Movie sponsorship deals are fertile ground for advertising writing, so the team at adam&eveDDB tasked with writing this series of idents for Volkswagen’s ITV Movies sponsorship must have been excited to receive the brief.
But where to start? It’s been done so well, so many times. The answer was attention to detail - going all-in on cinema’s biggest cliches, rebuilding them exhaustively, and then injecting them with an unexpected twist. The resulting films span genres spy dramas to zombie apocalypse. Directed by David Shane through O Positive @ Rogue, an Emmy and Cannes Gold Lion-winning director who was recently named the most awarded commercial director in the world by The Gunn Report, the ‘Movie Star Confidence’ campaign brilliantly emulates Hollywood’s templates, without a Hollywood budget.
Matt Gay, art director at adam&eveDDB, and director David Shane filled LBB’s Alex Reeves in on how the films came together.
LBB> VW's ITV Movies partnership obviously meant this campaign needed to relate to cinema. How did that form into the idea of 'Movie Star Confidence'?
Matt> Being movie idents, we wanted to set the ads in the world of Hollywood. Volkswagen’s long running SUV strategy is confidence. So we thought it would be funny to turn cliched movie scenes on their heads by having characters behave in a way they never ordinarily would. All because of the confidence they’ve gained from their Volkswagen.
LBB> With the whole world of cinema to inspire you, there was a lot you could have drawn on for inspiration on the scripts. How did you zero in on the genres you picked? Or was it more of a case of trial and error?
Matt> It was vital that the genre of the film was instantly visually recognisable. We didn’t have time to set up a backstory - as soon as we were watching, it had to be a movie moment we had seen many times before. Budget was also a consideration, we couldn’t use lots of VFX for example. There are five different SUVs in the Volkswagen range and we wanted to capture a different genre for each car, so we needed five genres. Many scripts were written but in the end we went with the ones that made us laugh the most.
LBB> Selecting the right director must have been an even bigger choice than usual for this campaign. What guided your decision to go with David and O Positive/Rogue?
Matt> We didn’t want to make a pastiche. The aim was to create spots that felt like real movies, as if we had just dropped into the middle of the scene. It was therefore key that the director could recreate the polished visual look of a Hollywood movie, be amazing at performance, and be incredibly funny. David is one of the best performance based commercial directors in the world so sending him the scripts was a no brainer. It was a result when he said yes, and he delivered in spades.
LBB> Every film is a very specific cinematic genre. And you absolutely nailed them. What were your main references for each of the scenarios?
David> Thanks. Matt’s idea was so smart and funny and like all great ideas, there were so many ways to mine it for comedy. It was super important to us to nail them beat for beat, note for note. There are so many mediocre ad satires of movies. They rarely seem to get the convincing little details right. For the misdirect to work, we needed people to think they were watching a real genre film – though not necessarily a good one.
And I’d be remiss in not giving props to our DOP Stuart Dryburgh who made these look like 100 million dollar films. And the sound design by Sam Ashwell and music by Twenty Below. They all elevated these ads incalculably.
For ‘Lawyer’ we were thinking The Town but also The Dark Knight Rises, as well as those gritty Sydney Lumet movies from the ‘70s like Dog Day Afternoon.
For ‘Zombie’, we were thinking of a number of near future dystopian movies and also, of course, The Walking Dead.
For ‘Monster’, we were leaning on Pacific Rim and Arrival.
For ‘Driver’ we were looking at The Bourne films and The Handmaid's Tale.
LBB> What were the main considerations for you in casting? There are quite a few roles here and a lot of them require good comic timing and delivery! Were there any key moments in that process?
David> This was an unusual one in terms of casting. Usually I’m looking for strong actors who have a kind of interior life – we can really see them processing and I don’t really care what they look like. Here, since we were playing with types, we had to cast a narrower net and find people that felt more like the archetypes – the heroes and villains – you’d find in these movies. Since so many of these big dumb blockbusters are American and we were casting in the UK, we tried to find actors who could do decent American accents. Mostly we succeeded. But in the case of ‘Lawyer’, our lead, Cindy Humphrey, wasn’t comfortable trying one. But she was so good and smartly funny we decided to inexplicably have an English lawyer in a NYC police precinct.
LBB> The production design and costumes must have been fun - all really varied. What were the decisions and challenges there?
David> We spent a lot of time on both and we were very lucky to work with a brilliant problem-solving wardrobe stylist, Gabby Yiaxis, and an equally brilliant production designer, Vova Radlinskiy. I’m pretty confident Vova could build a full-scale replica of the Taj Mahal for 20 quid and a lint covered piece of starburst candy I found in the bottom of my jacket pocket. He made that dystopian gas station from scratch and let’s just say we did not have a huge budget.
LBB> From an agency perspective, what was the actual production like, once you got on set?
Matt> We shot the films over three very long days, in freezing conditions in Kiev. The scale, detail and quality of the set builds were incredible. I’m still amazed David shot so much in so little time. He works incredibly fast which was key to getting all the films captured.
LBB> Were there any big surprises or moments of serendipity along the way?
Matt> The scale of the sets was a big surprise, and was really exciting to see them being put together. There are also some scenarios that weren’t in the original scripts. We would just throw ideas out as we filmed and some really made us laugh. Like the driver in Road Block repeating everything the guards say.
LBB> What will be your enduring memories of this production? It must have been quite an experience, personally!
David> My lasting memory, apart from the joy of collaborating with really smart creative people, was of the wrap party where we handed out T-shirts that said, “Fuck Trump, Fuck Putin” to 100 or so cheering Ukrainian crew members. Didn’t need a translator for that one. DISCLAIMER: This was entirely my idea and the agency and client had no prior knowledge of it.
LBB> David, each of these films is like a scene from a big blockbuster. If you were to break into that world, what should we expect from your debut feature? Anything like one of these?
David> Haha. I’m definitely more interested in making smaller, personal films and it would probably be a colossally stupid idea to hire me to make a big blockbuster. So it’s just as well no one is calling my agents asking me to make them.