A Brief History of Sound Design

January 30, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How we’ve refined the noble art of making a racket.

One of the most powerful tools filmmakers have to provoke emotion is sound. Any Sound Engineer will tell you that, and there’s a fair bit of evidence to back it up too. It follows then that great film needs great sound to truly engross and move us.

Many brilliant commercials over the years owe their power and success to their sound design – to the tireless efforts of someone with a good ear building the right audio landscape to match what we see. And this has never been as vital to the process of making great advertising as it is today. Listen to the soundtracks in the big winning commercials of the past few years – you can tell a lot of time and effort has gone into crafting what we hear, making sure these short films make a lasting impact.

Humans have been creating noises to enhance emotion ever since a prehistoric human worked out that banging two rocks together got people’s attention. We’ve come a long way since then, so it’s surprising that the concept of a Sound Designer is only a few decades old.

The terms Sound Design and Sound Designer were first coined in 1979 by Francis Ford Coppola in the process of making on one of the most notable examples of sound design in filmmaking – Apocalypse Now. Ensuring audiences felt like they were surrounded by skies teeming with helicopters and a jungle full of gunfire, it was the first multichannel film to be mixed using a computerized mixing board, and the first to be screened with three speakers in front of the audience and two behind, immersing us in the action like never before.

Coppola bestowed the term on the extraordinarily talented Walter Murch, who made the film sound as good as it did. The Director described the Sound Designer as “an individual ultimately responsible for all aspects of a film’s audio track, from the dialogue and sound effects recording, re-recording and the final mix of the final track.”

But while the concept of a modern Sound Designer working in motion pictures was born with Apocalypse Now, the idea of using sounds to complement visuals goes back much further. Maybe the true Father of Sound Design was Luigi Russolo, an Italian artist working at the start of the 20th Century.

Russolo was part of the Futurist movement that celebrated machines and technology. His work embraced the cacophony of new noises brought about by the new technologies that society had been encountering since the Industrial Revolution took hold.

He is generally considered to have invented the use of sounds and noise, rather than music, to enhance the emotional impact of a film or image – effectively, what we now call sound design.

One of Russolo’s Futurist friends was the composer Balilla Pratella. After hearing Pratella’s performance making use of strange instrumentation and mechanical noisemakers, he was so inspired he wrote a manifesto – The Art of Noises. The general gist of it was that since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the human ear has grown accustomed to more and more mechanical, unnatural and discordant sounds. He was inspired by these new noises and called for a complete revolution within music to expand the range of sounds it included from the four or five types of instrument people were used to hearing.

Russolo even created noisemaking machines of his own – what he called Intonarumoris – that tried to emulate the sounds of technology and machinery. He toured the world with his “noise music”, causing a public spectacle and outrage from many who objected to his methods.

As unusual as his work was, in embracing non-musical noises, Russolo was laying the groundwork for generations of sound designers, who now spend hours searching for the perfect bang, thud or crash to accompany a moving image.

After the Second World War, technology brought sound forward in leaps and bounds. With the help of computer samplers and sound synthesis machines, the human ear had to adapt to unfamiliar sounds once again. With sound files and libraries for music expanding, as well as more tools available to create artificial sounds, filmmaking began to experiment more with using sound as a tool.

The 1956 film Forbidden Planet was a threshold moment for soundtrack creation and design. Sound effects for spectacles like the spaceship landing in this clip were created in an exceptionally nerdy way, based on equations from the 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine by mathematician Norbert Wiener.

Louis Barron was the man behind the “bleeps, burps, whirs, whines, throbs, hums and screeches” in Forbidden Planet, which he made using an electronic circuit he built called ring modulator, adding effects like reverb and delay afterwards. With all of this predating the invention of the Moog synthesiser by eight years, he was pretty ahead of his time.

Another landmark movie in the development of sound design was Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal horror movie, The Birds, in 1963. Using a combination of real bird sounds and electronically synthesised noises, the film created an auditory assault to match that of the vicious avian antagonists of the movie.

Of course, the equipment sound is heard on is important too. Great sound design can only be fully appreciated though good quality speakers. Since the development of surround sound in 1940, this equipment has been delivering sound with more and more impact. Cinemas today are upgrading to multichannel sound playback systems like Dolby Atmos, encapsulating audiences in sound, bringing us closer to the levels of 3D immersion the visual realm has achieved.

