Under the Influence: Charlie Crane

July 29, 2014 / Features

By Izzie Weller & Alex Reeves

Knucklehead’s photographically minded director talks us through the muses that shaped and inspired him.

Like trees growing around manmade structures, people are shaped according to the things they encounter. Directors are no different. No matter how unique their style, the people, places and art they encounter influence their work.

Charlie Crane, one of Knucklehead’s sharpest directors, came to directing through a passion for photography. We asked him about the people and creations that helped turn him from a young man with only one GCSE who can’t swim into a filmmaker who makes things look effortlessly cool and chooses to spend his spare time wandering around North Korea.

Bill Rowlinson

“Before I was a photographer I was a photographer’s assistant and before that I was a general mess. I was doing a part-time job with someone. He was doing an interview for a magazine and he said ‘you should come and see this guy with me, he’s a black-and-white printer’ and he was just this amazing dude.

He was probably the best black-and-white printer in the country. He was printing a lot of advertising work but he also did a lot of great non-commissioned black-and-white photography, for [people like] Sarah Moon and Bill Brandt.

His house was just filled with prints all over the walls, all stained with nicotine because he smoked so heavily. In his kitchen there were developing trays and empty 7Up bottles that had been filled with different developers and toners and he had prints slapped up against the wall – when a print’s wet you can chuck it against the wall and it sticks there and you can assess it.

He would tone and work in his kitchen and his darkroom was in the basement. The only person that has ever been in his basement is his electrician (but I’m not sure that’s true). He just lived and breathed what he did and he was amazing at it, incredibly creative, incredibly different.

I think that inspired me to become a photographer – what he did, the way he lived and the way he did it. He was completely immersed in it. That taught me you can do something and it doesn’t have to be a job - it’s just what you do. Just immerse yourself completely in it. I tried to hold that inside me as a work ethic, and I’ve always liked going to work since.”

Thomas Struth

“I’ve never met him, it’s just his work and I find it completely beguiling. I can just sit and stare at his photographs. Their composition, their steadiness and their calmness have an incredible power on me. I think that he’s a very intelligent photographer.

He’s a German art photographer and studied the Düsseldorf Academy at a time when photography was evolving into what everybody recognizes it as now. There was a whole load of stuff going on in America with [William] Eggleston and all those sorts of people. And there was also this thing going on in this Germanic school and I love both schools.

I think if there’s work I go back to again and again and I can sit with and sit with forever, it’s Thomas Struth’s work, both his portraiture and his landscapes, but particularly his cityscapes. I can just live in those pictures. I adore them.

What I really love about moving imagery is you can change things and move from one place to another. But I also love a still, beautifully composed frame. And for me to be able to have all those things in moving image storytelling and then to be able to hold on a still frame – I want those still frames to be like his still frames. They’re so considered, the composition is so lovely that you can just sit and absorb them and they kind of wash over you. That is something that I find really inspiring.

It has a really direct impact on my work. Interestingly I rarely put his pictures into treatments because sometimes they don’t necessarily suit a particular job, but in my mind some of his imagery will always find it’s way into things.”

Fight Club

“I find his [David Fincher’s] other work really engaging, very emotional, very clever and very sophisticated but when I went to South America on holiday Fight Club was on in the cinema. I watched it and I walked out and I was like ‘fucking hell. You can’t do that. You can’t do that with a photograph. You just can’t. You can’t make someone feel like that, not like I felt from watching that.’

I was a photographer’s assistant then so I thought ‘how do you do that?’ I walked round in this country, in this city I had never been to before. There were loads of new things to look at, but I just couldn’t get out of the film. That’s really amazing.

I’ve watched a lot of films but I’ve never really watched them with that confidence and maybe that’s being somewhere else or whatever, but it just made a massive impact on me. I think that the way he tells the story is so complex and intelligent and yet he deals with emotionally challenging subjects. That was a very defining and inspiring moment.”

Malcolm Venville

“When I was a photographer’s assistant I worked for a guy called Malcolm Venville who’s a director but also a photographer and he influenced the way I worked, defiantly. He was just a real eye opener to the way that a director works compared to a lot of photographers.

I’d assisted quite a lot of photographers but I’d never assisted someone that also worked as a director and the different way that they collaborate with people. He was very trusting of me to do things. It was much more overarching directing –not micromanaging – a lot of directors micromanage.

His influence on me is about collaboration, with the crew and the agency; about making work with other people and seeing a much broader picture and not being so narrowly focused on this tiny thing but taking an overview.
It was such a different experience to work with someone like that. It has influenced me an awful lot, in the same way that Bill Rowlinson did.

To see a photographer that can translate their work into moving imagery and do it really well was very inspiring too. To see that there is a path that has already been trodden was a massive eye opener for me, for someone who has come from assisting and starting with wedding photographers and moving up the ranks.”

Multifaceted Artists

“One of the things I love about Takeshi Katano is he’s got this bloody awful thing that he does – Takeshi’s Castle. So he’s a really wacky comedian and does these game shows. He writes, he paints and he makes these arty, emotional, thoughtful movies and I think that’s fascinating.

I don’t know much about his filming processes but I do like that it’s really rough around the edges. He doesn’t do loads of takes; he keeps it quite simple. There’s an edge to it, a rawness so you get an emotional story.

It’s just so different from someone like Fincher in that he can just go ‘right ok we’ve got two takes, ok lets move on’. It’s just about getting the story across and then he’s going to go and do something else. And I love the lack of polish and the variety of movies that he makes. I don’t necessarily like all of them but I have some favourites, like Sonatine, which is a really beautiful movie, and his version of [The Blind Swordsman:] Zatoichi, which is amazing. There’s just a sort of silence to it.

Again, he has a contemplative nature to his work. He’s got this weird, wacky thing that he does and he acts sometimes and he directs and he’s, again, immersing himself in what he loves. I love cross-pollination. I think that’s fascinating and such a wonderful thing about making moving imagery.

