In a moment defined by quarantine and Zoom, it is no wonder commercial production has quickly become a mirror image of our circumstances. However, a new group of spots for, created via Huge, Inc., and directed by Brandon Bray of Contagious, looks and feels pre-corona, while keenly projecting the client’s message: now, more than ever, people are being their realest selves at home and understands this new reality. The key to this accomplishment may be that, for this particular assignment, Bray had much of what was needed within the confines of his Maryland home. The new work, breaking today, is part of Realtor’s “Homes for the Real of Us” campaign, and includes three :15s and a BTS video chronicling the unique production.    

“More than anything, this project pulls together the many strands of my career,” observed Bray, who started out as an editor and worked as a DP before becoming a director, whose work with brands such as UPS, Walmart and College Board is notable for storytelling that is striking visually yet grounded, organic and personal. “What matters right now is not ‘What’s on your reel,’ but ‘What can you do, what do you have, and who are you with?’”

In Bray’s case, he was quarantining with wife Mia, daughter Brooklyn (11), and mother-in-law, Deborah, who came to help with the couple’s new baby, Lennon, now 11 months.  

Mia appears in “Commute,” Brooklyn in “Friday,” and Bray takes the lead in “Real You - Dance Interrupted.” While the first two play close to type - Mia, a physical therapist, adjusts to WFH life, while Brooklyn loses track of time in a seemingly endless homeschooling routine - Bray had to discover his funny bone to play a dancing dad unwittingly broadcast on Zoom. “Most of my work is pretty serious,” said Bray, “but I just get so excited about solving problems, it eclipsed my shame in that moment.”

Bray is the only member of the family who works in the industry, but according to Contagious Head of Production Hannah Rome, prepro and production stuck to a pretty standard (if tight) schedule. “The agency and client were really great to work with, flexible and creative,” she said. “We were all dialed in from our various locations - Contagious and the client on the west coast, the agency and Brandon in the east - and the result is something light and natural that still reflects the times we’re living in.”

Fortunately for the production, Bray brought home half the equipment from his DC office including his RED camera package, while still being able to secure lenses from his usual rental house, DC Camera. “People are being really supportive these days to allow filmmakers to keep working,” noted Rome.

Admittedly, many of the “crew” responsibilities fell on Bray’s shoulders. “Brandon directed, DP’d, did the lighting and art directed on set,” Rome recalled. “We’d shoot for 2-3 hours, after which a stringout of the footage was uploaded to, which allowed all of us to review the footage and comment on specific takes in real time. We had Teradek, and other hookups to maintain constant communication, but it was certainly different from being on location with him.” At one point, Bray was operating a dolly and pulling focus without being able to see the monitor, but Rome was always watching and producing remotely to keep the 3-day shoot on track. She also sent Skittles and ice cream for Brooklyn, ever aware of the critical role craft service plays in production.

“You’re so isolated when you’re directing you don’t really absorb everything that’s going on and I came away with such a huge respect for the production process,” Bray said. “I’m not a logistics person. I like to do creative work and try crazy things. They’re heroes for all they pull off.”

“As we got into production, we all recognized the uniqueness of the experience,” Rome said. “The client and agency asked if we would chronicle it for a BTS component.” Mia and Brooklyn followed Bray around with a GoPro and iPhone, and the team recorded all their Zoom conference calls.

“I really applaud Huge and for doing something different. Looking back on it, this was a beautiful way to execute a production, in that I was able to do it surrounded by my family...but I was pretty raw throughout,” Bray said with a laugh. “In some weird way, it was a perfect storm, one of those really wild times our family will always remember.” 

Going forward, Rome envisions a hybrid approach to production. “Not so much the one-person-doing-everything model, but I can see fewer than 10 people on set. Health and safety is always the top priority. So we’ll keep learning, and growing. But this one was really smooth, when you consider all of the elements. The team really came together, and it was good to be back on set!” 

For the Bray family, the experience was transformative. Understandably, there was some weariness on the part of Brooklyn, shooting take after take from so many angles. And yet, the director concluded, “It’s amazing how fast it goes to their head. Today, she was like, ‘I’m available...send Skittles!’”

About Contagious
Managed by Executive Producer Natalie Sakai, Contagious boasts a talented roster of short form storytellers including Andrew Laurich, Daniele Anastasion, Brandon Bray, Tamara Rosenfeld, and Jeff Jenkins. Spot work for brands like Mercedes-Benz, Nike, UPS, Adidas Golf, and General Mills is complemented by integrated and off-beat projects such as the award-winning short film Art & Corny - starring advertising luminaries Lee Clow, Gerry Graf and Jeff Goodby - and Sundance gem A Reasonable Request. Contagious continuously develops its directors’ careers via short films, branded content and nontraditional creative opportunities.