Since the inception of fast food and TV dinners, Americans have continued to reinvent the ways in which we bring premade meals to the table. While the initial intention was to provide convenience and ease, the focus has shifted to take a closer look at the quality of ingredients in these speedy suppers.
In a recent project with supermarket brand Wegmans, New York City-based photographer and videographer Will Strawser got up close and personal with the food-making process in their Meals 2GO kitchen, before it made its way to the table at home.
This project fell right in my wheelhouse of being able to direct and create a TV spot that focused heavily on macro-style food prep, mixed with a light amount of stylized lifestyle content. I have shot both kinds of projects in the past for Wegmans, some leaning more toward lifestyle and others where the food is the star, this project combined both.
Will has been fortunate to have a longstanding relationship with the client for the last six years, working on an array of TV spots featuring different styles of his work. For each project, he collaborates closely with the Wegmans team to determine the creative brief, then workshops storyboards and plans what ingredients need to be focused on in order to highlight the food.
Wegmans loves to focus on the idea of fresh, quality ingredients and happy moments of joy with family and friends. The specific goal of this project was to make an evergreen campaign that would showcase the most popular Meals 2GO items that are available to order through the Wegmans app.
The four-day shoot was divided into two days at two different sets, as the client wanted to showcase the food preparation and then transition to its final destination at the dinner table. Will worked out of Wegmans’ test kitchen, collaborating with Expressway Cinema rentals and MocoLab, to bring in gear and crew. They provided the team with a Bolt JR (a compact, high-speed rig with an extended reach) which allowed Will to orchestrate the sweeping shots around, under, and through the food itself.
For this spot, we actually filmed two days in the Wegmans test kitchen, which is a commercial kitchen that Wegmans itself owns. This wasn’t without its challenges as it was not built as a film set.
Wegmans’ test kitchen — while providing adequate room for chefs and their helpers — was difficult to maneuver with the crew required for this shot. The Bolt JR needed a wide space for both the track on the floor, and the arm, without blocking the light setups on each side of the table.
With Will onboard as a director, there was also a producer and two production assistants, two Bolt JR operators, two grips, Digitech, a food stylist, a prop stylist, a wardrobe stylist, and three client reps. On any other shoot, one might feel like there were too many cooks in the kitchen, but for Will, it was helpful to have so many experts on set.
As with most shoots of this size the vibe was fun and efficient, everyone knowing their roles and executing flawlessly. I really enjoyed working with the Wegman’s chefs for this project, anytime I have the opportunity to work with clients that are such experts in their fields whether it be food, drink, hospitality, etc., they always bring such a wealth of knowledge to the table.
Will had a great time discovering the capabilities of the Bolt JR robotic arm, as it allowed for unlimited angle and camera movement. While they had predetermined the food items that would be featured, once the gear was on set they could experiment more freely with the transitions to bring an emphasis on the meal’s journey.
Shooting with a probe lens on a robotic arm already has technical challenges like focus, backgrounds, and lighting. Then you pair that with food actions like pulling through a sushi roll as its being made and you could imagine that would take some time to figure out. We probably went through 20 or so sushi rolls to get the take that was used in the spot, it was hard to get all the pieces right.
The second focus of the shoot centered around several lifestyle environments where the food would be presented. From game nights with pizza and wings, romantic sushi dates, communal study sessions, and catered baby showers, Will worked with the Wegman’s team to highlight all the different settings in which one could enjoy their Meals 2GO.
Working with the subject matter for this shoot was tremendous fun. I like to make sure I try lots of experimentation on set if the client will allow. We get our safe shots, but if there is time left I always like to push it a step further and play with new angles or actions.
Will’s experimentation yielded an array of macro shots that takes the viewer on an intimate journey through the preparation of Wegmans’ handcrafted meals. He’s excited for what opportunities come next within this realm of technology and believes it’s the next step for videographers in the advertising world.
I’ve been shooting for the last 20 years and I always find new things to learn in the process of creating. In this instance, understanding the limitations of probe lenses and the robotic arm itself is a good lesson of what’s possible with modern technology.
See more of Will’s work on his website.