Popping, sizzling, and crackling continued all day, as five deep fryers hummed under pressure without a break. They were eager to produce that perfectly crispy chicken fillet, even if they’d have to go through a hundred attempts to get there. The setting could have easily been a fast food joint, but it was Lee Runion and Jennifer Bostic’s 5,000-square-foot studio in Tampa, Florida. That being said, the deep fryers were operating uninterrupted for a fast food chain, one that epitomizes Southern Hospitality with its crispy chicken, sauce for days, and a slew of indulgent sides: Zaxby’s. Lee and Jennifer, who together form Black Horse Productions, were brought on board last year to help Zaxby’s visual rebrand across digital and traditional marketing platforms. It’s an ongoing effort that sees the duo collaborating with Zaxby’s beyond the 2022 photoshoots.
Initially, several production houses were in the mix, including those that had previously worked with the agency and one that had assisted Zaxby’s on a prior campaign. Lee and Jennifer were also in the agency’s good graces, having collaborated on projects for Krusteaz and Pilot/PJFresh. Despite the competition, it seemed the agency wanted Black Horse on board more than others.
They included us for our experience and our great working relationship with them. We put together a treatment and built a budget based on some inspirational direction from the agency. They wanted a production company that could handle the shoot’s creative needs and pre and post-logistics. In Tampa, we have a great depth of resources for putting a production together.
Zaxby’s was after a new, fresh look for their social media and point-of-purchase displays: bold, colorful, and faithful to their core palette. It was also set to be an ongoing campaign, so they needed a production company that could handle the demands of a long-term partnership. Black Horse fit the bill.
With the agency, Lee and Jennifer strategized to bring the new appearance to life. Everything, from the shot list and deck to props and wardrobe direction, was on the table. They also reviewed technical aspects such as lenses and light modifiers to produce that hard light aesthetic.
The hard light look is tricky. It may look simple, but you see a lot of it out there that looks really bad. You have to work very carefully with the light and always remember that the subject should be the most important thing. Some people forget that and only worry about where the shadow falls and the lesser details. It’s a balance of making all the things work and look good.
Production occurred over several three to four-day shoots last year. At times, the pace on set was frantic, as the duo ran through a shot list involving numerous setups with 20 or so people on set. Thankfully for Lee and Jennifer, the crew includes some of their favorite people, whether it be the producer and art director or digitech and production assistants.
They’re some of our favorite people, and the sense of humor flying around set is pretty great. It’s also fun getting so messy on set, with splashes, drips, and pops of colors you wouldn’t think to pair. All the playful things really add a lot of zing, letting us go further outside the box than we normally would.
Some of the fun also extended to the talent, who had endless servings of fast food on the house. But that term can equally apply to the models and the food on these shoots.
This was a food shoot, first and foremost, so making sure the food looked great was the priority. So we had food stylists and their assistants. We ran 5 deep fryers all day, and it was a nonstop prep. Sometimes, we’d look at 50 chicken filets on set to pick one hero. The talent is mostly held to the side, and we bring them to set as we need them for each shot.
However, the models steal the spotlight in some shots. Their facial expressions do just as much as the food to make a defining statement, all while getting their fingers messy with a delectable medley of Zaxby’s sauces. Things are set to get messier in April when Lee and Jennifer work on another shoot for the brand, building on their long-term partnership once more. Sometime down the line, they could join hands in the duo’s new 17,000-square-foot studio space, nestled in a historical social club built in 1928. It’s still under construction, but once that’s over, the deep fryers may operate there as well – nonstop throughout the day.
See more of Lee and Jennifer’s work on their website.
Producer: Jasmine Fox
Assistant/PA: Curt Linebach
Food Styling: Bree Williams
Props: Lisa Malott
Wardrobe: Michelle Price
HMUA: Hannah Dezarn
PAs: Maggie Hudak, Ricky Guimaraes, Alicia Revel, Lauren Cordova
Coordinator & Digitech: Jennifer Bostic
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