How do you make a party political broadcast in the age of YouTube?
When you think of party political broadcasts you picture smartly dressed politicians, talking down their noses at you making hollow promises in their hope to win your vote. Cut to a montage of images of them with their sleeves rolled up in hospitals or wearing hard hats on building sites, pointing at things and looking concerned. Not the most challenging or inspiring territory for a commercials director. The brief that came to us from Creature London was a little bit different, and far from mundane, and stirred great interest from ACNE Director Johnny Hopkins. He saw a huge creative opportunity the moment the project landed on his desk.
A party like the Green Party needs to be different in order to stand out, so in collaboration with their agency, Creature, they worked on how to clearly convey a concise, powerful message while keeping it funny and intelligent. The hope was to be noticed on traditional channels and, importantly, through social media.
Creative Agency: Creature
Creative Directors: Stuart Outhwaite, Ben Middleton, Ed Warren
Creative: James Mitchell
Account Team: Dan Shute, Katrina Ellis
TV Producer: Madeline Smith
Film Production: Acne
Director: Johnny Hopkins
Producer: Barty Dearden
Executive Producer: Ben Clark
Photography: Denzil Armour-Brown (repped by Vision)
Editor: Gary Forrester @ Marshall Street Editors
Post Production: Ross Culligan @ Unit TV
Colourist: Simon Astbury
Audio Mix: Dan Beckwith @ Factory
Music Production: Eclectic
Composer: Colin Smith
It was different to work into a political party as opposed to a marketing department. Decisions were made on experience, instinct and trust rather than research, testing and contrived formulas. The client bought the idea at script stage. They made sure that the message and detail about policy and beliefs were accurate, but then left the creative decisions to the agency and production team.
Party political broadcasts are generally quite staid and dull affairs. That’s why the brief here was to make something big, bold, funny and attention grabbing. Johnny wanted to play it straight and shoot it like a serious music promo rather than anything too spoofy or silly. This play-it-straight approach elevated the comedy and hopefully made it more intelligent. Bringing a bit of humour into the serious and sometimes bitter world of politics was liberating.
Productions of this nature aren’t known for their big budgets, and, unlike the USA, there are strict and fair rules and regulations about what parties can spend on campaigns, so delivering an attention-grabbing film with limited resources and all on a one-day shoot was not without its challenges. Production and crew were very generous with their time, which helped us to get the most out of the budget and push the production values. With literally only one take afforded to each set-up, we had to pull a lot of favours,
Johnny worked closely on the lyrics and musical arrangement with the guys at Creature and Eclectic Music. There are strict rules applied when working on PPBs and they can only be created in 3 different time lengths - 2’40”, 3’40” and 4’40”, so we had to be very disciplined when planning the track, dialogue and performance. We took inspiration from 90s boy bands and tried to make it sound as convincing as possible which hopefully added to the comedy.
Whilst we did want actors who were similar to the party leaders we were very clear that it was not essential that they were “lookalikes” in the traditional sense. It was a difficult brief as were also looking for people with a likeness who could also handle comedy performance as well as hold a tune and dance, all at the same time! The first casting session was incredibly reassuring, as you could really see that it was going to work and, crucially, be funny.
From then it was just a case of piecing the band together, like a really strange version of X-Factor.
We learnt the hard way about how “intrusive” the press can be when it comes to political campaigns. Our suspicions were raised in casting, when one of our David Camerons was embarrassingly out of place and uncomfortable as he attempted to sing along to the backing track and move like a member of Take That. I did wonder why he was there, but as with all casting sessions you can’t be too rude about an actor’s performance and to be honest the Miliband he was auditioning with was pretty good, so we let them finish the “performance”.
It all became a lot clearer at the weekend, when we discovered the Daily Mail had run a double-page article complete with the full lyrics for the song and a photograph of the journalist outside the casting studio in W1.
For a short period we waited nervously by the phone to hear how the Green Party would respond to this intrusion. We were pleasantly surprised when they called to say that they wanted to go ahead regardless of what the Daily Mail thought. In fact the general consensus was that if the Mail thought it was a bad idea, it was probably a very good one.
The shoot was busy but it was great fun with lots of laughter as the guys danced and sang their way through the day. We were conscious to avoid the Green Party looking frivolous or not serious about the upcoming election, so the challenge for the edit was to balance the comedy with the clarity and seriousness of the message.
Presenting the edit to The Green Party was emotional. It’s rare to work with a client who genuinely cares so passionately about the thing that they are promoting. They have a vision for a better country and world worth passing on to future generations. This is a bit more important than another insurance comparison website. The edit was very well received and there were even a few tears, which were a combination of joy and probably relief. They genuinely seemed to appreciate all of the work that we had put in and never once interfered with the creative process, which allowed us to create a Party Political Broadcast that has to date exceeded all expectations in terms of exposure and PR.
The Green Party have been brave in their approach, much braver than the other political parties who have gone down a much safer route. This approach will expose them to a much wider audience and genuinely has people talking about them and their policies, which will hopefully have a good effect for them. It will be interesting to see what happens at the next elections, to see if the other parties take a similar route and move away from the mundane, factual approach to a more creative, appealing and entertaining one, which will ultimately be far more engaging, at least to the younger, more connected audience who are to date finding the current Green Party campaign far more “sharable” than their competitors’ efforts.
Ben Clark is Executive Producer and UK Managing Director of ACNE.