Salt.tv director Nick Collett has just finished the latest campaign film for Amnesty International.
The piece, starring Oscar-nominated actor Sophie Okonedo, aims to drive awareness to the devastation that oil pollution is having in the Niger Delta.
Kate Allen, UK Director, Amnesty International says: "The Niger Delta was once a beautiful wetland that supported a population of nearly 40 million people. But decades of pollution and neglect have devastated the environment. Over the last 50 years, an estimated 9 - 13 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the Niger Delta. It’s left a devastating legacy that has destroyed the livelihoods of nearly everyone living there." ”I wanted to create a film that inspired viewers to imagine the consequences of oil pollution on their own lives and then get involved with the issue,” comments Collett.
The campaign has already garnered thousands of signatures as it continues to gain momentum. The film is exceeding expectations for Amnesty International and is currently being translated into 18 languages for use around the world.
Nick, how did the concept for the film come about? Did you discuss with Amnesty in depth or was it your idea?
I spent a long time discussing the idea with Amnesty - Their main aim was to get viewers to ask Shell to take responsibility for the Oil pollution in the Niger Delta which has devastated the region and destroyed the livelihoods of nearly everyone living there. Amnesty told me that one of their volunteers had suggested taking stills of objects that people worked with, covered in oil - I developed that idea further and wrote several different scripts based around the concept of oil interrupting people's jobs in a Western context. My original script was location based but I moved it into the studio to give it a more stylised, portrait look. I've always preferred stills portraits where people acknowledge the camera and look straight down the lens. There's always something slightly disconcerting about someone staring straight at you - I liked the unease that that combined with a contrived studio environment would create.
It's beautifully shot - what was behind your decision to shoot b&w and what did you shoot it on?
That's thanks to the DoP Sam Care who did a fantastic job. Sam and I started by looking at a lot of portrait photography - I wanted a slightly different look for each character and Sam developed a series of six individual lighting set-ups that would distinguish each of the people and professions we were representing. I decided to shoot black and white primarily because I felt it'd help create a more graphic image and really accentuate the blackness of the oil. I also liked the idea that if we shot black and white then there may be a little confusion as to what the liquid actually was and add a little intrigue - I was hoping that a viewer may initially mistake it for blood.
Did you cast in London?
All the cast are "real people" and genuine representatives of their profession. We found them in different ways... The butcher I found at Borough Market two days before the shoot. As soon as I saw him I knew he was the one so I just went up to him and asked him if he'd do it. Of course he flat out said no. I was gutted - I'd already traversed London looking for the right butcher, so I decided to jot down the name of where this guy worked and then asked a really nice girl at Amnesty to call him and persuade him. She told me he agreed pretty much straight away so either she has a lot more charm than me or I'd done some quality groundwork. Obviously it was great to have an Oscar nominated actor on board - Sophie Okonedo is a big Amnesty supporter and very kindly agreed to support the campaign and be in the film. The tailor is the 87 year-old grandfather of an Amnesty employee who came all the way from Cornwall on the train for the shoot.
And is that buckets of real oil you had sloshing around there?
We actually used treacle instead of oil... Jenny Selden (the Production Designer) and I spent a long time pouring different brands of treacle over objects to compare viscosity and see how it moved on different surfaces and at different temperatures. M&S own-brand treacle was my favourite... The shop-assistant in M&S got pretty confused as to why I had shopping baskets full of the stuff at the checkout but was still asking if they had any more out the back.
What were the main challenges of the shoot or was it all serendipitous?
I'd say the main challenge was time - We were working on a tiny budget but somehow Salt producer Fiona Harrington managed to persuade the crew and studio to work for two days in order to allow at least a couple of hours to shoot each character - which still really isn't long when you've got treacle dripping everywhere. Directing an 87 year-old non-actor was also quite a challenge. He was the nicest guy in the world but he basically refused to listen to anything I said which I guess is totally legit when you get to that age.
Where will it be shown?
It's being shown online - On the Amnesty website (where you can sign the petition) plus on YouTube and other media partners. Sting posted it on his Facebook page which is definitely a first for a piece of my work... He hasn't sent me a friendship request yet though.
Have a look for yourself and get involved: http://www.salt.tv/nick-collett/