Freemark Abbey: A Study in Style

Background

Freemark Abbey is to California wine what Tiffany is to jewelry: timeless, classic, and synonymous with quality.

With roots dating back to the 1880s, Freemark Abbey is a storied Napa Valley winery with a storied history. It was founded by Josephine Tychson, the second woman in Napa Valley history to construct and operate a winery. It was also the only California winery to showcase two wines at the Judgment of Paris, the famous wine competition pitting California wines against French wines in 1976. Both of Freemark Abbey’s submissions placed in the top 10, catapulting the small vineyard onto the world winemaker stage. 


In 2020, Freemark Abbey came full circle by hiring Kristy Melton as their winemaker, the first female winemaker since Josephine Tychson crushed her first grapes in the fall of 1886.

In an effort to honor its history while celebrating its future, Freemark Abbey’s parent company, Jackson Family Wines, reached out to Slow Clap, to produce a series of short documentaries highlighting the winery’s rich heritage and continued commitment to creating exceptional wines. Slow Clap had previously produced a brand story video for La Crema, another member of Jackson Family Wines’ impressive portfolio of wineries, and the team was excited for an opportunity to get out of San Francisco and engage in video production in Napa Valley.

 

“[Working with Slow Clap] was great – they were very professional, responsive, and open to ideas.”

– Nikita Kubiak, Digital Marketing Director at Jackson Family Wines

Approach

One of Freemark Abbey’s vineyards in Napa Valley.

Freemark Abbey wanted to focus on a number of topics spanning the entire history of the winery. In order to accomplish this without overwhelming their audience, they decided that five short videos would be the ideal approach. Slow Clap worked with the Freemark Abbey team to determine the five chapters of the story, starting with the founding of Freemark Abbey in 1886, to the fateful Judgment of Paris 100 years later, ending with present-day and female winemaker Kristy Melton at the helm. 

Challenges

Freemark Abbey has a distinctive style for its interior brand photography: dramatic, elegant, and cinematic. It is achieved with a soft, large light source that dramatically falls off the background, resulting in a high-contrast look and a background that fades to black. 


Freemark Abbey’s Distinctive Look

It was important that Slow Clap’s interior shots matched the distinct look and feel that had been carefully crafted by the Freemark Abbey team. 

This visual style is challenging to pull off in a documentary-style video production because it requires precision and control in a filming environment that is often more spontaneous, scrappy, and tends to utilize the available light in a subject’s natural surroundings.

“With a scripted piece, you have the full control and ability to do whatever you want. Maybe you’re working with actors on a stage; you can bring in as many lights as you want, you can take the time you need to get the shots you need. With a doc-style piece, controlling it with that much nuance can stifle the creatives and the story itself. You risk the authenticity of the footage. So you want to walk a fine line between getting that heightened visual feel, getting the right lights in there while using as few lights as possible and keeping the crew as small as possible in order to capture authentic, uninterrupted moments and performances.”

– Dan Lichtenberg, Creative Director, Slow Clap 

In order to achieve this nuanced lighting style with a small footprint of equipment and crew members, Slow Clap began by designing a detailed lighting plan that outlined the equipment, how it would be used, and its precise placement on set. 

A page from Slow Clap’s lighting plan detailing the lighting setup for one of the interview setups.


The view from behind the camera

Slow Clap’s production team determined the ideal lighting scheme for the interview shots would  entail a large, 600-watt light to illuminate the subject, a 200-watt rim light to cast light on the back of the subject and create separation from the background, and a 200-watt light to illuminate the wine barrels incorporated into the background. 


The resulting interview setup.

In addition to the lights, the production team utilized a variety of modifiers such as grids, snoots and flags to control and block the light, creating what is known as “negative fill.”



“Negative Fill is removing light or creating shadow in an image. When you light something,  it’s important to think about what you want to light and how you want to shape it. You won’t be able to shape light in a pleasing way without negative fill.”

 Jake Richard, Camera Operator, Slow Clap  

The fill side of the subject’s face is a dramatic falloff from bright to dark, which compliments Freemark Abbey’s visual brand identity – historic, elevated, and refined. 

Slow Clap also worked with Freemark Abbey to acquire the wine cellar as a filming location; a large space with a dearth of natural light. This location made it much easier for the team to control the surroundings and successfully pull off the lighting plan. 


The Freemark Abbey Wine Cellar

Just as a bottle of wine is only as good as the grapes used in its production, a series of wine videos aren’t complete without showcasing the bucolic vineyards where the grapes are produced. Instead of trying to replicate the dramatic interior lighting, Slow Clap took a page out of the book of Missy Elliott: they flipped it and reversed it:

“The visual style we came up with was sort of the inverse of what our interiors were. Our subjects were backlit, sort of silhouetted, whereas the interior is where the subjects were basically the only thing that was fully exposed and the background falls away. With the exteriors, the background was the main thing that was properly exposed and the subjects almost fall away into silhouette.”

– Dan Lichtenberg, Creative Director, Slow Clap

In order to achieve this look, Slow Clap filmed all of the outdoor scenes during golden hour, the last hour before sunset and the hour after sunrise, which ensured the sun was close to the horizon. The subjects were then placed with their backs to the sun to achieve the semi-silhouetted look. 


