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How to Make a TRANSFORMERS Commercial

By Ned Shaw, Children's Museum Creative Director

How long does a museum commercial run? Thirty seconds. How long does it take to make? Thirty days!

First—and this is not included in the thirty days—we plan and build a fantastic exhibit. Next, I write a script that shows off the exhibit, and hopefully is interesting enough that it keeps you from going to the refrigerator when it comes on the air between your favorite shows. It takes several days to get that script right, talking to the exhibit developers, designers, and thinkers. Then I make a storyboard  that shows the camera shots we want to take, each tied to a line in the script. 


Then we figure out which talented camera crew we want to hire to shoot the commercial, and we reach out to our local contacts to decide on the talent who will act in it. We meet with their Director of Photography, Mike Yonts, at the museum and walk the exhibit, thinking through the shots we need that are in the storyboard. Ideas start popping, collaboration sets in, people build on each other’s ideas, and the story gets better. This is a fun part!

Meanwhile, the museum's exhibit production team finishes the exhibit just in time for our commercial shoot. Everyone shows up early on Saturday, and we meet with the talent to explain the day.

We bring in all sorts of cool equipment, like:

  • An awesome camera
  • Microphones
  • Lights, and more lights
  • A big ole’ boom that can hold the camera, and there’s even a special crew member called a "focus puller" that keeps the lens in focus as it sweeps over people’s heads. 
  • A dolly, which is a mini golf cart that the cameraman rides in to do moving camera shots
  • Sometimes we lay down temporary "railroad tracks" for the dolly to follow, so we get shots that move AND curve around the actors...Cool huh?


Then the next thing you hear is... "Roll Sound! Roll Camera!...Action!" (That’s my favorite part!)

Next, the talent does their thing—speaking lines for the script, walking past parts of the exhibit,  doing what we had rehearsed, and so on. (In the case of TRANSFORMERS: Robots in Disguise, Optimus Prime did all of the talking!)

Then I get to yell, "Cut!" And we do it over again. We do it until it's perfect—and then once more just to be safe.  At this point, people get a little worn out, so we  take a break in the "green room" (not sure why it’s called that…someone write in and tell me) and we get to eat all of the nice snacks our producer Rhonda has procured. Talent and crew, museum staff, and moms and dads, all snarfing down those sandwiches, granola bars, sodas, and cookies. Ahh, the glamorous life of the world of television!

Then back on the set, more shooting, more fun, and finally I get to yell, "That’s a wrap!" …meaning we are done for the day, and everyone cheers.

For the next several days, we take all of those shots, pick the best ones, put them together, add sound and music, show it to the boss, fiddle with a few details, and boom! It's done! Finally it gets uploaded to the TV stations, and sent out to the world! Then we hold our breath until we see people pouring into the exhibit!  And man, did they pour! 8,500 people the first day! We all let out a collective sigh of relief. …and start working on the next one!