This is mirrored in people’s homes, where speakers on televisions and 5.1 surround systems have improved exponentially and become increasingly popular. On top of this, with the proliferation of mobile devices and tablet computers, people are spending more money on good quality headphones, leading to greater appreciation of sound design.

As sound design gets more impactful, technology has also made it much easier to do. No faffing around with tape is needed anymore and ever-increasing processing speeds have made tasks like auditioning, searching for and editing sounds much quicker. This means more time for experimentation – time to concentrate on finding the next new noise.

If Russolo was still with us he’d be proud of where we’ve got to – a world were experimenting with non-musical noises is not only tolerated but encouraged as a vital part of the creative process.


Note: This article was adapted from a speech by Senior Sound Engineer at 750mph, Gary Walker, that was part of the APA and IPA’s event: Getting the Most From Sound Design on Wednesday 29th January.

John Smith: Cutting from Battersea to Bel Air

January 27, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The trailblazing editor who brought a piece of Hollywood back to Soho.

We’re all tired of people in this industry talking about the good ol’ days – you know, when advertising was a rewarding, exciting thing to do. It’s boring, not to mention depressing. And let’s face it, it’s not quite as simple as “good then; bad now.” The fact that industry veterans are still pegging away at it is evidence against their turgid nostalgia. Advertising’s still interesting.

That said, there’s something deeply glamorous about the industry’s creative golden age, before the accountants took over and sucked the fun out of it. Esteemed Editor John Smith was most certainly on the front lines in those days and he knows the sort of stories we’re used to hearing. “John Smith was from the heady, hedonistic days, when there was far too much money spent,” he pre-empts. He may roll his eyes, but he can’t deny the decadence that was a very real part of the business in 20 or 30 years ago.

“It was a very hedonistic business at the time,” he admits, almost revelling in the memory. “We’d get in a cab with Cliff Owen, drink champagne and eat Danish open sandwiches from Foubert’s Place to De Lane Lea on Dean Street [less than half a mile]. That’s the business I started in.”

John’s on the record here, so that’s the sort of PG-rated story he feels comfortable digging out. You can rest assured much of his remaining repertoire is more incriminating, particularly when you consider the company he was keeping.

Having started editing film aged 27 John’s career took off like he was some sort of Wunderkind. Largely because the people he worked with recognised him as one. He attributes his break to Dave Trott, who gave him his first ad to edit.  “He bandied my name around town as the best Editor he’d ever worked with,” John remembers, still incredulous, “which is very flattering for a 27-year-old kid who just started editing.”

This flying start worked wonders for his career as a whole. “From that job onwards I never really stopped working,” he considers. “It’s amazing what good word of mouth can do from someone respected like that.”

The scary thing is that wasn’t an isolated event. John’s early career was littered with good reviews. He edited a Boots No7 job for David Bailey once. When the famous photographer saw the young editor’s reel, he felt compelled to call the Producer. His critical opinion: “This kid’s artistically inspired.” Again, this was almost too much for John’s ego to handle. “Can you understand? I’m 27, doing too many drugs,” he says, “and David Bailey thinks I’m artistically inspired. Trying to keep a lid on it was really quite hard.”

To top that experience off, when David saw John’s first edit of the No7 ad he instantly kissed the young Editor on the cheek, he was so excited. “Of course that breeds confidence in you,” John reflects, “[But] you’ve got to be careful that doesn’t become an arrogance.”

Craftsman to businessman

Three years into his meteoric rise, John co-founded his own editing company with two other film editors, The Whitehouse, on Carnaby Street. With the momentum from the work he’d done so far, they quickly became a hub of excitement in Soho.

John remembers those times fondly. “One of our editors, Gareth McEwan, once told me that someone got angry with him a in a pub because he worked there [at The Whitehouse] and they didn’t. It had a strange effect on people. We were a bit like the Moonies – nobody wanted to leave.”

