Mobile networks like Three have been some of the hero brands of this pandemic. When physical connection became impossible for so many people around the world, our phones became even more vital to us than before for facilitating connections. We’ve all got used to some of the most emotional and important moments in our lives taking place through screens. So as Wieden+Kennedy London’s swan song for their client, they decided to celebrate the human warmth that Three has been facilitating over the past few months.
They turned to Riff Raff director David Wilson to make their celebratory film and enlisted the help of Black Kite Studios to assemble the many isolated people into a coherent collage of connections. And they’ve done an admirable job. The final spot will likely be remembered as a genre-defining piece of 2020 lockdown commercial filmmaking, capturing the mood without resting on the cliches that we got sick of way back around April.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Freddy Taylor, creative at Wieden+Kennedy London, Riff Raff director David Wilson and VFX supervisor Guillaume Weiss of Black Kite Studios.
LBB> What was the initial idea? It feels like one that was very much shaped by lockdown in the UK.
Freddy> We wanted to create a tribute to some of the good things us Brits have been up to over the last (crappy) five months by digitally mashing together footage to form a mad, visual chain of connectivity. Phew, long sentence.
David> The first half of this year sucked, so this commercial was to announce Three giving their customers the next six months half price as a way to boost morale! Connectivity got us through the first six months, so let’s make it easier, cheaper and better to keep connected.
The task was to celebrate how amazing it feels to be connected, and so keeping that playfulness, joy and optimism in the heart of the script.
LBB> How did that form into a script? What were the key parts that you knew needed to be in there?
Freddy> Fades. Workouts. Dancing. Pints. Hugs. We started listing some of the things we wanted to champion that people either missed, had done lots of, attempted or dreamt about. Then had to figure out how best to visually stitch the scenes together. Man dancing - fist pumps the air - fist becomes a hand holding a hair trimmer... David Wilson then brought his marvelous brain to the table to really craft and better the scenarios and connections.
David> The way we communicate now is so radically different to January 2020. Lockdown was a huge accelerator button on connectivity through technology for all of society. Visually, the connection of one person to the next was vital; extending arms connecting through multiple shots, extended legs becoming giants that exercise over suburbia. It would have been so easy for this to become a technique-based commercial.
What was key to me was people. I always felt the technique should be the flourish in this commercial. The people are the heart. And the heart is where this film succeeds.
LBB> How did you go about casting? There are a lot of different characters crammed into a snappy spot!
David> There certainly are. One thing we found was that there was certainly no shortage of people willing to film themselves at home. The amount of casting tapes we received was pretty overwhelming. The casting briefs were clear, but the standard of acting we received was very, well, varied!!
Freddy> From the flamboyant to the fitness freaks, we wanted a range to make this feel like it was reflective of the whole of the UK. True story: The giant is made up from over 70 people doing their own 'at home' workouts. All the casting was done remotely with us chiming in over zoom - Riff Raff and David made it easy, with character authenticity leading all of our decisions.
LBB> What were the main decisions in that process?
David> There are two main decisions: the brief; first up, all of the casting came from intuition and feeling. Do I warm to this person, would I like to have a long phone chat with them? Friendliness, playfulness, and being genuine were paramount.
The second was that we weren’t just casting their performance, for the remote shoots we also needed to cast their homes! Which added a whole other level of complexity.
LBB> How did you get all of the footage shot? What were the lessons from that process?
Freddy> Because of the nature of what we were making, we had two (mobile phone) shoot days where David could hone accuracy and precision of specific characters, sizings, placements, lighting and actions. Both agency and client dialing in remotely to review takes. We then were able to drop footage directly into the crap-o-matic (featuring David being every role) to ensure it was working. Then David remotely shot Chelsea fans, home workouts and any extra limbs we needed.
On the lesson front - Zoom sound and post sessions are hard. Normally you get to sit in a room and really noodle. With (my) dodgy internet, lagging picture and Zoom exhaustion hitting hard, you have to accept you're not going to be able to put the same levels of craft you'd normally have. Thankfully Strings & Tins and Black Kite worked tirelessly, without us, long into the night to over deliver. The same applies to shooting, there's a limit to how much you can control the set when doing it remotely, but I actually think that extra freedom the director gets might yield some better results.
