Jung von Matt/Spree and director Daniel Wolfe discuss ‘The Faith of a Few’, the gorgeous campaign that tells of Mini’s unexpected racing success
John Cooper had a dream. The co-founder of one of the world’s most humble vehicles, the Mini, believed that his little car could race against the very best, most powerful, fast cars at the Monte-Carlo Rally. Very few people agreed – even Sir Alec Issigonis, the man who designed the Mini thought that it couldn’t transcend from family car to racing triumph. But they were wrong and the Mini came out victorious in 1964, 1965 and 1967, earning personal praise from such celebrities as The Beatles (but more about that later).
This story of determination and triumph is being told in a new campaign for the Mini John Cooper Works. The work was created by Jung von Matt/Spree and features a gorgeous two-minute film directed by Somesuch's Daniel Wolfe and produced by ANORAK x Somesuch. When we found out no stock footage was used we were astounded.
LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with Jung von Matt/Spree and Anorak director Daniel Wolfe to find out more.
LBB> What was the initial brief like for this campaign and what were your thoughts when you saw it?
JvM> Mini asked us to come up with the best idea for the new John Cooper Works. After tens of concepts, we decided to focus on the legend and spirit behind the car, and tell the story of John Cooper and his determination to turn Mini from a racing underdog into a racing thoroughbred which could roar louder than all doubters. Ultimately, our film is about that unique moment when the Mini crossed first that finish line in 1964 and silenced all its naysayers.
John Cooper led an extraordinary life. He left school at 15 to become an apprentice toolmaker and served as an instrument maker for the RAF in World War II. After the war he and his father began building inexpensive racing cars from scratch.
His company came up with the idea of placing a larger engine on the small Mini chassis, resulting in a car with go-kart handling and tremendous oomph, able to reach 99mph, a very respectable number for that time and age.
Both racers and ordinary road drivers adored John Cooper’s development of the Mini Cooper. John, along with his son Mike Cooper, later served in an advisory role to BMW's New Mini design team.
LBB> Why was Daniel Wolfe the right director to bring this story to life?
JvM> In his treatment and in the talks that followed, he captured like no other the atmosphere of the Rally. Daniel has the patience and the keen eye for detail to embark on a promising career in anthropology should he ever decide to give up on directing. He and Greig Fraser, the DOP, were invaluable for the cinematographic craft of this project, from deciding on each character and costume to crafting the colour grading.
LBB> And Daniel, why was this script something you were keen to get involved in?
DW> I immediately loved the underdog story. The outcome of this race changed the perception of Mini forever. It became an icon of ‘60s pop culture, driven by The Beatles and Steve MqQueen. And it became the best selling British car in history. Yet, when it entered the race, it was derided and scorned.
No one believed it could compete with the more powerful engined cars.
I love recreating periods of time. Accurately. Often people recreate time periods as pastiche. I enjoy making stuff appear to be stock footage.
LBB> What kind of research was involved? I can imagine it was quite a fascinating experience looking back to that time!
JvM> We spent months watching vintage footage, documentaries and going through all the articles covering the mad racing years of the ‘60s. We also interviewed Classic Mini club members and listened to many beautiful stories. We have to confess that the research phase was as exciting as the actual production for complete gear-heads like us.
DW> We had a collaboration from Mini Cooper’s historical department, and Daniel Harper and the guys from Mini Sport had a direct line to Paddy Hopkirk (the driver in the 64 race).
We had great heads of department: Robin Brown and Gleb Ignatov who really understood that I wanted to create something period authentic and who both tracked down authentic items. Plus there was Dan Williams at The Mill creating post FX in a very subtle way.
The Beatles sent a telegram to Paddy - to congratulate him on the win. The cultural cache of the race was insane.
LBB> What were the most surprising things you found?
JvM> At the beginning of the ‘60s the Monte-Carlo Rally was a giants' game. Saab, Citroen, Porsche and Mercedes were the usual suspects for the coveted trophy.
