The Team at ELM is one of the most creative, collaborative, and professional video production companies I have ever worked with.
Jim Paul, Director of Global Communications, Hollister
Hollister is a global medical products company based in Chicago. But they weren’t always Hollister. Working closely with the History Factory, it was our job to bring to life their corporate story for their 100 Year Anniversary.
They started in 1921 in the basement of John Dickinson Schneider’s parent’s home as a printing company specializing in quality letterhead stationary for local businesses. They remained a quality printer until the mid 20th century. After decades of successfully growing his business his way – quality over quantity – Mr. Schneider had the opportunity to purchase Hollister, a fledgling small company that made heirloom quality engraved birth certificates. By the 1980s and Mr Schneider’s death, the company had become a worldwide medical device and services company.
Jim Paul, Hollister’s Global Director of Communications, was our main point of contact. Jim remained very committed and active throughout the process and was a fantastic brainstorming partner.
Much like us, the History Factory is a non-traditional creative agency indeed. A tour de force, their clients range from the NFL to Verizon and they have been serving from their Washington DC based office since 1979. What makes them unique is they specialize in History. They write books for companies, develop museum-quality installations, and even own a warehouse in Virginia that archives the historical artifacts of companies keeping them in pristine condition, secure, and neatly catalogued. In terms of creating a historically based film on the owner, they were an absolute dream partner. As a creative partner, they were even better. Dario Sarlo, the creative director of History Factory became a close friend throughout the process, always providing keen insights and working through challenges.
Hollister’s needs were extensive, requiring all facets of video production: historical sets, performances, green screens, fantasy configurations, special effects, documentary-style interviews, unique technical specifications, global travel logistics (until COVID-19 required a pivot; more on that later) and a number of deliverables. These videos were created specifically to live in Hollister’s Inspiration Center at their headquarters in Chicago, a place where employees and visitors alike can go to appreciate the fantastic voyage of the company’s growth from one man in a basement to a global medical supplies and services powerhouse.
- One 10 minute film entitled The Founder’s Words: This is a historical recreation mixed with fantasy in which young John Dickinson Schneider is in his parent’s basement in Chicago starting his printing press when a ‘spirit’ of his future shows him the path ahead.
- One, 1-minute trailer for the film
- Six People Stories: Employees sit in front of a green screen and talk about their experiences with the company. These are projected on clear vertical glass slats and appear almost like holograms in the Inspiration Center.
- One 2 minute Welcome Video featuring the CEO of the company.
Hollister was already well underway in collaboration with the History Factory to develop the design for the inspiration center and the specific video needs for the space. They had developed the creative outline for The Founder’s Words broken up into three acts and had a nice map for the rest of the videos.
Due to the large scope of the project, we broke up duties within ELM to make sure everything covered and accounted for. David Larson was the executive producer and oversaw the contract while also acting as creative director for the People Stories and handling international production. Darren Durlach was creative director for The Founder’s Words.
The number one challenge was producing all these videos during the peak of COVID-19. We decided to start with the studio portion of The Founder’s Words since most of the elements we needed we could film locally in Baltimore which gave us more control. Most of the other videos required travel to Europe – which was not an option at that time – as well as a portion of special effects in The Founder’s Words
Darren created a director’s treatment that built upon the great work from Dario Sarlo and Hollister’s Jim Paul. The treatment included a few creative additions to help build upon the fantasy elements that were already in the script. The famous Gordon LetterPress printer – Mr. Schneider’s first press – was the center of the story and Darren wanted to create a dramatic twist at the beginning of the third act in which the press, weighing in at one metric ton, starts turning, almost like a key. To do that would require a large, industrial turntable, probably custom made. Additionally, he wanted the walls of the 1921 basement to magically tear apart and behind it the unseen force would reveal his future. This required some heavy planning from the production designer Chris Ashley and his art team.
We were awarded the project in early July 2020 and filmed the studio portion of Founder’s Words in October, roughly giving us four months to pull the shoot together – but there was a lot to do – not least of which was sourcing a local Gordon press and shipping it. Leading up to the studio everything went smooth. We casted a fantastic lead, Jonathan Helwig, as a young John Dickinson Schneider. We developed looks for the special effects that were approved without too much back and forth. We found the perfect warehouse in Canton (Thanks hutch for the idea) to build our 1921 Chicago basement and the crew was all lined up to go. Oh, and working with the History Factory on a recreation film is a dream. They took care of research, searching for historical assets and props, and were on set to consult on everything.
We filmed The Founder’s Words in two very long days of shooting with two days to build, light and rehearse on the set. There were a few setbacks, but all in all, our talented and dedicated team forged through it. First, always check to see if the floor is level in the warehouse. Doh! One would assume that it would be. However, our construction team learned very quickly that it was not and had to adapt, creating special wedges for all the foundation planks to ensure it was level. It was a painstaking process to complete the entire stage.
The other problem which was scarier at the time is when it started torrential rainfall and raining on our perfect set! There must have been a hole in the roof. One of our gallant grips found a way to get on top of the roof and tarp it over saving the production.
Lastly, our client Jim was not able to be on set in person due to COVID-19. However, we were able to patch him with a Zoom converter on the program signal so he was able to see what the camera could see. It wasn’t ideal, as Jim is a great collaborator, however, he was able to play along.
We had an incredible crew. Kyle Deitz, DP, and Mark Hutchings, Gaffer, were a fantastic duo. Chris Ashley, Production Designer, and Cindy Miller, producer, and so many more had a huge hand in making the days a success.
Of course, after production, comes that task of working out the special effects, fine-tuning an edit scoring the music, amongst everything else. We worked with the brilliant Ian McLeod to compose the score. Jody Weldon edited the film. Ezra Paler drew, animated, composited, and tracked the bleeding paper effects using images that were provided to us. Hector Espinosa developed the world behind the wall. Nick Sjostrom mixed and Matt Riggieri colored the final shots.
We did have to make a fairly large pivot, again due to COVID, in the third act of The Founder’s Words. When the wall opens, we knew we would have some little screens floating around showing much of the company of today. Unfortunately, the plan was shoot all new original footage from around the world and even shoot the shadow of “Mr. Schneider” traveling through various warehouses and facilities. Luckily, Jim was able to provide us with a ton of archival footage that we were able to utilize and make work. It turned out pretty nice.
Of course, The Founder’s Words film was only one deliverable. Inside their Inspiration Center we still had to produce the People Stories. As mentioned before, the goal was to travel to Hollister’s offices around the world to meet people and film their interviews. Jim had his work cut out planning who we would film and where. Obviously, during the height of COVID we could not (and would not) travel to Europe. Jim was able to find people in the states and Canada that were willing to travel to Chicago where we set up a green screen. In the end, David Larson and crew did have to make two roadtrips (flying domestically was questionable as well) to Chicago. There we set up a large green screen in one of the open spaces and Mark Hutchings did his magic lighting it to perfection. Dario Sarlo performed the interviews and worked through each person coaxing out their stories and developing some emotional engagement for each video.
Early Light Media took the seed of an idea for our production and collaborated with our internal team to turn that idea into a cinematic masterwork.
Jim Paul, Director of Global Communications, Hollister
We’re super proud of the work we delivered to Hollister in lockstep with the History Factory. It has been creatively stimulating work that we got to create with really good people.
Please enjoy The Founder’s Words.