Bright Nights 25 Years

Chris Thibault:

Judy and Amy came to us early in the year and let us know about their idea to have a giant LED wall displayed at this year’s City of Bright Nights Ball. It would mark their 25th anniversary. The wall would be gigantic. Nearly 12 feet tall and over 70 feet long. The wall idea was first proposed to The Spirit of Springfield by Andy Jensen of Jx2 Productions. He knew that a huge display like that (and some great content to show it off) would create that “wow” factor that the Spirit of Springfield is known for. Count us in!

But first, we had to come up with a concept. We knew we wanted to tell the story of how Bright Nights started and what it has meant to the community over the years. But what could we do that would really show off that giant screen? An idea popped into my head. Ghostbusters! Wait, what? Yes, the original Ghostbusters movie had a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man walking through the streets of NYC. What if we did a similar thing with 

the displays. We could place them in various places in Springfield and that would be the introduction to the video. I wrote up a treatment and presented the idea to Spirit of Springfield and they loved it.

But now the hard part. Actually making it happen. See, the actual dimensions of the video wall, is very awkward compared to how we normally watch video. It is extremely wide. I would have to shoot everything very carefully in order for it to play on the wall. Beyond that, we would have to format another “regular” version so it can play on TV and web. So I had to plan these shots very strategically. We shot it in 4k but kept all the action in the appropriate place so it would translate well on-screen. Luckily, my monitor has an option to provide a guideline for situations like this. We can dial in the pixels, and it will give us a frame.

I shot every night scene on a different night. Why? Because I wanted to get that dark blue night sky in every shot. And to do that, you have a window of about 15 minutes believe it or not where it is bright enough to show the blue “night” sky, but also not feel like it is still day time. 

For the drone shots, we used Aerial Camera Services LLC. Glenn and Tami came out various nights and worked with the unusual framing to create some pretty cool shots. That opening shot of Springfield came out killer!

After we shot an individual scene, I would then send the clips over to Joe Rollins of Rendered Speechless Productions. Joe can take my crazy VFX ideas and bring them to life. If you look at all of these shots closely, you can tell that Joe cares about his work. Little things like reflections and subtle camera shake add to the realism. This all takes a tremendous amount of time and since this was our first time working with this unusual format, there were some initial hurdles we had to get over as well.

Check out a little behind-the-scenes breakdown of the Grinch at Big Y VFX shot.

Missy Thbault:

After the larger-than-life introduction piece, we would shift into the documentary portion of the video. The goal of this section would be to talk about the origins and history of Bright Nights reflecting back on the beginnings, 25 years ago.

We interviewed 6 people for this portion of the video; Judy Matt from the Spirit of Springfield, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Congressman Richard Neal, Major General Gary Keefe, Pat Sullivan from the Springfield Parks Department, and Roger Crandall, CEO of Massutual. It’s not uncommon for a project to consist of a number of interviews from which we would develop a story. But something about this one had me hung up with a video editor’s version of writer’s block. It’s always a part of the process to enter day one of editing, look at the amount of raw content, and be a little overwhelmed with the possibilities in front of you. There is always the pressure of hoping to make the right decisions, to tell this story in the best way possible. Maybe there was added pressure of it being played for 500+ people while we are sitting with them in the room. Maybe there’s added pressure thinking of the ceiling to floor screen spanning across the entire ballroom that it would be played on. Yeah, those things probably added a little to the creative anxiety for this one.

Over time, as I chiseled away organizing all of my clips, the sections of the story came together. I know that the Spirit of Springfield has a huge database that houses all of its media coverage, publications, and videos. So, I was hopeful that we could attain clips of news coverage from the opening night of Bright Nights, and I knew that would be ideal to incorporate. And it most certainly was. It made the perfect transition from the opening sequence into the documentary portion of the video. The music came to a close with a drumbeat that fades out and then in fades Brenda Garton sitting at the WWLP news anchor desk in 1995 as she says “It’s time for Bright Nights at Forest Park”. These are the types of moments that you can’t plan for, you can’t write that ahead of time because you don’t know you have it! I live for those moments of finding that gem that ties the project together. That was that moment for me.

Judy Matt and Pat Sullivan were able to provide a beautiful insight, describing the seed of the idea to bring a lighting display to Springfield, to the meeting with designers, through fundraising and digging trenches in the park. I think it was important to reflect back and acknowledge all of that work as we celebrate. Judy had held onto the original artboard designs that were hand-drawn by the designer of the lighting displays, I thought that was pretty incredible and we were able to showcase them in the video as well.

The theme for Bright Nights this year is “Treasured Tradition”, they made a book that shares many memories of Bright Nights. We showed that off in the video and also had the interviewees share a bit about their personal memories and how important of a tradition Bright Nights has become.

The video ran just under 9 minutes, on the longer side for what we typically do… and fairly long for playing at an event. But we held the audience’s attention and they showed their reaction to the video by standing up and giving a standing ovation once it was over. Mission accomplished!

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