I think that [Werner] Hertzog can do the same thing, not in the same way but he can move around so much. I haven’t studied film, I wasn’t some clever film bod and a friend of mine told me to watch Grizzly Man. It’s all found footage and I was like ‘that’s so against my aesthetic. I don’t like that at all.’ Then I watched that movie and I think it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life. It just showed me how important it is not to have pre-conceived ideas. I thought that was just insane, such an incredible look at our relationship with animals. It blew my mind.

Herzog can do these crazy projects and go ‘that’s what I want to do right now’ and I think that’s what a lot of really good artists do. They’re not just stuck in one medium. They move around. They can paint, they can make a film and then they can draw, then they can sculpt and I see that as a very similar sort of thing with both Hertzog and Katano.”

 

Have a look for these influences on Charlie's reel.

A Double-Barrelled Music Video Assault

July 24, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Just a year old, Able&Baker have made a big dent in the promo scene.

This year’s CFP-E & Shots Young Director Award served up some interesting results, while Kibwe Tavares cleaned up with his short film Jonah, all the glory of the European Music Video category flowed in one direction – to Park Village’s new promo company, Able&Baker. Videos from their directors Rémy Cayuela and Jim Demuth picked up first and second prize respectively – quite a feat considering that was within one of the most hotly contended categories.

It’s a great result for Park Village. Founded in the 1970s, one of the most well established of London’s production companies, this impact on the music video landscape proves that it pays to be brave. Traditional companies are often afraid to step into the unknown, but Able&Baker have entered this market and carved out a space for themselves. It sets a great example for how to launch a sub-brand.

We asked the company’s Executive Producer Joe Walker for his thoughts.

Director: Rémy Cayuela
Production Company: Able & Baker
Producer: Joe Walker
1st Assistant Director: Jules Higgs
Director of Photography: Jake Scott
Gaffer: Mark Holownia
Art Director: Sets Appeal
Wardrobe: Cesca Salter Dvorak
Make-Up: Sian Duke
Editor: Ellie Johnson
VFX Company: Burning Reel
Animators: Chloe Haywood, David Phaelon
VFX Producer: Cal Gordon
Colourist: Muriel Archambaud
Director’s Representation: Marisa Garner
Commissioner: James Hackett
Labels: Ram Records, Virgin EMI

The Beak Street Bugle: What do your Young Director Award wins mean to you guys?
Joe Walker:
It means an enormous amount! The YDA awards have an amazing reputation as talent spotters so to have not one but two our directors awarded by them is a massive honour.

BSB: Why do you think you won?
JW:
I think the reason why Remy and Jim did so well with these two particular projects is that in both cases they're trying to come up with fresh approaches to the whole music video format, which turned out to be a really good fit to the YDA's remit to celebrate originality and creative bravery. 

In Remy's case he took a fairly familiar music video trope – the lifespan of a relationship – but by breaking this arc down in a series of statistical snapshots he found a new and funny way for people to connect with this idea that I don't think we've seen before. James Hackett the commissioner fought really hard for the idea and I think we ended up with something really striking.

Jim's video for Django Django (which was produced through Vice before Jim joined us – big up Vice!) on the other hand is a straight up ob. doc. There's been a massive boom in reality-based videos that seemed to come off the back of Bob Harlow's amazing Feel The Love for Rudimental a few years ago but I think pieces like this that are genuinely observational and unreconstructed are still pretty rare. In this one I think Jim made something really special. It's way more than just a visually exciting spectacle; it's a really human portrait of a subculture that we don't normally get to access. I think they're both really exciting new directorial voices, we're massively proud of them.

BSB: Can you describe the journey of Able&Baker up to this point?
JW:
It's quite a short story really, Able&Baker just celebrated its first birthday. The company was set up as a kind of incubator for new talent for our parent company Park Village.

Initially I think we conceived as ourselves as a music video imprint but pretty quickly the type of work we were able to sell our guys in broadened right out and we've come to overlap with Park Village on content.

I feel like we get to operate at a kind of sweet spot in that we have the freedom to define our own identity but on the other hand we have really strong and long-lasting relationships to with agencies and clients Park Village has developed over years to draw upon in developing our directors. We're trying to keep the roster small and diverse, we're got a couple of new signings to announce over the coming months we're really excited about.

Executive Producer: Jane Third
Producer: Posy Dixon
Director: Jim Demuth
Editor: Iain Pettifer
Colourist: Chris Rodgers (Splice Post Production)
Production Manager: Bree Horn

BSB: What’s been most difficult?
JW:
Coming up with a production company name is pretty dry. I chanced across Able and Baker (the first two monkeys to be launched into space by the Americans in the 50s) in an inflight magazine on the way out to our first LA job with Remy and breathed a massive sigh of relief.

BSB: What’s been most surprising?
JW:
Uncontroversially, I think the most surprising thing has been the double award win at the YDAs! The timing was amazing, we were literally sending out the invites to the first birthday party when first one then a second email from the YDAs came through to let us know we'd won a prize. It's been an incredible year for us, we're really excited to see what our directors will do next.

BSB: What have you got your eyes set on next that you’re not doing right now?
JW:
The next big thing for us is long form factual content for broadcast. We've got a slate of projects being worked up for commission, there's one in particular we're really excited about which we've just attached Wellcome trust development finance to, hopefully coming soon to a small screen near you.

We've also been developing a digital strategy campaign with Ivana Bobic for a Russian couture department store we made a fashion film for last year. As film-makers this is a totally new way of working for us and while we'd be lying if we said there were times we didn't miss the mediating influence of an agency the scope to develop something bigger than a single stand alone film right from the ground up is pretty fantastic.

An Eye for Talent

July 23, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

As the agency talent wars rage, Karmarama Group CEO Ben Bilboul talks us through his agency’s arsenal.

Agencies are only as good as the people who work for them. Ben Bilboul, Group CEO of Karmarama, is passionate about attracting and harnessing the best talent for advertising. There’s no question for him, “it has to go to the heart of your strategy as a business,” he says.

