Production Service Network founder Michael Moffett reveals some secret charms of exceptional locations from behind the scenes of ads that might not be what they seem...
If I told you that South Africa and Australia could accurately replicate a very North American sports pitch, would you believe me? Would it be their southern-hemisphere location or perhaps their culture, population demographics, and differences in climate that would raise an eyebrow?
Well, let me explain how and why we did exactly that, for a demanding client like Gatorade.
US producers awarded the project approached us wanting to recreate the vim and vigor of an American football pre-season training, cutting between two rival teams, culminating in ‘the big game’ as they went head to head. The team at Gatorade wanted sunshine, luscious green playing fields, and authentic football equipment that would hold up during the contact and speed drills of the two teams training hard - fueled all the while by their sports drink.
America was in deep winter and talent costs exceeded client targets. We could no more shoot the advert there than fly to the moon and erect goalposts on its craggy surface. Instead, we reached out to our global partners, renowned for their local knowledge and ability to outdo all expectations.
The two bids that stood out were South Africa and Australia. The southern-hemisphere countries had the green space, were in the midst of their summer and had a fairly diverse talent community from which to pick. So, which location won, and why?
Australia pulled through as the winner for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the availability and authenticity of their sporting equipment, coupled with director preference meant the southern continent was selected to host the campaign shoot. Yet, without the native knowledge of our PSN Australia production partner, many of the nuances and subtleties of local production potential could have been lost.
Client: Gatorade, Director: Mark Hoffman, Production Company: Hoffman Brothers
The execution of elaborate film and photo projects takes a village; as we know, it’s never executed by one person and a camera. But working to a brief in our home country, wherever that may be - is a far easier feat than attempting to forecast the possibilities in lands up to 10,000 miles away. Our ability to gather reliable, local knowledge for every possible location is an overwhelming task.
Instead, it’s by tapping into the deep local pools of knowledge and using the vetted resource networks at our disposal, that we can keep offering clients such widespread global possibilities. War-torn Syria can be recreated in an Abu Dhabi lot, for example. The cherry blossoms of Japan are very late bloomers in Brazil. There’s no limit to the opportunities afforded to us by boots-on-the-ground knowledge.
Take the Namibian desert for example. Our client, South Korean producers working on an LG campaign, had set their sights on the south-west African Namib desert. But due to the national park permit process, it would take too long to secure the location. So where else could the rolling dunes and sandy banks be replicated?
Well, Dubai. As the indisputable film hub in the Gulf, there was nowhere else to take the desert focused project for a quick turnaround. The local knowledge of our PSN UAE production service partner allowed for a seamless and successful shoot in an area that our clients had no prior knowledge about.
Client: LG, Director: Namil Cho, Production Company: Gorilla Films
However, it’s not always nuanced reasons, such as permits or finicky logistical issues, but the larger issues of ‘is the client willing to travel’, ‘how far’ and ‘to where’, that can sway the decision.
US producers initially tasked us to find a location with adequate snow for a Timberland campaign featuring its country/city shoe. Unfortunately, it was high summer in the US. The client loved the idea of New Zealand but after a production hiatus, New Zealand had slipped into spring and snow was light on the ground. Proactively, the client flipped the brief to be shot in an evergreen forest and then shortlisted cost-effective Poland or close-by Canada. In spite of the slightly raised costs, the client chose Canada for its proximity - a key example of the bottom line being something other than figures.
Client: Timberland, Director: Rupert Creswell, Production Company: MPC Creative
There is a multitude of reasons why the places chosen for shoots are often chosen again and again. For producers, it's the certainty of experience and being familiar with the resources, talent pools, available skilled labour and craftsmanship of the area. But this myopic view can work in and out of their favour simultaneously; whilst location knowledge is secure, flexibility and adaptability at hand elsewhere can be lost in a reduced list of possible locations.
By recognizing and accepting that there are a plethora of locations, both far-flung and close-by, with the potential to be exceptional; by tapping into the local knowledge pools; and, working closely with native partners means that we can provide a better service to our clients.
It’s not always that the places we know and love are exceptional; it’s that anywhere has the potential to be exceptional for a given brief if we only dedicate ourselves fully to weeding through the choices and leaning on the local people and partners who know.
For more of my thoughts on exceptional places to shoot - with lots of examples - please find my full talk to producers and directors in Germany below.