This was 1990 – as it turns out, a threshold moment for the editing industry. John had learnt his craft the old-fashioned way, cutting film on a Steenbeck flatbed Editor and a Moviola. “It was hard work,” he says, “but a great way to learn. There was no Apple-Z undo, so if you made a mistake and chose the wrong edit too many times it could cost you money to reprint the film. You had to be sure you were cutting on the right frame.”

Looking back without our nostalgia goggles, it wasn’t ideal. John remembers once hunting high and low for a small three-frame film trim, only to find it stuck to the bottom of his shoe when he got home.

The Whitehouse weren’t afraid to leave all that behind them. As far as John knows, they were the first commercial editing company to buy an Avid machine and enter into a new era of non-linear editing. They put it in a little room and viewed it with some suspicion at first, but eventually John took the plunge.

Simon Levine, his then assistant, taught John to use Avid. He fell in love. “It was the most highly-charged, creative revolution. Instantly accessing anything you want.” Suddenly, the pace of old-fashioned film editing seemed glacial. “It was mindblowing,” he says. “It was a bigger trip than any of the drugs I’d done in this business. Creatively, there were no boundaries from that point on for me.”

In the meantime, the sort of Directors John was cutting for were still big names, many of them working on feature films with commercials paying the bills in between. It was just a matter of time before the jaws of Hollywood closed around him too.

Cutting edge stuff

When they did, it was through Mike Figgis, who asked him to edit Leaving Las Vegas – a low-budget movie about an alcoholic and a prostitute, starring the still relatively unknown Nicolas Cage. Mike wanted to shoot it on super 16mm film and edit it the old-fashioned way. Somehow John persuaded him to edit on Avid. And it didn’t turn out too badly.

The film did spectacularly well. Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his performance, launching his career into a new league. Suddenly John was living the Hollywood dream. “After we’d finished it I was in LA cutting a commercial,” he recalls. “Mike invited me to dinner with Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue and we ended up at Nic’s house, where we watched Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant [the sequel to which Nic would later star in]. Mike played Nic’s bright red grand piano overlooking LA. Later that night, courtesy of Nic’s personal driver (who used to drive Dolly Parton) I went downtown to the set of Heat to say hi to Michael Mann, who offered me a job on it and met Al Pacino all in the same night. Pretty surreal for a boy from Battersea.” The adventure could have continued when Nic then offered to take the party to Hawaii on a private jet for a few days, but much to John’s disappointment he had to go home the next day.

He had a commercial to cut.

Returning to cutting ads left John in a dilemma. Back in Soho, he was left with the taste of Hollywood in his mouth and soon he was getting lots of calls to edit more movies. A potentially great movie career beckoned, but the Whitehouse was still one of the most exciting houses in London and John had a business to grow. Bravely, he decided to try and balance the two.

To his credit, he’s managed to do both, editing more movies while expanding The Whitehouse into a global network of five offices, with three sister companies and 166 employees. In the process he’s won awards with both hats on, from his induction into American Cinema Editors (A.C.E. – his proudest achievement of all) to an EMMY for The Life and Death of Peter Sellers to three D&AD pencils and the first BTAA Arrow for Editing. He’s cut some truly iconic ads over the years, including Guess Cheat and Playstation Double Life and still finds his job difficult at times.

Not letting up

“Editing commercials is still challenging,” he admits. “It’s not just the process. There are levels of politics that you have to deal with and those levels are greater than they used to be. If feels like the number of clients you have to please just gets greater and greater. Now there are levels of creative people who have to see [the work], or clients from different markets [because] things are more global.”

Undoubtedly, today’s business is a different world from when a 27-year old John was getting his ego fed by prominent Adlanders. Gone are the days when creativity could write its own price tag. But John’s nostalgia for those days is no criticism of today’s industry. He's changed too, and has spent the past 11 years sober. “I think it’s a much better way now,” he says. “There was a lot of waste, a lot of excess, in those days. But there are still some very positive reasons to get into our industry, even though there isn’t the money there used to be. It’s still an amazing, creative, stimulating business. It’s just got a lot harder.”

Soon to be working on a prominent big-screen biopic, John still has one foot in Hollywood, but the other is firmly placed in Soho – the spiritual home of The Whitehouse – where he continues the work he’s known for in this industry.