Speaking in Cannes last month at a talk titled Why Some Companies are Winning the Talent Wars, presented by Charles Day of consultancy The Lookingglass, Karmarama were showcased as one of the companies with their priorities straight in this regard.

The message of the saminar was simple: “Talent has to be a major focus for the industry,” says Ben. “It’s fairly obvious, really.” But the more interesting point is how? Having talked around and pondered the issue extensively, he has some insights which could be the key. “The theme which emerged is a question around millennials (for want of a better word) looking for something different.”

With an average age at Karmarama of 27, Ben is familiar with Generation Y. With strong work experience and graduate schemes, including KEEN and Karma Kadets, he and his agency are dedicated to keeping their talent reservoirs topped up.

Success in attracting and keeping talent can only come from understanding the realities of today’s job market, and Ben flags up several points for consideration.

The age of a job for life is well behind us. People now move jobs and even careers more often than ever – the average person will do somewhere between 15 and 20 jobs in their lifetime. That makes the challenge of holding onto talent a tough one, but further understanding can help.

‘Climbing the greasy pole’ is one of the most evocative clichés out there and for many with now established careers, it’s a familiar and quite apt metaphor, but it’s out of touch with the aspirations of people entering the job market today. The right starting package and the promise of status will always hold some sway, but these are not the priorities for many young people anymore. “It’s more about trying to get job satisfaction relatively early on in your career and do something meaningful, which is great,” says Ben. He also notes that applicants to jobs at his agency tend to be passionate about making a positive contribution to society at large. “I don’t think it’s just stuff people put on their CVs because it sounds good,” he adds.

That doesn’t mean the youth are a generation of volunteer charity workers relying on parental hand-outs though. Millennials still want to earn their way. “People seem to be much more entrepreneurial in that generation,” suggests Ben, “typically because they know there isn’t a job for life.” Even those who Karmarama have interviewed straight out of education have often set up businesses, started blogs or done charity work. He finds it encouraging. “A lot of them seem to be more self-starting, not waiting to be given stuff.”

With the vast array of creative tools we new have available to us, kids are growing up as coders and designers. “You see people who have got a lot more creative experience across the board,” says Ben, “not just in creative but in account planning and handling, where they have actually designed their own websites, made their own things. It’s a kind of maker generation.”

But Ben is encouraged by these new values. “It’s a really positive thing for our industry,” he says. “If you scroll back to ten years ago I think there was a real brain drain to consulting, to finance. Starting salaries were more than double in the City within London. However much someone bright wanted to be creative, it was a pretty tough call if you could go and get a 60-grand starting salary against the average starting salary in advertising – something like 18 grand. So it’s a massive difference.”

Basically, the City’s piles of cash no longer hold sway over the sharpest graduates. They’re prepared to slum it for the chance for creativity. Ben is convinced this is a good thing, but if agencies want to harness it and retain those people they have to change the way they think about letting them into their business.

Agencies have to be leading the way in this and agency culture is vital. Ben reminds us of a piece of advice that agencies rarely take themselves: “People are attracted to businesses that have a purpose that goes beyond making money. If you’re just making money for you shareholders or whoever then you can only ever hope for a transactional relationship.”

When you’ve got the word ‘Karma’ in your agency’s name, you have to live by the Golden Rule. “If we do the right thing by our clients and by our staff, that’s got to be our number one objective. Happiness and financial success will follow.”

Those agencies with a clear mission attract better talent and make better work. Ben cites Wieden+Kennedy as another great example. “I’ve got massive respect for those guys. We’re not trying to do the same thing. But in terms of having created a culture that goes beyond one client that has really sustained itself culturally, it’s because of having a strong culture. They’ve got their independence and they take talent and culture really seriously.”

An agency needs to earn loyalty from talented individuals today. Karmarama have several ways they try and do this, but the crux of it is simple: “It’s generally giving people more responsibility and letting them partner with the company,” says Ben.

Karmarama have a concrete programme to nurture their staff’s ideas. It’s an innovation lab called Krank that supports passion projects and sometimes even turns them into proper businesses. Ben admits that this isn’t unique or particularly cutting-edge (Google’s famous 20 Percent Time policy has been around for over a decade) but he thinks theirs has the right flavour. “I guess the difference with ours is if someone pitches an idea and we like it, not only will we put money into it, we’ll also let them keep half of the IP in that idea.”

Krank has worked for Karmarama in all sorts of ways. “It’s unleashed a load of interesting ideas that I think otherwise they would have done in their spare time,” Ben speculates, “or even eventually left the agency to go and do on their own.” One prime example is Aurelio – a new beer whose profits go to a prostate cancer charity. It’s being sold in Tesco and Waitrose stores around the UK – it’s a proper product. 

This kind of thing is invaluable to Karmarama for enriching their workforce. It gives them a chance to gain experience running a business, rather than only packaging one, which creates a strong level of understanding and empathy for their clients. The guys from Aurelio work on the Cobra beer account. What could be more fitting?

“What we talk about it is wanting creative entrepreneurs,” says Ben. “If you’re pure creative then you maybe need that other muscle developed and if you’re just an account manager you need your creative muscle developed because increasingly you can’t do those big integrated campaigns unless you invite quite a lot of people round the table.”

Obviously not everything that comes out of Krank is physical. Lots of people pitch in mobile apps and digital business ideas. These enhance Karmarama’s business, despite not being commissioned. “Sometimes we just take them straight to a client,” says Ben. They’re even working with Unilever’s global innovation department.

If their staff are pouring their creativity into passion projects, what does that say about the work coming from the agency’s clients? Is it not stimulating enough? “The truth is that one of the things that attracts people into advertising is the butterfly mind,” Ben retorts. “One day you can be working on beer, the next day you can be working on healthcare. The next day you can be working on financial services. And actually the more diversity and variety you have the better it makes you because there are always analogies. You can take what you did on that brand and apply that to that. And clients thank you for it because you bring a different perspective.”