Filming on the grounds of Freemark Abbey

The result was an elegant contrasting image to complement the interior scenes.


An outdoor shoot featuring the well-lit background and semi-silhouetted subject

 

Result 

Thanks to careful planning and vision, Slow Clap was able to successfully deliver five docustyle vignettes that were visually and stylistically on brand for Freemark Abbey. The videos won Double Gold in the 2022 Barleycorn Award video category and a Gold Telly Award in the Short Documentary Branded Content category.

In addition to video accolades, the John Barleycorn Awards, which honor innovative work in the wine and spirits industry, tapped Slow Clap as the 2022 marketer of the year

 

“The videos were well received. They were very informative and high-quality, and they told the Freemark Abbey story well. We have the videos across our website and run paid ad campaigns utilizing cut-downs of the long-form video. These helped drive brand awareness and engagement.”

– Nikita Kubiak, Digital Marketing Director at Jackson Family Wines

Other Case studies blogs to read:

Venturing into Virtual Production with Mindful

The History of San Francisco’s Waterfront

Blue Shield of California: Oakland Headquarters

What is the Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment?

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission: Community Benefits Outreach

La Crema Winery’s 40th Anniversary

Meet Slow Clap’s Post-Production and Camera Manager: Jake Richard

Get to know Jake a bit better with our quick Q&A interview.

Introduce yourself!

Hi! My name is Jake Richard. I grew up bouncing around from Southern California to the Bay Area and in between but decided to settle in the Bay. I have attended classes at the Academy of Art and City College of San Francisco.

What’s your role? What made you gravitate towards this craft?

I am the Post-Production and Camera Manager which means that I am responsible for all of the footage and projects we take on, making sure it is safely ingested on our systems and that it is prepped and ready for an editor to begin work. I also manage the company’s equipment making sure that it all remains in working order and is ready to use on the next shoot. I always had a love for filmmaking and wanted to get a deeper understanding of the full processes it takes to make something great. 

What’s your prior experience? What made you interested in joining Slow Clap?

I started at Slow Clap as a production assistant with no experience and did my best to work my way up. My main goal was to learn something new every day when I started to work here, and I couldn’t imagine where it has led me to today. My interest in Slow Clap was always how authentic and human the approach to storytelling was. 

Favorite Film? What am I watching?

It’s always so hard to pick a favorite film, but a couple of my favorites from childhood are Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Currently, I am watching the Sopranos for the first time. 

Any Hobbies?

I am a fan of going to the movies and I try to stay up to date on the latest shows. I also enjoy relaxing with my friends and playing video games. Most of the time I can be found training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in my off time. I have been doing it for almost 8 years and have recently received my brown belt.  

Lastly, favorite project you’ve worked on?

This is hard because I love all of our videos. Some of my favorite projects I have worked on are the Building the Future videos we did for Github which was one large scripted video and 3 doc-style videos. The scripted video was the first big production I had worked on, and the doc-style videos were all fun to travel and work for. Others include the Juror Orientation video which I think has the biggest audience (albeit a captive one) of any video I have worked on and Earl’s Story for Blue Shield which was one of the first projects I had worked on. Most recently, I am really proud of how the Freemark Abbey videos turned out for Jackson Family Wines which we have already won a few awards for. 

Slow Clap’s 2022 Year in Review: A Bananas Year for Video Content

As the Slow Clap team gets ready for 2023 (wow, we never thought we’d make it but here we are), we took some time to reflect on 2022, the busiest, craziest, most fun year in our company’s eight year history of making videos. Take a look at our year condensed into one minute:


2022 by the Numbers

  • 58 video projects completed for our clients, from virtual event videos to commercials, explainers and educational videos
  • 29 clients, including cause-based non-profits like Public Advocates and Asian Law Caucus, startups like Lattice and Ironclad, and Fortune 500 companies like eBay
  • 10+ different cities filmed including Palm Beach, Dallas, Los Angeles, Riverside, Napa, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and (of course) San Francisco & Oakland 
  • 100+ videos delivered from long-form virtual event videos to 15 second social media videos
  • More than 500 minutes of video content produced
  • 5 million views (and counting)
  • 100% NPS (net promoter score) on Clutch
  • 9 Industry Awards


2022 by Month

January 2022

Our first assignment of the year got us out of the office, and into the water. We partnered with the Port of San Francisco, a longtime client of ours, to produce a video highlighting the fisherpeople of Fisherman’s Wharf, who recently started selling live crabs right off their boat. Tourists and locals alike really enjoyed gaining access to the “working Port,” and getting to talk directly to the folks that catch the crabs. It’s like an open air farmers’ market on the wharf.


February 2022

Our longtime client Ironclad tapped us for yet another virtual event production (the first of three in 2022). Last time we worked with them, we got to film at the Port of Oakland on a tugboat. We figured that was hard to beat. But we beat it in February by filming in a hundreds-year-old redwood forest in Marin. To capture the epic scale, we worked with a massive jib arm, and some heavy duty lighting. Always fun to pull out the big guns.


March 2022

Glide is one of the coolest clients you could think up. Their no-code platform lets anyone turn spreadsheets into mobile apps, whether or not you’ve ever seen a line of code. How cool is that?

We’ve been lucky enough to partner with them to tell their customer success stories for several years. This time around, we got to go big, featuring the PGA, who used Glide to develop apps for the Ryder Cup. We captured interviews at PGA’s Texas and Florida HQs, plus even got to film some product shots and reenactments at our Oakland studio. But most importantly, this customer story video is surprising and entertaining.

Our client at Glide said it best: Their team doesn’t create videos that are off the shelf. They create something that engages the viewer emotionally.


April 2022

We love partnering with our government clients like the San Francisco Treasurer. Telling stories of huge impact, like the Kindergarten to College (K2C) program’s success, gives us a chance to be part of something bigger, something that affects our community. The video we produced does just that, featuring stories of kids and parents who have taken advantage of the K2C program to save for college.


May 2022

After two years spent researching, writing, filming, and editing, in May we completed the new Juror Orientation video for the State of California. Our client had this to say about the collaboration: The team was adaptable, flexible, innovative, creative, and open to new ideas and solutions.

This educational video is seen by nine million jurors a year, and is used as the primary tool to make sure we have an educated jury of our peers. The video has a shelf life of ten to twenty years. At 100+ million views, that’s blockbuster status baby!

We were also excited to simultaneously launch a documentary about the history of Jury Service as a companion piece to the orientation video. We had the amazing challenge of condensing several hundred years of history into ten minutes, and we got to learn how essential juries are to a healthy democracy.


June 2022

Another huge production challenge landed in our laps with Ironclad’s summer virtual event video. Ironclad has always been thinking outside the box for virtual events, but this was on a whole nother level. The theme was 80’s high school in the style of John Hughes films like Breakfast Club and 16 Candles. So we scoured thrift stores and local area high schools to put together an authentic expression of this fun theme. We rented a high school that hasn’t been updated since the 70’s, put together a classic gymnasium school dance scene, rented a 1980’s Porsche, and so much more. Our production design team had a blast with the 80’s period pieces. There’s enough in there to watch this video 10 times before you catch all the easter eggs.


July 2022

We celebrated Slow Clap’s eight year birthday party in a big way at the Alice Collective in downtown Oakland. We’ve celebrated every Slow Clap birthday with a party, inviting our clients, our team, our collaborators, and their loved ones to celebrate another year of amazing video projects, and connect over some banging food and drink. 2022 was no exception.


August 2022

In August, Katy Bailes joined the team as a producer, to help lead our increasingly complex and large body of work. Katy came from the Economist’s documentary films division before joining Slow Clap, and brings her top notch storytelling skills and can-do attitude to all our projects. She’s been a huge asset to the team, and to our clients, in the short time she’s been here.

We also added Keely Liles to the team as a camera and post-production assistant. Keely brings her fresh ideas and fun personality to all of our projects.


September 2022

The Slow Clap team tackled a new challenge in 2022, partnering with San Francisco Bay Area regional retail chain Beck’s Shoes to create a brand story video about their unique approach to retail. Shoe cinematography is unlike any other challenge. These are fashion items that move at ground level. But of course, the most important thing is the look on a customer’s face when they find that perfect fit, which is right up our alley.


October 2022

We always reserve a portion of our calendars to partner with cause-based organizations, offering below market rates. This year, we partnered with Public Advocates, one of the first public interest law firms in America, to produce this short documentary about their 50 year history. We worked with the folks at PA for the entire year to go through decades of archival material and film several new interviews. In the end, we produced a brand film that shows how Public Advocates “makes rights real.”


In addition, after three years of development and pandemic delays, we finished a five-part documentary brand film series for the iconic Napa Valley winery Freemark Abbey. From being founded by a woman in the 1880’s, to winning top prizes at the Judgement of Paris, Freemark Abbey has been redefining what great is since its founding. It was fascinating and exciting to get to be the team to bring this story to life.


November 2022

Another one of our cause-based clients is Asian Law Caucus, who we’ve been partnering with for eight years. In fact, they were our very first client!


This year, we helped them celebrate their 50th anniversary by producing several videos. Our favorite among them was this moving montage featuring several of the best interviews we’ve captured with ALC clients over the years.

December 2022

We’re used to being behind the camera, but in December, the whole team got to try something totally different: we turned the camera around, and starred in the Slow Clap holiday card video. It was a blast, and an opportunity for the team to poke fun at me, in the style of The Office.

To put a cherry on top of the year, we scored some major wins, taking home top awards at: Clutch (Top 1000 B2B Companies), the John Barleycorn Awards (Double Gold and Top Marketer of 2022), the Telly Awards (Gold in Branded Content), the MarCom Awards (Platinum in Corporate Image Video), and the Corporate Content Awards (Best Content in a Live Setting).

We’re looking forward to another great year of partnerships and challenges in 2023.

Dan Lichtenberg
Founder and Creative Director
Slow Clap