He’s still humbled by the words of others. “Just the other day an account manager in my edit suite [was] viewing some cuts before he showed his client,” he says. “[He] slapped me on the back and said ‘great job John. These are going to make me and you famous.’ Maybe I’ll get another 30 years out of that good word of mouth."

The Role of the Agency Producer

January 16, 2014 / Features

By Susie Innes

If they hadn’t invented Agency Producers in the 60s, would they bother to invent them now?

The dour conclusion, based on current attitudes and economic imperatives, is no, of course they wouldn’t.

Account directors could talk direct to the production companies, creatives could call up the director for a chat about Storyboard Frames and Heights and Angles, cost controllers could make sure no-one is getting ripped off without getting involved with those pesky creatives, and let the finance folk do the adding up.

Clients could arrange for the right amount of the correct product to get directly to the shoot, reels would watch themselves, voice-overs would just be waiting at studio on the right day, and Asset Management should easily programme itself to send POs and do the rec.

And all those grown ups ought to be able to organize themselves to get to a meeting, board a plane, request a link, order a takeaway. Surely.

And it could and does happen, but it is a MESS.  Tempers are frayed, vital bits of information are lost, and time is wasted. In many cases huge fees are paid to nameless companies who in theory are taking on the production role, but without the conviction and loyalty of a dedicated AGENCY producer.

To take the pain away, there needs to be someone at the fulcrum of all this, on site and involved, to act as conductor to a disparate orchestra, each of whom believes their instrument takes the lead melody.

Who is this person? What is their skill set?

Jack of all trades, master of none (except communicating), they must have creative sensibilities, they need some modicum of maths, they need to be client facing, and be fearless. They need to haggle, be able to sell and be manipulative. They need to be good on the phone, computer literate, smart with jargon, master finance systems, understand technology, and be articulate. They need to cut to the chase without missing a single detail. Like a swan, they are calm and serene on the surface with their flippers paddling like the clappers underneath.  Coiled springs on set, diplomats always. Nurturing and tough, quick witted and patient. They don’t need to know anything, but they must know someone who does. And find out. Assimilate and pass it on. Clarify and counsel.

They ought to smash it on The Apprentice.

Unlike all their surrounding professionals, Producers have no agenda:
Directors want to direct great work;
Production companies want great reels and a great reputation;
Post production wants a happy client and a decent workflow;
Agency Partners want to keep existing clients sweet and entice new ones;
Account management don’t want to be shouted at by Clients for something out of their control;
Finance Departments want to balance the books;
And Creatives want great work and to not be humiliated in the pub by their peers and pals from art school;
Everyone wants recognition/awards and a decent lifestyle.

But a producer just wants the project to run well and everyone to be happy.

It is a producer’s remit to make everyone feel as if their needs have been satisfied, to engender compromise where no one feels compromised.  To keep the peace and the momentum going.

It may seem to make no sense to pay for someone to wrangle, to co-ordinate, to be a middleman, but without someone with an overview, there will be chaos. Details will be overlooked, directors unseen, calls not taken, sessions missed, cabs unbooked.

In a world where time is as much a commodity as money, an agency producer will ensure that time is as well used as money. They will cut to the chase, call meetings when meetings are needed, cancel them when they are not. They will get everyone from A to B in the most efficient way, have hissy fits when required and purr like a pussycat if more appropriate. They are there to get the best thing the best way in the right amount of time for an appropriate wad of cash.

And where money is as much a commodity as money, an agency producer needs to ensure the wad of cash is spent wisely. That of course means getting the best possible cost to Client, but not exposing client and agency to shoddiness, corner cutting, cheapness and empty fees.

By being at the heart of the production a producer can appreciate when costs are inflated or being channelled in the wrong or right direction. Whether the Money Shot is indeed the money shot. They are in the best position to see consider the implications, what will or won’t affect the vision and if it matters. And communicate that. Again the compromise without compromise.

Producing is like shopping. You get what you pay for and you are rewarded for good buying. Nothing is for nothing. And sometimes it is worth spending on a designer belt to make your Primark pullover look like it is from Bond Street.
Sometimes you can get a BOGOF. But often you don’t even want one, so no point in buying one and getting one free if you didn’t even really want the first one.