These approaches are experimental. Ben is confident that they take the right approach, but he’s not sure. “The truth is, though, no one knows what the new normal is. Everyone’s experimenting. All I know is the old normal is definitely gone and you have to try something different.”

In theory, Karmarama sounds like an agency culture that fits with the priorities of bright young talent, but agencies can’t be too proprietary about the people who work for them. “The other thing you have to be happy with is a recognition that people are going to move on, but what’s the overlap of what they want and what the business wants and how can you make that a happy relationship?”

According to Ben and his agency, these are the questions that agencies need to ask if they hope to build a better industry for the future. Advertising will change, but with the robot uprising still a few years off, people will be a big part of it for a while yet. Having the right people is vital.

BBC to End Deal with Red Bee

July 22, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

At the end of 2015 the BBC will reopen its doors to the British production community.

At the end of 2015 the BBC will reopen its doors to the British production community, it has been announced.

In 2005, the BBC signed a contract with Red Bee Media, ensuring they would produce all of the broadcaster’s promotional content for the next decade. Philip Almond, the BBC’s director of marketing and audiences, said the contract would not be renewed when it expires in December 2015.

Part of the content that Red Bee have provided for the past decade – short, clip-based trailers and the like – will be brought in-house, while other projects will be open for the diverse spectrum of production companies to pitch on.

Almond said: “Tony Hall’s recent speech on the future of the licence fee championed a new competition revolution.

“In a similar way we want to give all directors and production companies the opportunity to work with the BBC, and to establish a new partnership with the commercial production industry. We want to benefit from this wider pool of talent and the innovation and value that comes from such a competitive market – but we also want to play a key role in developing new talent.”

This decision illustrates the corporation’s faith in the power of the free market. While a preferred supplier arrangement enables the buyer of services to leverage their market power in some sectors with creative work it is the competition for it and the striving for the best results at a competitive price from production companies that serves a buyer of those services best.

Being able to access the whole market for directing and production expertise will give the BBC the best opportunity of ensuring that they get great films and their advertising objectives are realised.

Promos for the BBC have provided some of the most memorable and exciting advertising and it will be interesting to see what the production industry makes of 2016’s first BBC promo script. We may even be treated to a new Perfect Day.

APA Chief Executive Steve Davies said “It is what we have campaigned for over many years but what matters now is looking forward. There is great enthusiasm for the BBC and its scripts for commercials and idents within the London commercials production community and we are excited about the prospect of the BBC again reaching the creative heights in live action it has reached consistently in animation- where the BBC has always used the open market.”

Fries, Football, Facebook and Framestore

July 17, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The McDonald’s World Cup campaign that kept their production crew up all night to get crafty.

Whatever you think of their product, McDonald’s care about their advertising. Having been pronounced Creative Marketer of the Year by Cannes Lions, they were sure to do some interesting things with their status as a World Cup sponsor.

FryFutbol is one of the most intriguing things they’ve done around the tournament – a reactive series of films produced by Framestore that act out the most memorable moment of each day’s World Cup football through the medium of McDonald’s fries.

Over the course of the tournament, the team worked through the night to get their reconstructed play of the day out to Facebook’s 500 million self-identified football fans around the world by the following morning. And with 400 million impressions in 158 countries, it certainly got around.

Rob Newlan, Head of EMEA at Facebook's Creative Shop, showed us round the studio where the films were brought to life in Facebook’s London offices – a small area strewn with fries, McDonald’s packaging, props and the characters from the series, the storyboards from the previous night still up on the wall, covered in scribblings. He talked us through the intense project.

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: FryFutbol
Production Company: Framestore
Director: Jon Riche
Production Company Producer: Emma Copeland
Director of Photography: Peter Ellmore
Ad Agency: Facebook Creative Shop
Editor: Richard Topping
Production Manager/1st AD: Toby Walsham
Focus Puller: Mark Swaffield
2nd AC: Ozi Oshiro
Grip: Jim Boorer
DIT: Andrew Spindle
Gaffer: Jono Yates
Electrician: Andy Mac
Rigger: Dave Lawrence
Rigger: Gary Martin
Rigger: Andy Thomas
Art Director: Scott Parrish
Art Assistant: Jon Meade 
Art Assistant: Annabel Maguire
Art Assistant: Bethan Smith
Art Assistant: Bronwyn Opland
Art Assistant: Elena Horn
Runner: Keiran Sadler
Sound Man: Darko Mocilnikar

The Beak Street Bugle: What was Facebook’s role in FryFutbol?

Rob Newlan: I run the creative team for Facebook. We’re a group of creative directors and strategists. In this role we came up with the idea. We understand the platform. We understand the kind of content that’s going to really work. I think this is a natural way for them to be able to create content.

The Creative Shop team are about making sure that brands are delivering as high-quality content as every other operator within your newsfeed. So [alongside] your friends and the news organisations, what’s coming from brands is as compelling and exciting for you.

Coming into the World Cup, we wanted to find people who could authentically have those conversations. Being able to work with a brand that’s a key sponsor was important.

The ‘GOL!’ idea existed for McDonald’s. We knew we were going to go with fries, so we came up with the FryFutbol mechanic. We sold it in with an Instavid to McDonald’s and it went up through the organisation there.

BSB: Can you run us through the production process each night?

RN:
The crew come in at about 11 o’clock and start getting set up as Jon [Riche, the director] is picking the moment, as we’re storyboarding it out, getting that through.

Food arrives at about 11-ish as well and everyone has dinner together (or whatever THAT meal is). There’s a bit of bonding moment when everyone stops to have food together.

[The shoot is] really done at pace. We have editing straight off. The guys are editing all the way through and of course it comes together in the edit.

The crew goes and then about four of us will stay. Jon, the producer and the editor will work it through. My team and one of the producers will work on the copy lines and key frames, so everything can go out by about 6:30am.

