Megaforce and Time Based Arts on how they wove together so many ideas and cheeky moments into Nike’s snapshot of London culture
It’s not often that an advertising campaign instantly becomes a cultural moment on the day it’s released. But Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ film actually set the internet on fire when it dropped on Friday. With a massive list of legends from London’s sports, music and cultural scenes on board, a clever idea based on a uniquely British brand of one-upmanship, and impeccable craft on every single level, it’s an unstoppable work of branding - not only for the sportswear brand, but for the whole capital city. It’s had millions of views in just a few days and social media will still not calm down about it. Even Drake, famously from Toronto, feels snubbed for not being included.
Wieden+Kennedy London’s script is impeccable and Riff Raff directors Megaforce have brought it to life beautifully. Then all the amped-up, hyperreal moments, courtesy of London post production house Time Based Arts, do their bit to make the film such a winner. LBB’s Alex Reeves checked in with Megaforce TBA’s Simone Grattarola, Francois Roisin and Tom Johnson to find out how they brought it all together.
LBB> The performances are so amped up, giving the film an amazing energy! What was the key to achieving that, in casting and then on the shoot?
Megaforce> The kids were not professional actors so we had to push them to deliver the good performance. You don’t always do that with professional actors, you just wait for them to perform, but we acted more like sports coaches with them, pushing them to do better. We had to help them not to be shy…
Actually the idea from the beginning was to use real London kids that practice sport. We were a bit worried about their ability to act but we were surprised to discover really interesting personalities during the casting. We realised we had to push them even when the first impression didn’t feel right. When in the casting we saw them starting from a very shy place, then finding the strength to break the ice and finally deliver a great performance they probably never imagined they were capable of, we felt really amazed. The kids we selected in the ad are able, even if they are not professional, to give emotions and performance like a proper actor could do.
LBB> As a French collective, did the process change how you feel about London and Londoners? Do you have a different opinion of the city now at all?
MF> Not really… We still feel this city has a special relationship with creativity. We feel that more is possible there. What we could say is, as we had to travel a lot all around the city, is that we discovered that the city was even bigger that we thought. It’s so huge!
LBB> There are heaps of grime videos, previous Nike commercials and films set in London that we feel you could drawn on for inspiration. What had the biggest influence on the film?
MF>We don’t think we were really inspired by a video in particular. We really like grime artists like Skepta and Dizzee Rascal and great Nike commercials, like the one Guy Ritchie made, but here the concept was really different. We took more inspiration from English culture in general and mixed it with our own universe.
LBB> The general look of the film is a great balance between gritty realism and OTT vibrancy. How did you manage to strike that balance?
Simone Grattarola, Head of Colour, Time Based Arts> The underlying look was one of classic sub-culture street photography and that meant shooting in 16mm film seemed the ideal direction.
Inherently it’s full of grain and texture, a definite rawness that’s hard to emulate shooting in digital formats. Despite the story happening at street level across London in winter, the look also needed to be rich enough to carry the story as it escalates into the fantastical and absurd. We worked closely with Nicolas [Loir - DOP] and Megaforce from the first round of neg scans to develop the right balance between the two.
During the post production phase, as the VFX started to populate the edit, we continued to constantly review the grade, making sure that across such a super eclectic crazy edit, it all felt coherent as one film.
LBB> Another balance in the film is between the real and the fantastical. Which bits were most fun to exaggerate?
Francois Roisin, VFX Supervisor, Time Based Arts> It might not be obvious at first, but a lot of scenes required extensive VFX to exaggerate either the pace, composition or even the comical situations. For example we recreated the droplets running on Michael Dapaah’s face in the barber’s scene. We wanted to be able to place these droplets in the right place, dripping down along the side of his forehead at the right speed to enhance this feeling of embarrassment / loneliness. Another example would be the T-shirt rip of our football player at the beginning of the film. We simulated clothes flying off into the distance for the scene, it is exaggerated but still plausible. How about freezing over Docklands in the swimming sequence? Or adding 10 rugby players on Micheal Dapaah’s shoulders in CGI! The list goes on but it all contributes to the tongue-in-cheek silliness of the film.
MF> What was most challenging was allowing the kids in the film to show amazing skill, sports-wise, but at the same time getting them to talk about it, because if they talk and then do the trick, the film becomes too long, and too slow. So it was tricky to arrange a great performance both sports-wise and acting-wise, with non-professional actors. Most of them had never worked in front of a camera before. It was challenging to find the space for talking while also doing the action.
LBB> This must have been a gigantic production effort! So many shots, locations and a huge cast, plus all the technical tricks. What were the biggest challenges?
MF> Haha, good question. I don’t think we could really put in more that what we did. The film is already long and dense. It’s really rare but we managed to find the good balance from the beginning to the end. Adding something would mean removing something else.
FS> From the post perspective the biggest challenge was to make the VFX invisible really! Having worked with Megaforce in the past, I know they don’t particularly like CGI just for the sake of it and whatever post production technique is used needs to blend in the film seamlessly, it has to fit within their raw, documentary filming style.
Even when the scenes become more and more OTT towards the end of the film, CGI is here to help the narrative, the muscle kid had to look and feel like old-fashioned stop-motion claymation, the MMA fighter had to have this LoFi x-ray look to it.
Each moment had its own challenges in terms of the shoot, design and VFX but that made it such a great job to work on; it was a real pleasure to help solve so many brilliant problems.
LBB> It's crammed full of action and dialogue. Are there any personal favourite moments that you'd like to point out, that people might miss if they aren't watching closely?
MF> We would say that the moment we prefer is this scene in the barber shop with Michael Dapaah. It was a chance for us to create this unexpected comedy break in the middle of the film. It makes it different. And there is a funny detail we put in the tennis scene I would like to point out: In the quick shot with the tennis player hitting the ball in the wind, we put our producer flying and holding a fence in the background (he has an orange jacket). Yes it’s subliminal, but now you see him, right? ;)
Tom Johnson, Executive Producer, Time Based Arts> There are so many little gems in there but we think the football kid popping up steals the show in the opening corner shop moment with Skepta. It’s gone in a second so don’t miss that classic first look - “Cycle? That’s lightwork!"