10 Communities. 7 Days. One Awesome Video: How We Made A Sunny Westminster Christmas

Sunday, February 4, 2018

In December, we released our new video featuring residents and employees from around the state showing how we celebrate the holiday season in Florida, dancing and singing in the beautiful sunshine to holiday classics. We call it 'A Sunny Westminster Christmas.' It makes for a fun contrast to the cold, snowy winters the songs are supposed to bring to mind.

We picked up nearly 1,000 views in two days, which is, for us, a pretty substantial accomplishment, and our second in 2017.

Social media manager Cal Reaves and I traveled the state filming these scenes. We avoided doing anything crazy, other than ordering "super-hot" tuna poke for lunch, and shot more than 10 hours of footage to edit into a video. We also coordinated the music recordings with a local band and a local non-profit arts group who served as our chorus.

And we did it all in seven days in December!

Behind the Scenes of "A Sunny Westminster Christmas": On the Dock at Westminster Towers & Shores from Wes Meltzer on Vimeo.

It would be easy to take these sorts of amazing productions for granted. But Newton's First Law of Motion says that an object at rest remains at rest. In short, these things don't happen on their own. Instead, producing this video took an enormous team effort — a literal 'cast of thousands,' as they say in Hollywood.

In honor of our five songs, here's the five things we learned along the way:

  1. Have Fun. It Shows. The concept was that each community would have a team to work on the video, and that they would come up with something fun to do with choreography. We were expecting a little reluctance when we first kicked off this effort. "Another video where we dance and sing?" That wasn't what happened at all! Instead, what we heard at each community was great enthusiasm. 'We just love Bing Crosby!' or 'We used to watch that Rudolph movie every year with our kids.' Residents' and employees' enthusiasm was absolutely infectious and I think it shows. We were outside in the sunshine, while they danced and sang along, and I found myself joining in too.

  2. Have A Clear Concept We're only human. Sometimes, you think you have enough of the idea in your head to get started. This is almost always wrong. We thought we knew how we were going to film "Hallelujah," and after filming the first one, at Westminster Winter Park, we knew immediately that we were going to have to make some changes to our plan. For "A Sunny Westminster Christmas," we did several rounds of brainstorming that crystallized the concept and narrowed our focus. We decided relatively early on that we wanted a video that would be fun and filmed outdoors, to highlight the contrast between Florida in December and the lyrics of, say, "White Christmas." But it took us a little while to hit on the idea of having participants lip-sync and dance, rather than sing. And when someone suggested, "What if we did a medley like they sometimes do in musicals," that was when it really came together.

  3. Leave Lots of Room for Creativity. Have you ever seen the episode of "The Office" where Dunder-Mifflin corporate sends out an ad agency to shoot local TV ads for their branches? The agency guys are so proud of their commercial — which is going to be the same at every branch.

    But, the ad guys tell Michael, they will have a 2-second local insert for the branch office to wave:

    We were determined that this wouldn't be us! Make as much room as you can for creativity. We assigned the communities each a song and gave them a few suggestions, and then got out of the way. Everybody interpreted this challenge a little differently, but it was so different everywhere. We would never have thought of the elf at Westminster Shores making mischief, or the red and green tutus the Westminster Woods on Julington Creek team wore. Who knew Westminster Point Pleasant — formerly Westminster Towers & Shores — had residents who actually volunteer as Mr. and Mrs. Claus?

  4. Streamline for Easier Production. You can get an incredible, even goosebump-inducing, result when you have a detailed, long-term calendar. When we made "Hallelujah," in spring 2017, some of the choirs rehearsed 3, 4, 5 times over a period of weeks before we arrived for the production. But around the holidays, time is a lot tighter. We had four weeks from the idea stage to delivery, and that included Thanksgiving. So what did we do? We cut out the most time-consuming part — learning a new song — and instead focused on showcasing fun, active and sunny at each community. And everyone knows the words to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," or "Jingle Bell Rock." We even worked with a local arts group in Orlando, Central Florida Community Arts, to serve as the chorus. Their arts professionals volunteer their time for projects just like this one! And we only needed an hour to get all five tracks done.

  5. Don't Forget to Bring Sunblock (And Other Equipment Lessons). How many different ways do I have to learn this lesson? Even in December, I got sunburned while we were in St. Petersburg. Sunblock and water are the two most important things you can have. More importantly, the broader takeaway is really to think about what equipment you're bringing with you. We brought with us a full camera rig and a boombox to play the music on, plus assorted decorations and festive clothes to help any residents who weren't dressed for the Christmas occasion. But there were a few times when we would've benefited from a Steadicam, a standalone camera battery charger, or a working cigarette-lighter adapter for our phones. The hardest part of these shoots is expecting the unexpected. Think long and hard, before you leave, about what you absolutely have to have. Then, spend a few minutes trying to game out assorted equipment failure scenarios. What else might you be missing? And did you pack your sunblock?

In Summary

We sure had a lot of fun doing this — and we learned a lot to inform the next video we make. But what do you do for the holidays?