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: FryFutbol
Production Company: Framestore
Director: Jon Riche
Production Company Producer: Emma Copeland
Director of Photography: Peter Ellmore
Ad Agency: Facebook Creative Shop
Editor: Richard Topping
Production Manager/1st AD: Toby Walsham
Focus Puller: Mark Swaffield
2nd AC: Ozi Oshiro
Grip: Jim Boorer
DIT: Andrew Spindle
Gaffer: Jono Yates
Electrician: Andy Mac
Rigger: Dave Lawrence
Rigger: Gary Martin
Rigger: Andy Thomas
Art Director: Scott Parrish
Art Assistant: Jon Meade
Art Assistant: Annabel Maguire
Art Assistant: Bethan Smith
Art Assistant: Bronwyn Opland
Art Assistant: Elena Horn
Runner: Keiran Sadler
Sound Man: Darko Mocilnikar

BSB: Can you explain the craft that went into it?

RN:
Part of what I’m excited about with the crew and working with someone like Framestore is one of the things they insisted on – they needed to have a really strong art department here.

The art department is really part of what’s made the films. As we’ve been watching the games very quickly we started to be able to say ‘it looks like it’s probably going to be this kind of action; it’s probably going to centred around this,’ and they are straight away sketching and building.

We have 10,000 hand-made fries, made from resin. And they’re all different colours. We’ve got three full-time fry-ticklers across the shoot to get the crowd movements in the background.

Most of it is sourced from McDonald’s but we had a panic to find the right sort of Satsuma net the other day. They were sending people out to try and find the right colour.

It’s fun and crafted and it’s all the stuff you’d want of any great creative. That’s partly having a partner like Framestore with us here. I was at BBH the other day and Framestore were showing the whole process of Gravity. I love that this is the whole other end of the scale. This is low-fi – three brilliantly talented craftspeople making fries, cutting things out and doing little bits of cardboard engineering.

BSB: Why do you think this reactive style of advertising?

RN: Reactive content is a lot tougher to do than people think it is. [But] I also think people are getting a better rhythm for creating work around a platform. What they’re understanding is the things they should and shouldn’t say.

There was a time when content was always-on – that was the buzzword. ‘We must just produce stuff and get it out there’. I think as we’re seeing it develop the brands and agencies are being much more choiceful about that.

Look at the Oreos work that 360i did last year. They did it on Super Bowl night, but that was due to having legal people, media people, everybody sat in the room to get it done. It’s an investment. The whole point is spreading relevant work and part of relevance is timeliness, but do it for the right reasons; do it the right way and a have a good group of people.

In advance it’s been [important for McDonalds to be] setting really clear boundaries. The client hasn’t been on set whilst it’s been live but came onto set for the preproduction to get that in place and that was key. I think if you provide the confidence and belief in people that will come through.

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: FryFutbol
Production Company: Framestore
Director: Jon Riche
Production Company Producer: Emma Copeland
Director of Photography: Peter Ellmore
Ad Agency: Facebook Creative Shop
Editor: Richard Topping
Production Manager/1st AD: Toby Walsham
Focus Puller: Mark Swaffield
2nd AC: Ozi Oshiro
Grip: Jim Boorer
DIT: Andrew Spindle
Gaffer: Jono Yates
Electrician: Andy Mac
Rigger: Dave Lawrence
Rigger: Gary Martin
Rigger: Andy Thomas
Art Director: Scott Parrish
Art Assistant: Jon Meade
Art Assistant: Annabel Maguire
Art Assistant: Bethan Smith
Art Assistant: Bronwyn Opland
Art Assistant: Elena Horn
Runner: Keiran Sadler
Sound Man: Darko Mocilnikar

BSB: How did you get the approval structure to run smoothly?

RN: One thing I think is amazing about this is the clients and the legal team. So [you can] imagine legal is a crazy obstacle in something that’s going to turn around so quickly.

We do a piece of spotting. We’ll find the play of the day and we will go through as a crew and the director’s there and very much steering his vision for it, storyboard that up and then by about 11:30 or 12 o’clock at night, depending on whether it’s running on, these are sent out to a FIFA representative (we have to have FIFA approval as well during the World Cup), legal approval and brand approval, and then we get them up again at about 5:30 or six in the morning to approve the films.

There’s an amazing authorisation computer system that McDonald’s have sits behind it all that allows everybody to download it at the right time and you can see where it’s been downloaded to and how it’s gone out.

The storyboarding stage is really important because what we’re going to produce – that’s going to come through. And normally having a few weeks’ grace to perfect and craft the films – that’s not going to happen. So that’s been one of the really interesting things for us. A lot of this planning up front and then legal and brand being able to react and having the confidence in that judgement.

In the front end a lot of the planning with Framestore was being able to storyboard out some scenarios, have a think about what we would do, what we could and couldn’t do in that time period and also, equally, setting up with the client the bounds in which we’re going to be able to take feedback. So we can’t go and do a massive editing job at 6:30 in the morning when the crew are coming to the end of their hours and we’ve had people up [all night].

BSB: In terms of production, what were the biggest challenges?

RN: We learnt quite quickly. Partly there’s the [problem] of not having enough hands on set to control lots of fries, but also how do you take an essence of a scene but do that with only three or four different fries?

Jon is fabulous and he comes from a children’s cartoon style. His brain works like that – very visual and fun and part of that is how are we getting people to laugh and smile and comprehend – how did people know what that move was via the medium of fries?

I think the lovely thing as we’ve gone on is finding those different moments. There was a brilliant passing display by Brazil one night so that’s why we’ve got the pinball machine. To be able to make that metaphorical but not obscure – there’s a line to play with there and a lot to learn.

The editor, the art department, everyone’s working at such pace that they get great direction from Jon from an overall perspective, but then he’s having to empower them at an early stage to make decisions, to make craft points on it and then the stuff that you would obsess over for take after take – we’ve got to go for craft, but also say ‘you know what? We’ve been an hour on this. We’ve only got another two hours shooting left and another four frames to do. What are we going to do?’ Where do you compromise for the film?