Or building a house. Sometimes cheap materials work, sometimes you have to spend money on things that you don’t see. Lose one wall and you could either enlarge a room or have the whole house fall down.

Creatives shouldn’t really have to worry how that outfit was put together, nor whether their house is actually secure. Clients don’t need to know what is rayon or cashmere, just that it looks good, and they should assume that the joists are secure.

The producer is everyone’s personal shopper and the foreman.

So in fact Agency Producers (in this humble Agency Producer’s opinion) are a vital cog in the wheel. They should be supported and treasured and rewarded. We should thank our advertising forefathers for coming up with them.

They are The Safe Pair of Hands.

Shooting in a Frozen Wasteland

January 14, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Johnnie Frankel's trip to North America’s iciest city.

As President of Rattling Stick and producer to A-list commercial director Daniel Kleinman, Johnnie Frankel knows as much about complex, high-profile productions as just about anyone. Working at this level means he gets to go on some of the most high-profile, challenging commercial shoots in the world. And this can lead to some pretty remarkable experiences.

One of Johnnie’s recent shooting odysseys was for an American GMC commercial, with Daniel directing. Shooting in four different locations across the USA, each to demonstrate a different feature of the advertised truck, they spent one day at the Hoover Dam, two days in the Mojave Desert, two days in a mine near Tucson, Arizona and three days in the USA’s northernmost city – Barrow, Alaska. That’s quite a trip.

Not many people have any reason to venture to the frozen wastes of the tundra as part of their professional life, so we thought it’d be worth asking him what it’s like. He’s kindly shared some of the photographs he and his colleagues took of the extraordinary location and we’ve interspersed them here with what he had to say about the shoot.

Barrow, Alaska: Never going to be a central hub for international transport.
 

Johnnie Frankel: “They wanted to shoot in snow and because it was so late in the year (we shot in May) we ended up going to Barrow, Alaska. It’s the northernmost city in America, on the Arctic ocean, which is frozen [at that time of the year].

 

“It was quite a trip. You can get to Barrow by car in the winter, when obviously everything’s frozen and you know what you’re doing. But you can’t get there in spring when the ice starts to thaw. It becomes surrounded by water so you have to fly everything in.”

Looking out for polar bears. A bit like Where’s Wally, but with the added danger of a bloody death to make things interesting.


“There’s abandoned machinery everywhere because the only way to get anything in or out is to fly. So when a car breaks down and you can’t fix it there’s nothing you can do with it. Basically, they just get dumped.

“It’s an amazingly extreme place – totally like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

Nice to see the Arctic’s two iconic modes of transportation getting along so well.
 

“The problem for us was just getting everything in and out. We couldn’t drive the car there, so we had to fly it in. We flew all the camera crew and equipment in too.

“We couldn’t get any kind of film vehicle out there like a Russian Arm or any proper film camera truck, so they just built one using a flat bed truck and then a crane-arm and some counterweights.

“The other problem was once the snow was thawed, what lies beneath it is sort of sand and gravel. They take the wheels off these SUVs and replace them with four individual caterpillars, so they can get these things grip.”

Mount a minigun on the back and you’ve got a truck fit for Arnie himself.
 

“We actually drove the car on the Arctic Ocean, which was about three or four feet deep in ice. We got the local guides to go out and drill the ice to make sure it was safe.

“We had two guys who were polar bear security guards. I didn’t see any polar bears, which is probably for the best because they’re supremely dangerous. We had to protect ourselves in case they’d be in the area. But it was quite late in the year for them.”

“What do you mean there’s no gluten-free vegan option!?”
 

“We had local people who knew all about the area. You couldn’t do it without them. They were an integral part of the setup. You wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without knowing what you were doing. It was essential.

“It was a big challenge, logistically, because flying everything in and out – if you don’t make the right preparations you are going to really shoot yourself in the foot. You have to make sure you have everything you need otherwise you’re screwed because it’s just so inaccessible.

“And when you look at a job like that on paper, you’ve got four scripts, all to be shot in really quite specific, very different locations, car stuff. It’s not going to be a small, simple project.

“It’s just a big operation – time, travel, scouting. We scouted four locations all over the world. I think we did 26 flights in a month. Virtually one a day, sometimes two in one day. Unfortunately I don’t know an easier way to do it.

