Cassandra Brooksbank has been back in London for the first time since the pandemic started, filming and editing the new Barclays FA Women’s Super League (WSL) ad spot in collaboration with agency Dark Horses.
The ad pulls players from the WSL together to advertise the new 21/22 season, putting their skills at the centre and pulling the rug on the fictional director’s plans, as he instructs them to be “nice and lively with the eyes,” whilst asking for "nice bright smiles."
“We said, let’s do something a little subversive, and Dark Horses really fought to make something that wasn’t pulling any punches,” says Cassandra. “And as a director, that’s the greatest gift you can get.”
The shoot saw her create 'organised chaos' in the studio, where she persuaded her producer, Kate Phillips, to take a ball to her hand, but hit her on the head instead in what became one of the ad’s funniest moments.
But the main event was the footballers, who as the new season approached, were in a competitive mood on-set.
It’s no easy task bringing rival footballers together to film, but it worked.
“In an earlier draft, there was this idea that we might have a shot at the end with them all together, arms around each other smiling - a super chummy tone,” Cassandra says. “And it was so funny, because on set we were talking about that original plan, and they were like, ‘we would never do that, once the season starts that’s it.’”
So on set, Cassandra and her team re-thought the closing clips and the spot wraps up with a slowed down shot of Arsenal’s Nikita Parris kicking the ball into the camera lens.
The end result is a high-powered tongue in cheek look behind the scenes on a shoot that tries to box the players in, which they upturn to highlight their football skills and spirit.
Teamwork was a key part to it on and off the screen, Cassandra points out. “You’re only ever as good as your crew, and we got really lucky,” she says. “The director of photography, Murren Tullett was awesome, he really went above and beyond on this, and was down to try out a bunch of fun shots, especially with his steadicam.”
Setting the scene
Cassandra describes herself as a storyboarding director, with pre-production being hugely important in the process. But that doesn’t mean she hesitates to change direction when better ideas pop up in the moment.
On the shoot, she worked alongside a football choreographer, Colin Nell, to build out the action scenes. It was through searching online that she found clips of classic kicks online - such as a FIFA ad where Messi does a kick to the camera - and had a rehearsal day with the players to bring the shots to life. “He was my translator, essentially,” she says on working with Colin Nell.
And while the option was there for stunt doubles, other than one shot where Tottenham Hotspur’s goalkeeper Becky Spencer is thrown onto a table, the players were eager to film their own football stunts - perhaps, Cassandra suggests, out of competitiveness. Regardless, it paid off: “They’re the best stunt performers in the world,” she says, “because they’re some of the best players in the world.”
Cassandra says the Dark Horses team was “very much down to not play on the safe side,” which helped really lift the spot.
“It’s almost like a renaissance painting of mayhem and madness,” she says. “It’s beautiful destruction, but you know - with a lot of women’s football spots, they go down a social justice female empowerment angle, which is really good, but also we need to remember these women are epic athletes, and showcase that fact.”
She notes that you never really see male footballers in male empowerment either: “They get to do the fun stuff.”
Cassandra worked with James Rosen on the edit, who she calls the “Mick Jagger of editing,” and is someone she’s always eager to work with. “I think he made it really special, the level of detail he was able to pack into 45 seconds is insane,” she says.
Above all else, personal style is hugely important to Cassandra - she calls it “extravagant pop,” and on this shoot says it was great for her to bring her brand of organised chaos to set.
Developing that style is a constantly evolving process for the director. “When I learnt to be unapologetically myself, and be in a place where I don’t pull any punches, I figured out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do," she explains.
It was by her senior year of college that Cassandra felt she’d discovered that unique personal style - as she explains, it simply “coalesced,” - and especially so in the few years following where she’d started her own company. But even she fell victim to the “hipster phase” before allowing her actual style to emerge. “I was like, what are you doing Cassandra?”
“I think there was a point where I wanted to be seen as a ‘serious’ director, but that’s not me: I want to make goofy action movies, not exactly the Oscars beat.” It was when she stopped caring about what others thought, that things started “working out” for her. Her style is fast-paced and often subversive, which matches with the energy of the WSL ad.
“I think this spot in particular, it showcases everything I love on a micro scale,” she told LBB.