It’s actually going out to about 70 countries, which is why there’s a sort of gobbledygook language. We had to think about that. It’s also quite hard to shoot a rolled-up paper football with a pretend fry, getting it to go into the top-right corner of the net.


Watch a timelapse video of the process here:

The Modern-day Polymath Director

July 11, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Young directing sensation Kibwe Tavares is a jack of many trades.

It’s not easy making a name for yourself as a director in advertising these days. There’s too much competition, too few worthwhile jobs. Kibwe Tavares isn’t bothered by that though because he never set out to become a director. He’s built a whole creative ecosystem around him, and directing for brands is just one part of it.

James Tomkinson – Managing Director at Nexus, who represent Kibwe in his advertising exploits – thinks this is the right approach for young directors in 2014. “So often directors that end up having a lifespan have so many fingers in so many pies,” he says. “Advertising is just one of the tools at their disposal. Hopefully it’s the tool that pays the bills, but there are always other things going on.”

Kibwe flew into Cannes for one day of glory last month, allowing him just enough time to scoop three awards at the CFP-E and Shots Young Director Award – 1st Prize for European Short Film, the rare Special Jury Award and the Audience Award – as well as being included among the 20 best young directors in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase. It’s fair to say this makes him one of the most exciting young talents represented for commercials right now.

But filmmaking wasn’t Kibwe’s first love. He trained in architecture, first at Leeds, on a more practical architectural engineering course and then at The Bartlett School of Architecture in London, where he jokes that you’d probably fail if you designed a building. “London schools are much more like art schools,” he says, which was lucky because although he went in wanting to become an architect, his graduate career was a little more leftfield.

As the final design project for his master’s degree, Kibwe decided to make a film. In true art school style, the open brief was ‘uncertainty’. His response was the stunning short film Robots of Brixton, in which a disenfranchised mechanical workforce battles against the authorities in scenes inspired by the 1981 Brixton riots. The film has its points to make about architecture, but its storytelling is so much stronger than a mere thesis on urban decay.

“That project came from the idea of being in a position as a young, black British architect,” he recognises, “feeling quite different to the people that were around me studying.” Embracing this difference, he made a film that has taken him to festivals around the world and earned him critical acclaim.

Like many graduates on the course, actually becoming an architect was too obvious for Kibwe. Having taught himself to animate through creating architectural fly-throughs, he had unearthed a passion for filmmaking – or at least moving image-making. Along with two of his fellow graduates he founded his own company, Factory Fifteen, on the basis that they enjoyed visualising architecture and wanted to carry on doing it.

“‘We don’t know how it works or what industry it fits in or how we make any money out of it,’” he remembers thinking, “‘but we know we like doing it. So let’s put our work out there.’”

They did. And Factory Fifteen got off to a strong start using the contacts the trio had built during their degree course. The work gained momentum. Their office has now expanded to include several more employees and they’ve worked on dozens of film and architectural visualisation projects over the past three years.

Robots of Brixton’s success made it almost impossible for Kibwe to work solely within the realms of architecture. There was too much storytelling talent to go untapped. Big players such as Film4 soon started reaching out to him, and with their support his biggest film project to date was born: Jonah.

The story of a pair of friends as their sleepy town in Zanzibar is engulfed by a tacky, unsustainable tourist bubble, Jonah is both a beautiful integration of 3D animation and live action and a compelling human story.

With support from Film4 and the BFI, Kibwe was plunged into a 14-month process. Going from working alone in his bedroom, now he was not only working a screenwriter and a producer for the first time, but around 80 different crew members of various disciplines. “The process was quite intense,” he recalls. Having never even considered calling himself a director, Kibwe had to learn to communicate his ideas to dozens of people and tie their expertise together.

In the meantime, Factory Fifteen was beginning to take off and Robots of Brixton was still doing the festival rounds. “It went to, like, a hundred different festivals,” guesses Kibwe. Somehow the young director managed to stay calm in the eye of this storm and the resulting film premiered to great acclaim at Sundance in 2013.

An award-winning young director equally confortable directing live action and 3D animation, it wouldn’t be long before he found a production company to call home. Soon after Jonah premiered Nexus signed Kibwe for commercial representation, along with Factory Fifteen as a studio. They have been collaborating ever since while he works on films, digital art commissions, commercial briefs and architectural visualisation, spinning all these plates at once.

His latest haul of awards at the YDA are the most recent in over a year of accolades for the fresh helmsman. But he’s only admitted that he’s a director since he finished Jonah. “I found it quite tricky to even say it,” he admits. “A lot of the time you doubt yourself as a director. Often it’s hard and what your asking [of the people you’re working with] is quite unreasonable. You’ll get pushed to do the easier option but you know in your heart what you need to do. I think the awards help you know you’re right; that you’re not just being excessive.”

He has a lot of ideas for creative projects, but recognises “those things need time and money to help push them forward.” He’s been smart in carefully choosing his partners. Not least Nexus, who are keen to dedicate time and resources to him outside of advertising briefs. “It’s a really cool way of working,” he says. “I can go in to see Chris [O’Reilly] or James and say ‘I’ve got this idea. I don’t know where it sits; whether it’s a commercial thing or a film,’ we you can talk about it and work it out.”

James enthuses about developing ideas with Nexus talent, not just developing directors. “Kibwe will come in see us and thrash it out for hours and hours and take that idea from A to Z,” he says. “Then it’s the Z that goes into production.” It doesn’t matter to them if it’s a Nexus production or not. If it’s a better film then it helps Kibwe’s reel and his reputation. “That’s how we develop our talent.”

After a year with Nexus behind him his projects are as diverse as ever. While his work is showcased at the Barbican’s Digital Revolution exhibition he’s working on an art commission for a music festival – a love story about a scarecrow, he says. He’s also pitching on advertising projects and working on architectural visualisation with Factory Fifteen.

If variety is the spice of life then Kibwe’s a lucky man. With such a diverse creative life he can dip in and out of spheres, industries and disciplines and hopefully come out a sharper, better-rounded director because of that. It may seem intimidating and exhausting to keep so many projects rolling, but he maintains it’s not as scary as it sounds. “You’re talking about a creative project and how you should execute something,” he says. “They’re similar types of conversations.”