David> All the faces (apart from the footballers) were shot traditionally: with a crew, on a location, with me there in person.
The process was more stripped down than usual. For example, we were shooting on iPhone to connect to the genuine feel of user generated content. Also, due to the limited number of people we could have on set, the client and agency were only able to join us virtually. That proved difficult when needing to get shots approved via, ironically, bad phone service! The agency and client were especially amazing at stepping back and letting us do what we needed to do when there were moments of linkups not working smoothly.
As always, patience and kindness are paramount on sets, but this was especially important to remember when working on our first film set after lockdown. It’s vital to remember that everyone’s there to do the best jobs they can. When we are working in conditions where masks need to be worn, and distances need to be kept, having those qualities embedded in our hearts was paramount.
This was a testing environment to be shooting in, but it was also celebratory. For many, including myself, this was the first time back on set for months, so there was a lot of happiness in the air.
LBB> And then there's the little job of weaving it all together in a way that feels different. How did you make sure you got that right?
Guillaume> This is a very fast-paced piece that seamlessly transports you through an array of social content scenes, constantly shifting and growing in an energy-packed 30 seconds.
The VFX process on this one was in many ways a similar approach, working within a tight timeframe we had to be very agile and responsive every step of the way.
The final piece is very much the result of a collaborative and organic process, from early concepts development to crafting the final look.
The challenge for us at Black Kite was to keep the fun and energy of the edit, and creatively piece the content together in the most seamless and exciting way. Whether it is creating a collage of an impossibly long extending arm, or a fitness instructor made out of a multitude of social posts, it all had to flow and feel as engaging as possible.
Borrowing cues to various social platforms and content, we developed a colourful and playful visual language to suit the needs of the various scenes.
There is something fresh, honest and spontaneous in the found content collage approach.
Aside from the technicalities of making every piece fit together, there is also a superb pace and creative energy running all through the piece as a result of this.
LBB> How did you build the giant and what were key decisions there?
Guillaume> Black Kite worked hand-in-hand with David and developed several design propositions, exploring the Giant's structure, proportions, but also attitude and personality.
We were involved from the beginning of the pre-production process to help David pre-visualise the scenes and get a solid understanding of the final shot's layout and timing.
The Giant's features were refined and crafted by Black Kite in order to strike the perfect balance between a clear read of each individual piece of content, and also an understanding of the overall Giant figure.
It was also very important that the Giant scene could fit with the other collage scenes in the edit in terms of look and feel. Keeping the playful social posts montage aspect of the figure was paramount, and it was a balancing act to find the appropriate amount of integration while retaining the graphic nature of the overall character.
We also had a bit of fun in selecting and piecing the content together, keeping a close eye on the overall clarity of the final shot. In order to achieve this we had to keep a modular approach to the build, allowing us to be flexible and swap content as necessary.
It was great fun creating a character made out of social content, playing with interesting ways of having the character form and animate.
For example the initial build of the Giant's leg shows for a fleeting moment a human body collage stretching up and up and made out of a multitude of different people exercising.
The design and animation of the Giant helped infuse the character with a certain playfulness and attitude.
We loved working on adding all the finishing touches, such as the inflating biceps, crunch posture or the little sweatband around its forehead. We are all about those little details.
LBB> It's all very warm and uplifting. Do you have a favourite moment?
Freddy> Thank you! The UGC workout giant, overlooking suburban Britain, tickles us.
David> The head shaves were WILD! But I really loved the barber shop scene. At the time we couldn’t have body contact between anyone who wasn’t in the same household, so our barber and customer were brothers. Their rapport with each other was lovely, and they gave us great wild track audio as well!
I don’t think I’ll ever be on a shoot like it; where everyone on set was just so attuned to the beauty of people. When we had only seen the faces of those in our own households for so many months, to be in the same room as seeing two brothers joking and laughing with each other really lifted everyone. To be in a room with life again. I’m sure that feeling will have spread through every performance in every shot in this film. We were genuinely so happy to be connected again.