How Strategy Saved Us from Insanity: The Technical Intricacy of Microsoft Life’s Black History Month 2018 Concept

Perfect is not a word Rodrigo De Medeiros uses lightly, but when asked about ArcMedia’s recent collaboration with Microsoft Life, the word fit.
Microsoft Life’s Integrated Marketing Manager Conner Kutsunai came to ArcMedia with a very intricate and highly conceptualized photo/video profile of nine black employees–varying in age, seniority within the company, and areas of expertise–who were willing to speak about their role at Microsoft and how they connect Black History Month to a Microsoft Future. The result was a super cool, very dynamic social media campaign for Microsoft Life.

The shoot included two group shots as well as individual portraits and interviews with the subjects, each who had been asked to bring along an object they felt represents their personal connection with Black History Month.
“One group shot was inspired by those Vanity Fair covers they do for, like, young Hollywood, where the cover unfolds in three panels and you have a panoramic of all the actors sitting in different positions, standing, leaning. You get this huge long spread of these people. We went for a dark grey background to make it look kind of moody,” Rodrigo described. “Conner found this beautiful grey couch; we stacked some apple boxes to stagger the employees’ heights…”

He pointed out, “we didn’t want them to look like the Brady Bunch.” The second group shot, meant for Instagram, was a bit more strategic. The idea was to create a group shot with the nine employees, positioning them in such a way that each person would occupy a specific square within a grid of three squares across, and three down. Everything in threes, because, Instagram, right? That way, when the grid of nine is viewed on Instagram, it forms one single image, but when each individual image is clicked on, it expands. Then the user can swipe left, revealing a solo portrait of the employee on a white background. Swipe again, the viewer gets a micro-video interview, a peek into the life of each subject.
Then, of course, the images and video had to be uploaded and posted in a certain sequence to make the grid work. Says Rodrigo, “It was a beast. The organizational part was difficult.”
But Rodrigo had worked with Conner before and was more than happy to pair up with him again. He says, “Conner is amazing. Super creative. A little crazy, a little bit like me. He’ll do anything to make it work and he came in with a very clear visual concept.”

As a photographer, Rodrigo is not one to stick to standards or traditionalism. He likes to try different things and keep things fresh. Still, the team was given one single day to photograph, interview and video capture the nine employees, including the two group shots – a perfect storm of crazy mixed with the organization was going to be vital. ArcMedia Producer Jonelle Cornwell worked with Microsoft Life on the schedule in order to attain this balance. At ten hours, the single day they were given was a long day, but time flew. Rodrigo took the still shots and interviewed the subjects while ArcMedia’s Director of Photography Steven Heller shot the video. They had to come up with a system to make it work, time-wise, and lighting-wise.
“We had one hour per person to do the photographs and then the interview, so the first twenty minutes of the set-up with the white background, I talked to them, learned about them as I took their pictures. Which is great, because then I get a variety of expressions, people start to loosen up. But we only had twenty minutes for that, then we had to move the lighting so Steven could shoot the video.”
That tag team of lighting and shooting, lighting and shooting, went on and on.
Says Rodrigo, “it was intense, keeping track of all these technical elements to make it work, very intricate.”
Then there was the post-production. “We had to deal with resolution, making sure the proportions were appropriate. Instagram resolution is 1080 x 1080 pixels per square and there couldn’t be any gaps in between the shots, so it was very, very tricky. Steven calculated those for me so I could crop each shot,” Rodrigo says. “It was very time-consuming, the post-production part, but we knew that going in – so when we shot it we had all this in mind.”

Long story short, there is a real benefit to a pre-meditated method behind the madness of art. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“I feel like if I had done this job ten years ago I would have totally freaked out. But because of the strategy, it worked. This is why planning is so important. With proper planning, you still have room to play within the confines.”

Microsoft Life has been a favorite client of ArcMedia Studios’, we aren’t shy about saying so.
“The technical part was interesting, the execution, it worked. They were very well prepared and they came to us with a really solid concept,” Rodrigo says. “It was a great collaboration.”
“No,” he corrects himself. “It was a perfect collaboration.”
There’s that word again.