With such an innovative production company at his back and a reel full of refreshing, imaginative work, Kibwe Tavares a name to remember. Keep an eye out for what he does next because the chances are it will be fascinating.

A Beginner’s Guide to Sound Design

July 9, 2014 / Features

By Owen Griffiths

Want your ad to sound amazing? Jungle's Owen Griffiths runs us through the basics.

“We’re looking for the sound of a smell.”
“It needs to be organic.” “We need to feel it rather than hear it.”
“Have you got anything more schhhheeeeewwwwww?”

These are genuine comments directed at me while I’ve been sound designing a commercial.
They might look a bit silly on the page. But they’re all legitimate requests from clients who have an idea of what they’re after and, ultimately, how do you talk about sound anyway?

Some of this advice might sound obvious – it is a beginner’s guide after all. But you’d be surprised by how many people are still unsure of how to get the best out of the sound design in their ads.

Get talking early

Personally, the first thing I like to do when approaching a new project is to discuss the film or, if it’s available, see a cut.

It’s really helpful to talk to the director and team first to get a brief and go through what they want the design to achieve: what’s it trying to do? How should it feel?

There may well be points in the cut which need a strong helping hand from the sound to tell the story.
Are there key moments to emphasize? What kind of texture do they want to achieve? Warm, abrasive, cold, etc? I did get asked recently to create the sound of a smell (yes, really), so it pays to have a good conversation early on to discuss what’s possible and how to approach it.

Record sound on location

When it comes to the actual sound, despite all the talk of certain big features being completely post-synced and all the location recordings replaced, starting with decent location sound is a really good basis. So if there’s likely to be specific things available to record on location – a big crowd of people shouting “monkey!” or a lovely new car model revving its chest off for example – then save yourself a lot of money and get a decent soundman on the shoot and give him some time to get it down.  Minutes spent here can literally save hours later down the line.

If it’s after the fact, it can be well worth it to send someone out from your sound house to record wild source material. I’ve recorded myself running around the nighttime mean-ish streets of South London (well, you would anyway wouldn’t you?) and kicking over bin bags for a spot I was working on. And my kids can’t get enough of me shouting at them to laugh more convincingly when I’m shoving a microphone in their faces.

Of course, sound design has to begin somewhere, and in many cases starting with a real sound and building on that with more disassociated elements is the way to approach it. Even Wall-E’s robot character sounds started with Ben and Mrs Burtt’s voices. And then a s**t lot of messing about with processing.

Allow for experimentation

Which brings me to my next point: if the spot needs some big design, it may well need a fair bit of trial and error. I’m not talking about the three years it took to design Wall-E, or building a sand-pit like Brian Wilson but have a word with your sound house and see how long a piece of string they guestimate. If it’s not something you’ve heard before, or it’s something you’ve heard on a feature film, this will probably require a bit more time.

It often takes some experimentation for the more unusual sounds that you have to design: for example, the creative team I recorded slapping each other’s bare limbs with raw meat to try and create the effect of a six foot Viking hitting someone in the face with a giant fish, or the poor runner who, on his first day, had to tell his mum that his new job involved buying a pair of pig’s feet from the butchers and then making them dance in front of a microphone (neither of which made it to the cut).

Give your designer space

Once your designer has started work with your brief in mind, it’s always good to let them get some initial work done first on their own so they can go through the trial and error phase without them feeling stupid, and without you feeling bored. For the sound designer it also helps, if there’s a fair amount of vocal elements to record, if the agency and director aren’t the other side of the glass as you shout and groan your way through the relevant performance. And yes, I am still talking about my day job. I’ve been a group of marauding yetis, a two headed Jason and the Argonauts stop motion monster and a family of gorillas in my time. None of which, thankfully, I had to channel while the agency were in the room. Thanks folks.

Don’t forget music

Oh, and let’s not forget music. If you’ve got a track that you’re using, it really helps to have that to hand. Sound design needs to complement a track, so it should be built to fit the spaces in the music rather than fight for the same audio territory. We’ve all had the last minute delivery of the huge (and hugely expensive) orchestral track, only to discover that the design clashes with just about everything! 

Bass, in particular, can be tricky. Big cinematic whooshes can get lost easily when the track is added, and even then, what sounded great on the big speakers can totally disappear on the smalls. I’ve had tracks from big established acts that just don’t translate to TV or laptop. The eeeny weeny speaker cones just can’t move enough air to reproduce the low frequencies.

Of course, however well you plan it, there’s always the classic start of session comment: “the music has bombed out with the client / record company so we’re using this other piece…” in a different key and at a different tempo. The new track might be great but if the tempo doesn’t fit the cut, and the frequency content of the arrangement now clashes with the carefully constructed sound design, then you’ve got problems. Like the time I was working with a well-known opera piece for a big car ad and at the last moment the singer backed out. At which point the only other performance that could be licenced in time was too slow and sounded like it was recorded on a wax cylinder.

Know sound design’s limitations

Above all, it’s worth remembering what sound design can and can’t do. Its emotional content is limited: witness the huge military recruitment ad that was sound designed without music to within an inch of its life, trying to “make it more uplifting”, before ending up on air with a stonking rock track slapped all over it.

Keep us in the loop

As the project progresses it’s always comforting to receive work-in-progress video files of where things have got to. And keep giving feedback - given that everybody these days seems to have to do several person’s jobs at the same time, this can really help to keep everyone on the same page.


The best projects are those with enough time and an open-minded attitude to achieving the right result. It’s very easy to get wedded to an offline or even a temp dub. And it’s always harder to hear it as a fresh piece when you’ve been associating the same noises with your pictures for weeks.
So talk it through first, give your designer some time to run with it, keep feeding back on what works for you and what doesn’t, and I guarantee everybody will get the result they want.

Schhhheeeeewwwwww!!!!!