“The food there is mental. They’ve got three restaurants. There’s a Mexican restaurant that does breakfast, lunch and dinner and serves burgers, a couple of Chinese places and a bit of sushi and that’s it.”

[Sadly, since we spoke to Johnnie, the Mexican restaurant, Pepe’s North of the Border, has burnt down.]

Arctic fashion is eternally cool (much like the weather). The people here invented the Parka.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve been in production for 25 years and I’ve never shot anywhere like Barrow, ever. I can’t imagine a time in my life when I’ll ever go back to Barrow and I can’t imagine there’ll be much chance of any production going to Barrow. It was a unique experience.

“I’m not sure it’s a place I’d have visited if it weren’t for this job, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world because it’s an amazing experience that a tiny percentage of the world population ever get to visit a place like that. I feel very privileged to have done it.”

It should have been the profile picture of the century, but Johnnie didn’t account for how well camouflaged polar bears really are.

High Five: January

January 9, 2014 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

The best ads this month are have an “up and at ‘em” attitude.

Cynics beware: our pick of the month’s best advertising is a bit enthusiastic this time around. We have a fresh new 2014 ahead of us and these brands are keen that we seize the day and spend make a change this year. Watch them all. You’ll be pumped up and ready to rock. It’ll be weeks before the pessimism and general malaise sets back in.

Brand: Cancer Research UK
Title: One Day
Production Company: Stink
Director: Yann Demange
Production Company Producer: Molly Pope
Ad Agency: AMV BBDO
Art Director: Jim Hilson
Copywriter: Toby Allen
Agency Producers: Verity Elvin, Claire Toms
Editing Company: Marshall Street
Editor: Patrick Ryan
Sound Company: Factory
Post Production Company: The Mill

Cancer Research UK – One Day

You really have to admire Cancer Research UK for choosing an uplifting tone over a depressing one. While charity advertising is often driven by desperation for funds, this has a confidence to it. Yann Demange carefully weaves an intimate narrative with imagery of research. It’s clever – not too sentimental but not too cold either. And you have to love that no-nonsense voiceover, bravely taking the “give us your fucking money” tactic.

 

Brand: Innocent
Title: Chain of Good
Production Company: Hungry Man
Director: Max Joseph
Production Company Producer: Jack Beardsley
Ad Agency: 101
Creative Director: Richard Flintham
Creatives: Erik Hedman, Ryan Delehanty
Agency Producer: Rachel Bishop
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Anne Perri
Sound: Factory
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Collective

Innocent – Chain of Good

We’ve been keeping a keen eye on Max Joseph since he signed to Hungry Man last year and this exactly the sort of thing we were hoping he’d do next. Socially responsible without getting on its high horse, it’s a fun little adventure. It’s also well observed. Most of the time, we’re not looking to end poverty in our lunch hours. Like Mark, we just want a tasty smoothie and Innocent aren’t afraid to admit that.

 

Brand: The Sun
Title: Get Holiday Ready
Production Company: Moxie Pictures
Director: MJ Delaney
Production Company Producer: Dominic Delaney
Director of Photography: James Friend
Ad Agency: Grey
Creative Director: Dave Monk
Creative: Adam Chiappe
Agency Producer: Debbie Impett
Editing Company: Tenthree
Editor: Rebecca Luff
Sound Company: GCRS
Post Production Companies: Finish, Glassworks
 

The Sun – Get Holiday Ready

This commercial combines two strangely endearing features: middle aged men in budgie smugglers and the ‘80s stadium rock. And who are we to argue with those? Building on her reputation for thoroughly British comedy, MJ Delaney brings her A-game to this ad. Starting with a good script, she squeezes every drop of comedy out of it with good casting and performances, setting the bar for the number of visual gags you can fit into a minute.

 

Brand: Thomson
Title: Simon the Ogre
Production Company: Sonny London
Director: Fredrik Bond
Production Company Producer: Sara Cummins
Ad Agency: Beattie McGuinness Bungay
Creative Director: Gav McGrath
Art Director: Dan Bennett
Copywriter: Christopher Keatinge
Agency Producers: Gemma Fergie, James Bolton
Editing Company: Marshall Street
Sound Company: 750mph
Post Production Company: Realise

Thomson – Simon the Ogre

This idea is a bit silly, and many people will find it a little on the sugary side, but you can tell that everyone who worked on it is at the top of their game, making an excellent piece of film and, ultimately, pulling it off. It’s rare that a family brand like Thomson manages to put out something this original, but January is the Super Bowl for the package-holiday-ists, so they might as well go big now or not at all.

