Banjoman director Dermot Malone on crafting his first vignette film for Liberty Insurance
Featuring a diverse cast that beautifully reflects Irish society, Liberty Insurance’s launch spot for their ‘Futureproof’ campaign celebrates the idea of liberation over limitation.
Shot by Irish production company Banjoman, the film is a step away from director Dermot Malone’s usual narrative-style and into the world of vignette - with a difference.
In this interview, Dermot talks to LBB about how he crafted a film that speaks to people’s hearts without the cliches, how he selected his brilliant cast, and his path to creative progression.
LBB> What was the brief from the client and what were your initial thoughts and ideas?
Dermot> The original brief was to try and capture the journey of a person's life through a whole host of different characters, from your first interaction with the car to your last. Initially, my approach to the brief was to try and capture moments that were 100% authentic that we could all relate to. In that respect, the script was very much a work in progress when it came to us.
ECD Dylan Cotter was very open to me bringing my own ideas and we essentially rewrote the script to find more than moments of authenticity, but also moments that we might not have seen before. I always find with vignette films that they can very often look like stock photography. So another key driving force was to make sure that this didn't feel like that. A key to this was making it messy and making it real.
LBB> Liberty Insurance’s move to digital aims to give their customers ‘liberation not limitation’ - how did you play with that topic in the work?
Dermot> There’s a certain demographic that various insurance companies go for, whereas Liberty's goal is to fit everyone's needs. The way we explored that was through a whole host of various different characters at various different points of their lives and various different places. Just being incredibly diverse with our casting and our scripting, and I think that was captured visually through the film.
LBB> Tell us about the early stages of production, what was needed in order to take this idea to fruition?
Dermot> I wrote a colossally long script with, I think, 28 characters to cast and we had two days to shoot it. Myself and Luke Jacobs, the DOP, were fully committed to the project and wanted to make something very special to ensure it had great scale, length, and breadth. We weren't just making a TV commercial to try and sell a product - we were trying to make something beautiful that might make people feel something. I'm really proud of everyone who worked on the production and very, very grateful for everyone's work.
LBB> The spot features a diverse cast reflecting Irish society and the breadth of Liberty’s customer base. How did you go about selecting the right cast for the job?
Dermot> We went through casting networks, street casting, everything. I'd written these roles in the script with no ethnicity, or anyone in particular in mind, and I was just trying to find the right actor for the right part. That's always going to make a film really, really diverse. We just selected the best people who we felt best represented, a diverse Irish society with no kind of preconception as to who might play that role. We got some amazing, amazing talent and I could have literally spent the whole day with the cast just working on their scene and trying to develop ideas with them.
LBB> What was the most challenging aspect of the project and what solutions did you come up with?
Dermot> Definitely the amount of scenes. As with any commercial or film, you’re never going to have enough time, particularly when it's 28 characters and 17 scenes that we had set out to shoot.
The team found great shooting locations in Sutton and then in Wicklow. It was really clever problem solving from the guys in production to find locations that myself and Luke were happy with, but that were also close together to save time.
LBB> What were some of the most fun or memorable moments from this project?
Dermot> Honestly, a lot of it. The fact that we were given freedom as a creative team, to find new ideas and shoot various different scenes that were maybe a little bit improvised or off-script, just to try and get authenticity, was lovely. Like the young couple in the film on top of a hill at sundown - we gave them the freedom to improvise, and do something really honest. I could watch a two minute version of just that scene and how these two people are having this experience together. It was just lovely to see that moment that so many people can probably relate to captured.
There was also a moment myself and Luke were picking frames and shooting and we were just like “fucking hell”. We just couldn't have imagined how great they were as a cast, how great the light was, the sun was just going down… It was just one of those films where it all seems to come together. And that was a particularly memorable one for me for sure.
LBB> Liberty is a step away from your usual work, being a vignette film rather than a narrative story. How did this work compare to what you’re used to and what was your experience like working on a new challenge?
Dermot> I absolutely love narrative storytelling and trying to tell one character’s arc, from A to B over the course of 30/40/60/90 seconds, or whatever it is. But I hadn't really done a vignette film before. By vignette film, I mean a film that moves through almost a manifesto piece and anthem piece, choosing different moments, different characters. I often find it difficult to connect with those films, because you don't spend much time with each character. So you have to find a commonality throughout all the scenes to try and generate the emotion and that was what we did for Liberty - capturing joy and freedom across all of the scenes.
LBB> Are you hoping to do more work like this? How do you hope to progress creatively in the future?
Dermot> I'd love to do more of it. I think narrative storytelling is always going to be my natural place to be but as a storyteller, this was definitely a fantastic experience.
My biggest fear is getting pigeon-holed into one style. All of my favourite filmmakers, certainly commercial directors, can do very, very different films but they're always just so expertly and skilfully told. That is my ambition and aspiration, to try and make work at the same level as those guys who are heroes of mine.
The way to do that is to creatively progress and make different work and don't just do the same thing over and over again. If you keep getting scripts that are the same every time, try and do something different with them, which is not always as easily done. Overall, this was a cracking experience.