But 1964 saw one of the most spectacular victories in the history of motorsport. On January 21st 1964 the small Mini with the new larger engine fitted by John Cooper won the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time. Ferocious over country roads and mountain passes, ice and snow, tight corners and steep hills, the small but feisty British underdog won the hearts of the public forever. And it did it again in 1965 and 1967.
Hanging on the wall in rally legend Paddy Hopkirk’s cloakroom lies a fantastic reminder of the moment Mini turned from simple car into global icon: a framed telegram and signed photo from the Beatles. It reads “It’s nice to be number one isn’t it. Stop. Congratulations. Stop. Thanks for the lift. Stop. Ringo Starr.” One of Paddy’s mechanics had given Ringo a lift in Paris a few days before – that’s why he was saying thank you. All four Beatles signed the picture and added the note, “You’re one of us now, Paddy!” in recognition of his giant-killing win and rallying number one status.
Word goes that even Enzo Ferrari was so impressed with the British racing team that he owned no less than three Minis.
As a side note, in 1966 the Mini armada had gone for the hat trick, and indeed the Minis of Mäkinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk finished first, second and third. But then came one of the most questionable decisions in the history of the Monte-Carlo Rally, as the race commissioners decided that the additional headlights mounted on the radiator grille of the Mini Coopers failed to comply with French homologation rules and unfairly disqualified the entire team.
LBB> Why did you opt for the nostalgic approach to this campaign?
JvM> We don't see it a sign of nostalgia, but rather an act of doing justice to the John Cooper Works badge and the amazing performance of the new modern line-up. A 2017 Mini John Cooper Works model is, in a nutshell, Mini thrill maximised. As exhilarating for those who get behind its wheel today as the first racing Minis who left motorsport fans in awe at the finish line, in Monte-Carlo, more than half a century ago. They live up to that legacy in every respect. A story set in the present would not have captured that epic impression. And more than that, our film is also an ode to the true few underdogs of this world and their dreams roaring louder than what many may think or say.
LBB> The “this will never work” quote is really significant to the whole film - where did it originate from? Was it always central to the idea?
JvM> This quote is the mother of all negative predictions, as it embodies the disbelief shared even by Sir Alec Issigonis, the designer of the Mini. Even he didn’t believe that this small urban family car could ever become a successful racing thoroughbred. “This will never work” together with “Big dreams with small chances” and “Sweet little tin can” were common sound bites tossed around by naysayers in the world of motorsports seeing the tiny Mini before the rally race in Monte-Carlo. John Cooper, however, silenced all of this symphony of disbelief and proved that the underdog can prevail against all odds. Triumph is not the cheering of the believers, but the silence of the doubters. This thought was the centrepiece of our film and we dramatised it by turning critical voices into a monstrous soundtrack that our hero fought and overcame.
LBB> How much of the film is stock footage and how much was shot for the film?
JvM> We decided it was better for the strength of the film to use no previous footage and try to recreate history instead. Thus, we shot a lot of the scenes with an original camera from that time and painstakingly recreated costumes, hairstyles and even advertising billboards from the '60s.
LBB> How did you achieve the 1960s look?
DW> Greig Fraser was great in embracing the camera language of the era. We shot Super 16mm and Bolex. Simon Bourne at Framestore did an amazing grade. We deliberately created different looks as if the material was sourced from different camera teams from the race.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
JvM> The trickiest thing was the intricate build-up of the soundtrack and the edit towards the climax moment when the Mini crosses the finish line first and the choir of doubters is silenced – especially as the sound loops had to incorporate various critiques and still pack plenty of musical punch. Cam Ballantyne from Beatworms worked his magic on the soundtrack and the guys at Trim Editing gave the edit the fast pace it needed.
LBB> And how about the most memorable moments from the process?
JvM> The biggest wow moment was seeing the actual race track complete with all the vintage props and the casting. It properly felt teleported from 1964. Another memorable moment was creating a blizzard in the middle of the summer with the snow machines.