 

Brand: Virgin Active
Title: Don’t Just Live, Live Happily Ever Active
Production Company: Kream
Director: Sam Walker
Production Company Producer: Gwilym Gwilim
Director of Photography: Will Bex
Ad Agency: Karmarama
Creative Directors: Sam Walker, Joe De Souza
Creatives: Rachel Holding, Daniel Leppanen
Agency Producer: Emma Johnston
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Joe Guest
Sound Company: GCRS
Post Production Company: The Mill

Virgin Active – Don’t Just Live, Live Happily Ever Active

An unconventional way to advertise a gym. But, then again, can you remember any truly great ads for health clubs? There’s no posturing Adonis here and no bouncing bellies either – this commercial isn’t flogging a pack of perfect abs or guilt-tripping you into working off that Christmas flab – it’s selling a feeling. It’s a bizarre piece of film made to be absorbed rather than dissected. So sit back prepare to feel on top of the world.

Three Things We Learned in 2013

January 7, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Two Creative Directors think about the year that was.

So another year in advertising has passed. Who’d have thought that at a whole year has passed since we were still basking in the glory (or at least the budgets) of the London Olympic advertising, when you couldn’t have a conversation with someone about branding without mentioning a guy called Felix and when it was still current to reference Gangnam Style?

A lot has happened this year, but in some sort of attempt to organise the chaos of this filthy little industry we’ve tried to distil it down to something digestible.

We asked Scott Dungate, Creative Director at Wieden + Kennedy, and Micky Tudor, Creative Director & Partner of CHI & Partners, to reflect on the general advertising trends of 2013. The pair didn’t quite agree, but between them, there is can no doubt a lot of wisdom to be found.

Of what they said, three observations stood out as very clear, so we’re going to go ahead and reduce the many twists and turns of an entire year in a huge industry down to just three headings.

1. Branded content is improving (but it’s not there yet)

Scott Dungate: I think clients understand, perhaps more than ever, the necessity of being ‘entertaining’ – especially online where views are so accountable.

The standard of branded content is thus – thankfully – getting better and better, and far less clumsy than years past. In general, it’s also getting far better than advertising.

If it’s genuinely entertaining and the connection with the brand isn’t awkwardly forced, people will be hungry for more – as we’ve seen with Oreo Daily Twist and Separator. And that is what we should all be striving for – ‘branded entertainment’ rather than ‘branded content’, which I always felt was a marketing term that sounded really, really, really dull.

Micky Tudor: 2013 has seen bigger budgets and so better production values for long format content. It’s improved, no doubt, most notably though on award entry films. I know that’s cynical, but as an industry I think we find it hard to hold up our hands and admit our weaknesses.

We are too arrogant to admit we don’t really ‘get’ long format. To be truly ‘getting’ it we would need to be competing with – and creators of – the next Homeland, The Sopranos, or Breaking Bad. We’d need to be making movies. Great movies.

What the industry has produced is still in most cases Emperor's new clothes.
We are still at an embryonic stage, where we haven’t begun to touch the levels of creativity that long format deserves. Film, TV, and for that matter computer games, are miles ahead.

It could all change in 2014 (partly because advertising has an unhealthy obsession with YouTube hits at the moment, but that’s another story). I hope it does. But I doubt it will.

2. Brands are getting a conscience

SD: There has been more of a movement towards ‘being good’ and ‘doing good’ as a brand. Using marketing money to not only talk about what you do, but also to lend support to a cause by championing a point of view. Think they call it ‘cause marketing’… but again that’s a rather uninspiring name.

Paddy Power’s Rainbow Laces, Chipotle’s Scarecrow, Coke’s Small World Machines, and Cansey Niestat giving away 20th Century Fox’s marketing budget (although $25,000 seemed a bit small, no?...). These are all examples of brands getting involved and being more outspoken in terms of what they believe in (granted, some do this better than others).

