yelling the numbers out at the top of my lungs until the neighbors told me to be quiet. Now that we’re over 12 million… I think I can calm down.

Cinematographer and DOP, Denson Baker ACS

In the video, the sunset seems to go on forever. Did you shoot this all in one day, or did you have to use several days’ worth of “golden hours”?

Aaron: The sun never sets in Western Australia… it drives the public crazy, but it allows for beautiful shots and very little sleep.

Behind the Scenes

The production quality of the PSA is top-notch. Tell us a bit about what happened behind the scenes.

Aaron: We worked with a very talented and experienced cinematographer, Denson Baker ACS. We shot on the Red Epic at 4K resolution at 60fps using DigiPrime lenses. The shoot was 2 days with a single pick-up shot that only took an hour to get. Everything was handheld except for the few shots which required GreenScreen and visual effects plates. The explosions were a combination of practical air mortars (provided by Jeremy Shaw) and digital overlays and compositions (by the wonderful Robert Woods). The shoot was very casual, the crew was small and the budget was modest, our turn around from shoot to completion was pretty quick also about 3 weeks. We edited on Final Cut and did all of our FX in After Effects. The colour grade was done by Dominic Pearce on DiVinci.

Clare Gibson

Rather than try to do what your clients want, you seem to do what you want, and thereby attract clients who want what you do. Is that working for you? If so, what advice would you offer other filmmakers and commercial directors?

Aaron: I think the most challenging thing working in advertising is always trying to direct a shoot with a number of clients, agency reps, producers and other onlookers all peering over your shoulder, second guessing how the shirt should look. How the pants are crumpled. How the hair is “slightly off” or even as petty as the colour of someone’s shoes when the shot is clearly of their face. We decided, very early on, that we would come up with the concept, direct it and deliver it all by ourselves… with little to zero interference on set.

We didn’t have a video village (just a small hand held monitor, that we occasionally stole off the 1st AC whilst he was running to change a lens) It allowed us to move much quicker and have a more collaborative and free relationship with our cinematographer… it also meant that we weren’t distracted by having to answer mundane questions all day long. It’s not for everyone, and we always are very open with clients when they decide to hire us of how we prefer to work. If you hire a director, my person opinion is that you are hiring them for their abilities, not on how well they can do something that you cannot, but for which you’d still like all the control.

For younger filmmakers… I’d say: THE INTERNET IS AMAZING! Use it! Make as much content as you can, as often as you can and eventually 10 million people will find you too. Also blowing up beautiful teens on a beach doesn’t hurt either… well… it might hurt the teens.

I think everybody is wondering: was this a commercial job for an actual client, or personal work for yourselves?

Aaron: errrrr… I once owned a pet dog named “Teddy”… I’m desperately trying to find a picture of him, what was the question again?

For more insanity, visit the Henry & Aaron website, or connect with Henry & Aaron on Facebook and Twitter.

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