A Royal Rumble

May 18, 2015 / Features

By Jessica Turner & Helen Hadfield

All the drama of a real-time, reactive, documentary-style campaign about childbirth.

Film production is essentially advanced problem solving. And producing advertising can throw up all sorts of problems. But it’s not often that producers face as many challenges as Bare Films did when they shot their most recent campaign for Pampers in reaction to the recent royal birth.

We asked Producer Jessica Turner and Executive Producer Helen Hadfield to relive the experience with us. It’s surprising they don’t have PTSD after this job.

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi London
Exec Creative Director: Rob Burleigh
Creative Team: Hector Dudding & Oliver Quinn
Exec Agency Producer: Lauraine Bhuglah
Assistant agency producer: Beth tomblin
Account Director: Lisa Robbins

Director: Elizabeth Stopford
Executive Producer: Helen Hadfield
Producer: Jessica Turner
Production Manager: Rosie Pike

Associate Producers: Vicky Gardner, Ayesha Tariq, Jenn Westlake, Alex Dewhirst, Alessana Hall
Production Assistant : Maddy Perkins

DOPs: Petra Graf, Sarah Cunnigham, Maeve O’Connell, Elvina Nevardauskaite, William gardner

Edit House: Stitch
Editor: Phil Currie
Post-Production: The Mill
Sound: Scramble

Jessica Turner: As the world waited in anticipation for a new royal baby, in January of this year Pampers commissioned a new campaign, which centred itself around babies born the same day as the new prince or princess. Conceived by Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency approached Bare Films with the 90-second project, which was to be part of a larger print, digital and online campaign. Bare joined forces with award-winning director Elizabeth Stopford to come up with an approach to achieve the challenge, which was to be filmed in real time and delivered to air the next day.

Helen Hadfield: We had to deliver a truly outstanding job with no shoot date, notwithstanding getting people to agree to showcase such a personal moment on film as a campaign for Pampers. The moment it was confirmed we all drew a pretty deep breath. Great to have a one-off, never-again opportunity, then there’s just the problem of making it happen.

We had an extremely tight budget and a high-risk production. A very talented documentary Director, monumental expectations all round and everyone was going to work in an entirely different way, way out of their comfort zones. It was the nearest I have got to making a real documentary. We didn’t know exactly what we would get on film or indeed if anyone would actually have a baby on that day.

JT: It was a difficult challenge and the methodology specifically evolved to create the film was vital. We had no shoot date and needed to capture babies born on the same day but we had no idea what day that was. There was a rumour it would be some time in late April. There were no second chances. We knew we would have to run it like a military operation but handle it with a great deal of sensitivity due to the subject matter. 

We were fortunate that we had a director who was brilliant at getting sensitive material in pressurized environments, she had just been filming in a prison in America for her documentary feature and had also filmed in a hospice. She is particularly calm, considered but equally determined. We needed someone with the right clout and credentials to help us build the level of trust required to give us access to film where and when we needed. We were obviously filming in real-time with real people on one of the most important days of their lives, so we had to ensure that everything was handled with a great deal of understanding from all involved.

HH: Only the Director, the DOP and the Assistant Producer could ever be in the birthing areas and there would be no video playback. The sensitivity of the subject matter meant everyone in these areas had to be female. Luckily our Director Elizabeth was a new mum and so were two of the Assistant Producers. In fact Elizabeth’s baby Esme was with us a great deal throughout the production. She was only six weeks old when the production was confirmed. This was a vital connection. Trust and detailed collaboration was not just a requirement, they were essential.

JT: One of the most unique and challenging parts of the whole project was not knowing the shoot date – something you might ordinarily take for granted when creating schedules and prepping for projects. We could only really work by press speculation for the royal due date, so we made the decision to have all crew on standby for a month between early April through to early May with everyone being on call and ready to go at moment’s notice.

In many ways it was a case of heading into the unknown and we had to prepare for the unexpected. We set up Google alerts and had a Twitter account dedicated to following all the royal correspondents, fans and media outlets. We scoured newspapers and magazines to see if there was any update on when the due date might be. To cover all angles, we created individual plans for different scenarios depending on what time we discovered she had gone into labour and also when we knew she had had the baby, continuously being aware that we had to deliver the finished film the day after. We also had to anticipate any false alarms, which could quite have easily been a possibility.

Stitch were on board for editing, with Phil Currie at the helm. Phil had worked with Elizabeth on a number of other projects and this was an essential part of making sure we had a strong unit that would work seamlessly on the day! We worked closely with Stitch and The Mill to construct a plan to execute the editing and post-process as smoothly and as quickly as possible and ensure there would be nothing that would hold us up on the day and through the night. We made a template film in advance and commissioned music so that everyone, including the client, had a clear idea of the film we were making and we ran two test days, one in each hospital in advance so we could see how our process worked for the hospital and for us.

HH: There was much agonising about what we would do if we didn’t get a birth on the day. The template film was still being changed well into the standby period, which was meant to be agreed before the start of it but we did get the music agreed and the vision agreed and shaped before we filmed… eventually.

JT: A huge part of the production process was getting the hospitals on board and working closely with them throughout the period. We carefully selected them based on a number of different elements, but in order to achieve the concept of the project, we wanted to try and capture four babies that were born on the day so we needed to ensure we could work in environments that had a high number of births per day.

HH: Preliminary research on getting the hospitals to consent was negative. At one stage it looked like no major hospital would agree to filming. If that happened we were in deep trouble. We would have no film, we knew that we had to play the long game and it takes time to get these things in place and  we had an established documentary protocol for the hospitals, our snag was  we didn’t have endless amounts of time. There was much celebration when our two chosen hospitals said yes!

We put a massive wall chart up in the office Romford of the highest numbers of births in one day in the country and Chelsea and Westminster was very high up and a flagship hospital and they agreed! However on both test days we didn’t get a single birth. It nearly happened at Chelsea and Westminster but she just didn’t have the baby in the time period. What if that happened on the day?

JT: We had a team of Assistant Producers who started on the project as soon as it was commissioned, organizing the access, liaising with the comms teams and midwives at both Queen’s Hospital, Romford, and Chelsea and Westminster hospital in Fulham, to create a protocol and advise of the consenting process, which would ensure everything would be handled in the correct way on the day and build a relationship of trust between all involved.

After initial planning we created two teams, one for each hospital, which were then divided into smaller units of two-woman teams (one AP and one DOP) with a female runner on standby. The editors were based close by at each hospital waiting to receive the rushes and we formed a plan to transport the rushes from Fulham over to Phil at Romford, so he could make selects and edit throughout the day.

When the standby period approached, within the production office we had set up a rota of 5:00am alarms to check Twitter and news outlets every morning to see if she had gone into labour.

HH: Filming at Mary’s was very restricted (obviously!) We had a scout there every day of our standby period to report back as well as being permanently connected to every royal baby Twitter feed. Exhausting!  We couldn’t use any footage of Buckingham Palace or overtly identify the Lindo Wing.

JT: We worked closely with the camera house Shift 4 who supplied us with essential kit for each DOP for the whole standby month. We also had someone on standby at the camera house who would then deliver any additional kit on the day of the shoot.

We had to check in with all crew every three hours on a daily basis via text message, to let them know that there were no updates.

HH: The publicity was in overdrive so we couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing. None of the runners knew the connection until the day. Everyone had to be on alert throughout the four-week standby period.

It went to the wire. We never thought that we would actually be filming over the bank holiday weekend. All the reports indicated it would be earlier. But there it was, on the Saturday, nothing at 5:00am then at 6:40am Kensington Palace tweeted that the Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted to the Lindo wing. The adrenalin surge was massive, but the relief was huge too.

We went in our organised teams to our respective hospitals. We filmed the first birth at Romford an hour after arriving. A C-section at C&W followed.

JT: We were incredibly lucky managing to capture a birth at each hospital almost straight away.

HH: Then news of the Duchess of Cambridge. It was very exciting. It felt like we were making news.

JT: We had the right day! Our teams worked quickly alongside all the incredible parents who were so friendly and open to us being a part of those special first moments. The rushes were sent straight from the hospitals over to Phil and his team who carefully made selects from the footage.

HH: The poor editor Phil Currie was in our hospital flat in Romford, being fed all the footage from Romford and C&W throughout the day. He didn’t leave that flat until 6:00am the following morning when we left with him. The flat was exquisitely uncomfortable for all of us, director Elizabeth’s baby Esme slept in the spare room while we stayed up all night editing. We ate a lot of crisps and chocolate and the creative team attempted to watch the boxing match and failed.

We got to The Mill at 7:00am on Sunday morning. It was so civilized. We spread out, we ate toast, we drank delicious coffee, we got given bacon sandwiches, we had a graded, dubbed, approved edit by 13.00!

We were all on a high. In the end it went better than we could have hoped for. We had lots of babies, we had lots of press, we had lots of praise. It was all good. PR went into overdrive.

It was a privilege to make, to be invited into one of the most special moments in life by these new parents - giving birth to and meeting their baby for the first time. It’s kind of humbling.

Very grateful to the Duchess of Cambridge for getting in early on Saturday Morning and giving us all day up to midnight to get our film, she gave us the best chance possible and we used it. Lost the bet on the baby name though.

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