I think big brands being more open and voicing what they believe in is a great thing. I like the idea of marketing budgets feeding back to do some good in the community. Increasingly people want to know what companies stand for just as much as what’s in the box, bottle, or can.

That said, I think marketers and advertisers need to be sure they really believe in their point of view, and perhaps most importantly, that this point of view is true to their products, services and business practice. We shouldn’t just be broadcasting beliefs just for the kudos of a particular target market – these ideals should run deep within the companies we speak for.

I hope, following that thought, we don’t become ‘good washers’ or act opportunistically to curry favour with groups of people. I hope we can tell genuine stories of companies’ beliefs, ideals, and initiatives. I hope brands that fudge the truth are kept honest by watchdogs and the wrath of social media. That might be a bit idealistic. But hey, it’s Christmas!

MT: For me the trend that defined advertising for 2013 was a social conscience, or at least a desire to make the world better. Nelson Mandela would have approved.

Dove did it. So did Pepsi with its Liter of Light campaign. Even a Brazilian soccer team, Sport Club Recife, helped do it with their organ donation campaign, telling fans their hearts will keep beating for the team if they sign up to be an organ donor. The Philippines can’t afford tablet computers for students, but DM9 and telecom Smart did the next best thing. They translated schoolbooks into thousands of 160-character text messages and loaded them onto old analogue cell phones, turning the handsets into e-readers.

But the pick of the bunch for me was Dove: A campaign that used a criminal sketch artist to draw women as they described themselves, and as other people described them. The differences were stark – A reminder to women that they're more beautiful than they think.

3. The best ideas had nothing to do with trends. They were just good ideas.

SD: The Axe Apollo Space Academy work was nice and big . I love the fact it had big activation idea at the heart of it – a trip to space no less. It was nice to see, as NASA dials things back, a brand stepping in to offer adolescents the ultimate high. I’m probably a couple of years outside the target audience but I signed up immediately.

But more than the lure of a fat prize (galactic travel etc…), the campaign was held together by a really strong insight – “nothing beats an astronaut”. This gave it loads of fuel when it spread beyond its initial creators to partner agencies and local markets. Hence we saw the campaign sprawl from TV, print, online video, to moon buggy games. Granted not all of this was great but it’s good to see a global idea picked up with such zeal across markets. Just like one of those explorer satellites that carry on sending back data for years, the campaign seemed to keep going and going as it spread out across Earth. Today, it's still going, and I see they are offering ‘one last ticket’ to space. I’ll probably have a stab at that too.

I also really liked the 24 Hours of Happy music video . It’s a lovely promo for Pharrell’s latest pop hit, capturing the optimistic sentiment of the song perfectly with loads (literally 24 hours) of Pharrell and friends dancing about.  Of course you don’t need to watch the entire thing to get the idea, but for die-hard fans there is plenty to dive into with cameo appearances from Pharrell’s famous friends – not to mention the challenge to watch every hour of the whole thing. Beautifully directed and with a lovely, seamless interface. Nice craft.

MT: My favourite ad of the year by far was also I consider the bravest [although it was technically a 2012 ad, it picked up the majority of its attention in 2013 – BSB]. It broke so many 'rules'. Drink Southern Comfort if you are an orange, overweight tiny-cocked, moustachioed letch from the early 80s just shouldn't work. But it does. It did. Brilliantly.

And what about the biggest award winner of all? Dumb Ways to Die. Even it followed a trend – the trend that the very best in advertising doesn’t follow a trend at all.

Unsigned: Ben Aston

January 7, 2014 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

This student’s not your stereotypical layabout.

Ben Aston hasn’t even graduated from film school yet, but he’s already got some pretty interesting films on his reel. Born in London, Ben grew up in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Australia and Bath, before returning to London to study Philosophy at Kings College.

With a really useful degree in thinking about abstract stuff under his belt, he went about setting up a production company with his friends, making short films, music videos and ads – one of which ended up paying for his first term at the London Film School.

He’s already received festival accolades for his film Dinner and a Movie and is currently working on his graduation film He Took His Skin Off For Me, which looks to be shaping up to be, well, something different.

Watch some of his work here: