We first met Lulu Huang in 2011. She’s the mastermind behind Global Winter Wonderland, the largest Chinese Lantern Festival outside of China. Lulu was bringing the Festival to the United States for the very first time. She had grew up in China and wanted to share the magic of these incredible events to her new home. If you’re wondering what a Chinese Lantern Festival is, we were thinking the same thing back then, but we would soon learn what Lulu’s childhood dream was all about and it was magical.
We had been brought in by an advertising agency to handle the television and radio production and the social media effort. It was already mid September and spots needed to be on air in eight weeks. It was not impossible but challenging. But when the agency literally got up and walked out of a meeting, resigning the account before we even got started, the challenge got a lot more interesting. At Lulu’s request, we agreed to step up and do the work without the benefit of the agency’s creative and copy writing. In actuality, the agency’s exit was the best thing for us and for our client.
You Want Video with Your Commercial?
Like other projects, we needed to promote an event that had never happened. Video from “similar” events in China ranged from bad to worse in quality and much of it was simply unusable because it was nothing like the event that Lulu and her company, International Culture Exchange Group, would open in the Great America parking lot. So what to do?
We couldn’t shoot footage of the event before our on-air deadline. Great America couldn’t give up their parking lot until after their Halloween Haunt was over. In other words, not until November 1st, and we had to be on air two weeks after that.
So we picked the best of the existing footage to use as background plates for green screen and started the process of pulling together creative. We had been working with the Global team, reviewing the print materials and came up with the line: “Travel the World in Just One Day”. That would become the inspiration for everything else.
Next up, a cast. Auditions were fun as our actors needed to pretend they were admiring towering Chinese lanterns of iconic landmarks (like the Taj Mahal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Eiffel Tower); walking through a dinosaur maze no one had ever seen and was probably, literally, still on the drawing board or on a container ship from China; enjoying yet-to-be-defined entertainment; and food from around the world. Well, they are actors, right?
Once we had our cast selected, we had a day of green screen filming and then headed into post for what would be the first set of commercials for the inaugural year. We would shoot again on opening night and create a new set of spots to air after the open. We set up their Facebook page and YouTube Channel and then, even before Opening Night, we started flooding social media with videos to build excitement, a fan base and ticket sales.
It must have worked. 419,000 people attended the 27-day event that first year. 419,000 that, like us, had no idea what a Chinese Lantern Festival was until they saw our commercials and digital content. Now that’s cool!
Then Came 2012 and the Rain
We were brought back in 2012 to handle the television, radio and digital content, as the event moved inside Great America, which had some good points and some not so good points both from an operational and guest perspective. We entered the season with all the good video we had captured the year before—none inside Great America but we’d work around that. And in that year, we created what we still believe was the strongest of the television commercials, what we call “The Dream”. It too combined some green screen shot at Great America with our 2011 footage and featured a new cast.
The biggest problem in 2012 was that it rained and rained and rained—kind of a bummer for an outdoor event. As a result, attendance was down from the prior year. We weren’t even sure if there would be a 2013 Global Winter Wonderland.
Surprise. We’re Moving to Atlanta.
In September of 2013, we got the call. The event was on in a new venue…Turner Field’s Parking Lot in Atlanta, Georgia. Were we interested in being involved? Of course. We had grown to love our client and her vision of the event. Of course, we faced the same challenge we had overcome prior year’s—good lantern footage but no “lanterns in the venue footage”. We would use “The Dream” pre-event with new voice over and graphics, of course, and then fly to Atlanta to shoot new footage including digital video content for their social media sites.
The event’s weather woes followed them to Atlanta when a snowstorm came through paralyzing the city. Atlanta residents are a hardy bunch though because even as temperatures approached freezing (like while we were shooting), they kept coming to see what they’d been watching be built at Turner Field.
From our perspective, the Atlanta event seemed to rise above the prior year—the layout of the lanterns, the caliber of the entertainment, the carnival aspect, and the quality of the food all seemed elevated. If it weren’t so darn cold. But from Lulu’s perspective, it didn’t live up to expectations on many levels so returning to Atlanta for another year was out of the question.
It would be nine months before we’d know if there would be a 2014 event.
Cal Expo — Here We Come
We were overjoyed to be contacted again and to know that we were back in California, even though it was a haul from Santa Cruz to Sacramento. Same problem as previous year’s (another new venue!) but we had a lot of great footage to start with. We also had a much lower budget than prior years. Hiring actors was out of the question. Instead, we created the pre-opening spot all with existing imagery and then made our plans for shooting Opening Weekend.
This time we would bring our partner Daniel Carettoni from Santa Cruz Aerials with us to get the event from the air. Daniel also brought his own Movi-like gear, a Ronin, (similar to a Steadicam) so we could get visually interesting ground-based movement around the lanterns and guests.
What we lacked in paid talent, we more than made up for in guest interviews. We had brought in some friends and families on Opening Night in order to get beauty shots of guests with lanterns without totally disrupting the experience of real guests. Reflecting the awe-inspiring nature of the event/destination, their answers were as authentic as the guests we’d stop and asked for permission to interview as the weekend progressed.
And no doubt, this year’s event was the best ever, a by-product certainly of lessons learned. The layout and the lanterns were stunning, the entertainment kicked up yet another notch, and the venue as a whole was perfect
Long-Term Collaborations Make Sense
This has been another great client collaboration. When I asked Lulu what she would say about us for our website she wrote, “I’ve worked with Tam Communications for four years to help promote Global Winter Wonderland. From the beginning, I knew we were in good hands. They cared about our success almost as much as we did. It showed in the creative and in their willingness to go the extra mile, time and time again…and always with a smile. Tam and Susan are the best and the sweetest.”
Thank you, Lulu. Thank you to all the people who have starred in our spots. And thank you, as always, to my incredible team at Tam Communications. You never cease to amaze me.