‘Rules are there to be broken....’, this couldn’t be more true at a time when so many channels and brands are competing for space in a multi-platform world. So how does one get noticed? By breaking the rules, that’s how.
Take for example Channel 4’s meta travel show, 'Travel Man' with Richard Ayoade. The show was one of the first shows to break the fourth wall and to be self-referential. Richard narrates: “We have booked some of the most available and affordable names in light entertainment’.... Mini-breaks are a swirling nebula of nonsense!” What could be more weird than sending a man who doesn’t like to travel to present a travel show. But it works, and is now on its tenth series.
Comedy TV and commercials director, Leo McCrea who set the shows style and tone is an expert at getting the best and most natural performance out of the talent which is not always an easy task when shooting six scenes a day.
Leo says: "Despite having a script and clear direction of what we want to achieve in each scene, it is about creating the space for the comedians and guests to improvise around a script so that we achieve natural and authentic performances."
The much acclaimed 'Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing' was likewise the polar opposite of everything on TV in the factual entertainment space. The audience gets to enjoy the strangely soothing ramblings of comedy legends and real-life friends, Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, while going on various fishing trips together. What makes the show so unique is that the fishing takes a backseat and the dialogue which ranges from the existential to the mundane become the real heart and soul of the programme. It’s like watching two friends bicker in the corner of the pub.
Bob - “I were born in Yorkshire and I shall die here.”
Paul - “No, you won’t, You’ll die in Tunbridge Wells with your hedge fund friend.”
Leo McCrea and the team wanted the show to be a relaxing and calming watch, they achieved this by doing the following: “Imagine filming a dialogue scene where you are directing for the least amount of cuts to be made, it was the antithesis of fast cut TV, this was slow burn television. That’s not to say that we didn’t film cutaways, establishers and beauty shots, we filmed a lot but always under the proviso to have each shot on screen for the maximum amount of time” said Leo. Again this style of TV directing is about creating enough space so that the performers feel they have the space and time to improvise around the scripted themes.
Check out ’Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing’ here
And more recently, this approach is starting to infiltrate the Advertising landscape, where brands realise that their consumers want content they can engage in and be entertained by, content that feels ‘real’.
Leo recently directed Spark 44’s branded content for Landrover Discovery amusingly titled ’The Knob’ with Jack and Michael Whitehall. He carefully planned to shoot the script to spec but also allowed time for the talent to improvise around the script despite racing against the tide coming in. The film was shot at La Corbiere Lighthouse in Jersey. Michael and Jack drive their Discovery out onto the causeway with a huge Air Stream trailing behind them because Michael wants to show Jack some history and admire the lighthouse up close. When the tide siren goes off and the sea is about to engulf the causeway it is the Landrover’s tow assist that saves the day, cue dramatic music and real time drama as drones and multiple cameras capture the action. The film has been shortlisted for the British Arrows 2020 awards.
The more brands and channels embrace different ways of making content, creating embedded narrative and natural performances to deliver messages the more engaging brands will be. So take the rule book and throw it out the window.
Leo McCrea is a freelance director represented by The Visionaries. Check out more of Leo’s work here