Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Your Shot: How J. Walter Thompson NY Made Sword Fights Sexy for Wilkinson Sword

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
Sarah Barclay, Billy Faraut and George Roca on making swordplay meet foreplay

Wilkinson Sword and J. Walter Thompson New York had pulses racing last week with the release of ‘Swordplay Meets Foreplay’. The cheeky short sees a man and woman slice each other naked in some kind of beautifully erotic, but slightly sadistic pre-sex act involving swords. Exquisite choreography from director Lieven Van Baelen and the Belgian art nouveau backdrop make this super sexy film that bit sexier. (Can you tell we like it?) LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with J. Walter Thompson New York Executive Creative Director Sarah Barclay, Creative Director Billy Faraut, and Senior Producer George Roca, to find out more.

LBB> I imagine the production was quite tricky and meticulous in its planning. What were the trickiest moments?

GR> Once we found our director, Lieven [Van Baelen], the process went pretty smoothly. But if I had to choose one, I would say figuring out our actress’s wardrobe was the trickiest moment. Although it was less of a moment, and more of a month of back-and-forth between us, Lieven and our wardrobe stylist had to try to find the perfect outfit. Her dress is an original creation and was designed and manufactured by a designer with very specific cuts in mind. Each slice was meticulously planned for in pre-production and then executed on set. And, of course, we had to have multiple backups in case something went wrong.

LBB> Why was Lieven the perfect man to direct it?

GR> First and foremost, Lieven is known for beautiful film and impressive choreography, so that’s why we initially approached him. But it wasn’t just his composition. Once we engaged, his treatment jumped off the page. When we did our search, we looked for people who took ownership of the project and didn’t just regurgitate what they thought we wanted to hear. We needed someone who would steward us through the process and be passionate about bringing our vision (and theirs) to the screen. Lieven embodied all of those qualities.

LBB> The location is gorgeous. Where is it? How did you find it?

GR> Antwerp, Belgium. We found it with the help and assistance of Lieven’s production company Czar. Since none of us are from Antwerp where, we weren’t as equipped as their local crew and location manager to know which locations were best for the shoot, so they helped a lot there. We ultimately chose Antwerp because of the abundance of magnificent art nouveau architecture that makes the city such a beautiful place.

LBB> And where did the foreplay-sword fight metaphor idea initially come from?

BF> We had to come up with a piece of communication that would work for both men and women. The crossed swords – which is the Wilkinson Sword logo – seemed like a good device to literally bring to life their ‘Free Your Skin’ tagline. This metaphor seemed like it could showcase not only what the razor does, but what the brand stands for. Classic, yet sexy.

LBB> What kind of people were you looking for to star in it? Able to act, good-looking, good with a sword… It must have been quite the hunt! 

BF? First and foremost, we were looking for a man and a woman who would be able to tell a story. This is both an action sequence and an emotional story. They needed to have character and chemistry. No models please. They had to be able to act AND fight. That’s how Lieven came up with the idea to cast dancers. They’re great physical performers. They can learn complex choreography, and are no strangers to emotional stories. We spent three days prior to the shoot working with a stunt coordinator. Once their every move became mechanical, we were able to focus on the performance. 

LBB> What was the brief like from Wilkinson Sword, and what were you thinking when you first saw it?

SB> This was a gift from the creative gods. A series of films to bring the brand line ‘Free Your Skin’ to life in an emotionally engaging way. We did a workshop in London with our Wilkinson Sword clients about how ideas that provoke a strong emotional response make more compelling storytelling and research better than functionally-driven work. The brief came straight out of that. Our clients were single-minded and wholeheartedly supportive in pushing for this brief, and partnered with us all the way to the final piece. 

LBB> It’s a really fun and quite risqué idea. What was their reaction like when you first pitched it?

SB> They unanimously loved it. As we developed the storyline it naturally went through a few iterations, and each time we were constantly challenged by our clients to dial up the unexpectedness and surprise. It was great to have clients who wanted to push as hard as we did. There is no ‘agency cut’. Nothing was compromised.

LBB> What was the most memorable moment on set and why?

GR> I would say the greatest memory I have of the shoot is the general sense of congeniality and resolve that existed between everyone. From the crew to the agency to the client, I think we all had a good feeling about this one. So those things really helped keep spirits high despite the long hours and cold conditions (we shot this in mid-January). 

SB> We built a heated plastic tent on the roof of this incredible building in Antwerp to do the close-up scenes to keep the actors from freezing. To see a nearly naked couple sword fighting as it gently snowed around them was a memorable juxtaposition. 

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