Last week it happened. The avalanche of British Christmas ads has begun and is set to continue burying us in piles of festive cheer for weeks to come. Argos was one of the first ads to air and it set a bar straight away, channelling a very British sense of cynical humour: Christmas isn’t perfect. Something always goes wrong, but we love it anyway.
LBB’s Alex Reeves checked in with the creative team, Matt Deacon and Ben Fallows at The&Partnership London, and director Ian Pons Jewell, to find out what went into the spot and exactly who this Christmas Fool guy is.
LBB> What was the brief from Argos on this campaign and what early ideas did that lead to?
Matt & Ben> Argos wanted an ad that fitted into its wider ‘You’re Good to Go’ campaign, which uses metaphors to show Argos solving everyday problems.
We loved the truth that so many annoying things always end up going wrong at Christmas, from broken lights to missing scrabble pieces. But what if something was really responsible for all those mishaps – something no one even knew existed?
LBB> How does this film relate to and follow on from last year's sci-fi elf adventure?
Matt & Ben> Last year was ‘Go Argos’ – but this year we’ve moved onto ’You’re Good to Go’ – with this spot following on from ‘Operation Holiday’ in April, ‘School Run’ in August, and ‘Royal Visit’ in September. Once again for Argos’ Christmas ad, we’ve created a fantasy element based in a real world – in this case it’s the ‘Christmas Fool’.
LBB> What's the story of the Christmas fool? Is he a disgruntled ex-elf? How did you develop him as a character?
Matt & Ben> The Fool isn’t the cause of really bad things ... Just the annoying things that all of us go through at Christmas. So it was really important The Fool came across as naughty, not evil.
We took inspiration from baddies in Disney and Pixar films, even though they’re the bad guys, you still fall for them and ultimately warm to them. This is what we feel like we’ve achieved with The Fool. You love him, but you’re still happy when Argos defeats him in the end.
LBB> It's all painfully relatable! Were there any personal Christmas mishaps that inspired the events of the ad?
Matt & Ben> Nearly all of them. In some shape or form we’ve all experienced stepping on pine needles miles away from the tree, or losing the sellotape when you literally just had it.
LBB> What were the key challenges in bringing the idea to the screen?
Matt & Ben> It was so important that the human insights we chose were really relatable to everyone. If people couldn't see themselves in the ad, the whole reason for the Fool’s existence would fall flat on its face.
LBB> The tone - not too happy-clappy and cosy, but also ultimately positive - is what really makes it for me. What was key in getting that balance?
Matt & Ben> No one likes a Scrooge at Christmas – but we think it’s important to represent what actually goes on. We’re not saying every Christmas is awful, but no one’s Christmas is perfect – that’s what makes it Christmas. Hopefully this ad is the perfect antidote to all the polished, ‘perfect’ Christmas ads out there.
LBB> Ian, what was your first reaction to the script and how did you work out how you were going to bring it to life?
Ian> The opportunity to create a fully original CGI character was amazing. I've never had the chance, but I've pretty much seen every single computer-animated film around, from classics like Toy Story to the criminally underrated Bolt. I love those kinds of films so I was all over it once it came in to pitch on. Though it was live action / CGI hybrid, it still had that kids CG animation film world within it.
There wasn't any previous design from Argos that would need to be used, it was a totally blank canvas aside from some notes on the Fool's personality. One of my first thoughts was to make him very small as I liked the idea of shooting at that macro level as it opened up how he could creep about the different houses and allow me to shoot it differently from the usual Christmas commercial.
The music was something I had thought through from the start, with a piece from Verdi's Rigolletto which felt perfect for the story.
I then had Simon Cooper, who did the instrumentation for my Finish commercial, to rework the track so it had a Christmassy edge to it, which he completely nailed. I was unsure it would work to be honest.
Rigoletto is a sort of tragic character in the opera, a court jester, which is essentially the original "fool".
So this base to the character felt strong and many of the ideas sprung from this. He has long ears with bells on the end, like a jester's hat for example. We first worked with a wonderful character designer called Andrew Brooks. He did the initial design which ended up with those long ears and bells on the end. But we then wanted to try some weirder variations on it and handed it to another amazing artist called Trou, who then took Andrew's design and put his spin on it. So in the end it was a collaborative design which gave us what you see on screen. All this of course overlooked and guided by the geniuses at TBA, with Francois Roisin leading the charge on the character development and overlooking it as a whole.
LBB> What was the shoot like? Are there any moments that will stay with you?
Ian> Feeding direction to our actor playing the Argos driver through a walkie talkie as he pretended to drive the van at the end. I gave him really dark direction like telling him to imagine he's going to boil all the fools he caught in a stew and feed them to his unwitting neighbour. He would then do these amazing reactions, mischievous knowing smiles, and the entire set was in stitches watching him. Good times.
LBB> How did you direct the action of your CG antagonist? What was that experience like?
Ian> It was a super collaborative effort with Time Based Arts and with Nick Smalley heading up the character animation. I put ideas down in the board, but then he and the rest of his team added so much more. The amount of details worked in after was amazing to see come to life as the post progressed from a blocky pre-vis to the photo real image you see at the end. We also had a very trusting client, though we did have to tone down the amount of bum
crack that we originally wanted.
LBB> Are there any shots or moments that you're particularly happy with in the final film?
Ian> My favourite shot is when he's flying back through the air after being kicked. In the director’s cut he's going through rain, basically direct rip off from the Matrix 3 when you see Neo's punch going through the water droplets in slow motion.