 

Owen Griffiths is Chief Engineer at Jungle Studios.

The Science Behind the Magic

July 3, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

VCCP envisions a new kind of research that stands up for creative weirdness.

Research in advertising is far from perfect. Mentioning it to creatives often provokes a wince, evoking pain and fear as they remember the times their creative vision was torn to shreds by focus groups and link tests. But there are planners out there who agree. According to Darren Savage, Chief Strategic Officer of Studio Ex Nihilo – VCCP’s newly launched inventions business – research needs an overhaul. “The results they’re getting are completely and utterly wrong,” he says.

Speaking at Cannes Lions recently in a talk called ‘The (Emotional) Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, Darren and his colleagues pointed out what they see as fundamental flaws in the research process for television advertising and laid the first few slabs on a new path – one that they hope will lead to more effective advertising.

The main concept underlying the new approach is based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Put simply, he suggested people make decisions using two mental systems: system one is always on and runs in the background of your mind. This is the more emotional, instinctive part of your decision-making. System two is more of a conscious tool – the rational, considered part that you pull up when you need it. According to Darren, a classically trained account planner with a background in neuroscience, “the basic premise is that it’s not rational or emotional; it’s both at the same time, all of the time.”

Essentially, the problem is that current methods of research in advertising ignore system one. People are asked questions and consciously answer them, using only rational thought. “It’s artificially distorting the results,” says Darren, “because it’s pushing system one – the emotional stuff – to the periphery and artificially promoting the importance of system two. And that’s not how people make decisions.”

One of the worst upshots of this is that it sucks the magic out of advertising. That may not sound like something a researcher concerned with the science of marketing would say, but Darren laments that current methods of research fail to support creative flair. His team have been thinking about a number of areas where there’s a lot of subjectivity. Things like choice of music, sound design, editing and casting. These are often the places where rational decisions fail and little more than personal opinion tends to rule the decision-making.

“Everybody would admit music is really important,” says Darren, “but there isn’t any methodology to select what’s the right piece of music for advertising. I’ve been kicking around for long enough to have been involved in these kinds of arguments. It does degenerate into pure subjectivity.”

It’s crazy, when you come to think of it. “If you’re spending millions of pounds on a piece of advertising and it’s down to a coin toss between Radiohead or Muse, you’d better get it right,” he says.

In the seminar at Cannes, Darren and co took the example of Levi’s iconic Laundrette commercial. Arguably, research on that would have approved the pretty girls, handsome Nick, the cool music and the 50s aesthetic, but what’s the fat guy in a grey vest doing there? Rationally, it makes no sense to have him in there.

“A creative would say he adds a bit of texture,” says Darren. “Our argument is about protecting that weirdness. So leaving those sort of things that add rough edges, unexpectedness, texture or depth to advertising is actually really important. It keeps people interested in the narrative.”

Creatives are not known for being huge research fans. At a recent conference somebody asked Sir John Hegarty about data and creativity. His response: “Fuck off.” Darren’s aim is to provide data that the Hegartys of the world can use to their advantage. We know that award-winning creative work does the job for consumers too, and if current research methods can’t explain why the fat blokes and oddness work, maybe new methods are needed.

The VCCP team unveiled their new vision for research in Cannes, suggesting a way of uniting system one and system two decision-making in their techniques. Their idea is to use biometric data, measuring galvanic skin responses to creative work – the sort of thing it’s hard to fake. Darren acknowledges that these tools aren’t perfect, but he thinks they’re a step in the right direction. “Biometrics act as a pretty good barometer in terms of how someone is feeling about a particular stimulus,” he says.

Alongside more classic techniques like pre and post questionnaires, Darren and his team use this biometric data to try and knit together the system one emotional responses and the system two rational judgements.

Paying attention to how a piece of advertising actually makes people feel seems like a huge, if slightly obvious, leap for research, but Darren isn’t content to stop there. His team want to get a much more nuanced picture of the emotions being aroused by the work. “We’re looking at how you can compose or select a piece of music based on matching key to desired emotional response,” he says. “You don’t always want someone to watch a piece of advertising and be jumping around thrilled. It depends what the ad is trying to do. Are you trying to build suspense, induce euphoria? Are you meant to feel really positive? Is it meant to be serious, like a road safety ad? All ads work differently and it all needs to be effective.”

With that in mind, they’re looking at measuring other biometrics such as pupil dilation and stress levels. The end aim is never to have to rely on asking research subjects how something makes them feel. Their bodies will do the talking.

While still in preliminary stages, they have tested their techniques very briefly on music choices and edits. And they’ve gathered some encouraging data for supporters of uniqueness in advertising. “We’ve proven that the weird version versus the sanitised version punctuates those key narrative elements,” says Darren. “It seems to then correlate with recall and likelihood of purchasing or being interested in a brand.” This could put an end to those seemingly subjective arguments about music, sound, edit and casting, and could put power in the hands of creatives who believe in the power of weirdness.

Darren’s hope is that they are making first steps towards a kind of research data that helps, rather than hampers creativity. “I want Hegarty and people like him to say ‘this justifies my magic and helps me to understand it,’” he says.

The existing structures of research are too didactic and inflexible. Studio Ex Nihilo are creating techniques that feel more at home in 2014. “We’re trying to build a research methodology that fits around the advertising idea and tries to understand it,” says Darren, “to shed new light on it in terms of how it’s working, rather than the other way around.”

Darren is keen to stress it’s early days. His hope for the Cannes Lions seminar is that it will have piqued people’s interest, so other agencies and people from around the industry will want to get involved. “It would be nice to create a research group between a number of sorts of agencies, clients, different research agencies, even other advertising and creative agencies potentially,” he suggests. “Via that collaborative approach I think we’re much more likely to move further forward faster.”

With Oxford University helping to develop their methodology and analysis, they’ve got off to a good start. “It’s experimental,” he admits. “I don’t think we’re at the point where we can draw very firm conclusions, but they’re encouraging observations.”