Director Tom Sweetland roped in eight DPs, his folks and neighbours in a Cadbury spot from VCCP that hits the sweet spot, writes Laura Swinton
The new coronavirus response ad from British chocolate brand Cadbury has a charm that speaks for itself. Sure, we’ve seen plenty ads depicting lockdown life, but till now they’ve been boisterous collections of user generated footage and iPhone footage – but the Cadbury campaign is a quieter, more intimate affair that’s got a warmth and level of craft that marks it out.
So, before you read any further, give it a watch as the spot from VCCP London and production company Clouded Vision is powerful enough without the back story.
But. Gosh. What a back story. The spot is the result of some sweet serendipity, collaboration and real family moments of magic. As VCCP creative team Chris Birch and Jonny Parker were trying to figure out how the confectionary brand could navigate its lockdown comms, they happened to get talking to Tom Sweetland, a director who had been chatting with fellow filmmakers about how to create an observational documentary about the resilience of communities under Covid-19. He’d started shooting bits and pieces of footage himself on his daily walks and had even recorded a few conversations with his family. Realising that Tom had hit on something quite special, the team at VCCP began to collaborate with him – and as the scope of the project grew to a full ad, Tom recruited eight more DPs from his network of filmmakers.
LBB’s Laura Swinton reached out to Chris and Tom to find out more about how the ad was made.
LBB> What was the strategic starting point for the spot?
Chris> Panic. How do we say something without appearing opportunistic, crass, bandwagon jumpy or just lame? Do we need to say anything about Covid at this point? Creatively we wanted to run a mile.
But given our brand belief is ‘there’s a glass and a half in everyone’, and witnessing the wonderful acts of generosity going on within the crisis, we thought we could do something, so nervously got the pens out.
LBB> How did you go about figuring out how Cadbury's should talk about lockdown?
Chris> We were just chatting about how before Covid we wouldn’t answer our mothers’ phone calls! Yet now we ring them every day. And wouldn’t it be devastating for all the mothers and fathers out there if we just stopped doing that? The same could then be said for all the tiny, missable little acts of generosity people are doing for all kinds of people all over the country.
LBB> How did you reach this production approach?
Chris> Jonny and I were just chatting about the smallness of the type of film we wanted to make. The tiny, tiny details of how our behaviours have changed for the better, then bang! Tom from Clouded Vision sent us a note regarding a filming project they had embarked on and his footage fitted beautifully.
LBB> So Tom, you’d started working on some footage already? What was your starting point creatively?
Tom> As company we love to make observational documentaries, so the focus early on was to capture the emotional reality of lockdown.
I had spent the first weeks speaking to family members, friends and other filmmakers. Those conversations seemed like a way in to tell this story. The resilience of community really shone through for me: It wasn’t all doom & gloom, people were taking to this new lifestyle well and there seemed to be so many positive small acts happening everywhere.
I started filming my local neighbourhood and my housemates at home, and from this created a short edit of reference imagery. I sent this out to our DoPs to see if they wanted to collaborate on this film. Fast forward a little and we had a rough cut of a great short film
Our production company, Clouded Vision, really wanted to do something positive with our footage. We started speaking with Jonny & Chris from VCCP. They had a rough script of what they wanted to make for Cadbury which they thought the film would work brilliantly for. As we’re quite a nimble company we were quick to respond to creative very quickly so we started shaping it very early on.
LBB> Working with eight other DoPs and their families feels like a lot to get your head around! How did you orchestrate all of that?
Tom> Easier than you’d think! Everything was orchestrated on WhatsApp. I created a group with about 15 or so of our best DoPs and filmmakers and shared the idea (and the edit) with them. All of the crew were stuck at home, their projects cancelled and they were really eager to create something. The response was amazing - we had footage coming through that day.
Our editor Toby Dashwood and I started constructing the film and we shared it with the crew online at each stage so they could see how the piece was forming
As we started to build a story, I could then give each of the DoPs specific shot lists for their upcoming shoots they had planned with their families
LBB> What sort of research and prep did you have to do to find out about the cast and locations and possibilities you had to work with?
Tom> I wanted to capture as many different people and locations as possible, so we called on Clouded Visions network of filmmakers based all over the UK. They were asked to film what they could within their neighbourhoods so we had a good amount of footage from a variety of different looking streets to choose from.
For me, some of the footage comes from spontaneous moments I spotted while out walking during lockdown - the family in their garden, the tower block clap, a couple exercising in their front garden, the young family on their balcony and the cockney guy chatting to his mate. I think the mix is what gives the film it’s personal feeling, it captures real moments.
LBB> During the shoots, how did you all find the communication?
Tom> Overall, the communication with the DoPs was very fluid. I already had a really good relationships with them so we would chat on the phone every couple of days to discuss their shoots. Also, because our DoPs could see the stuff as it was coming in on WhatsApp, it gave them more encouragement to film. Maybe it’s the friendly competitive nature of DoPs, but that meant everyone wanted to shoot something that would make the cut. In the end, we had enough footage for three or more films.
Working with VCCP was great. I felt they immediately understood what we were trying to achieve, and so we were very aligned creatively. This made the day-to-day easy. We had a google hangout each morning which we used to discuss feedback on our latest cut. Toby would screen share occasionally as we were making amends to the film live.
Chris> Clouded Vision already had a lot of the footage and some of the phone calls when we teamed up. Tom and his team were amazing. We just wanted to reshape and add to the footage they already had to give our point of view on the situation. Try and make it even more generous and small. I think the only hiccup was trying to get release forms signed by the neighbours in the film. DOP’s climbing up ladders and reaching over fences and the like!
LBB> From a technical perspective, what did everyone shoot on? And how did you ensure that there was a sense of visual cohesion across what everyone was shooting?
Tom> Everyone used their own kit. Jack Maddison had a RED Weapon and his Movi at home so he got all the amazing tracking footage of tower blocks that really upped the production value at the front. Josh Williams used his DJI Inspire 2 drone to capture our aerial footage, and everyone else including me was pretty much using DSLRs like the Sony A7s
To make sure I could get a cohesive look, I asked everyone to shoot a flat image and at the beginning I sent through reference imagery so we all shot in the same style. I directed them to use the natural symmetry of the streets, windows and houses as much as possible, keep the movement to a natural doco wobble and shoot through windows, door frames and anything that would give the feeling of observation.
I must add Dan Moran did a great job on the grade to bring it all together!
LBB> How did you capture the voiceover - was that scripted or was it done more organically and improvised? It really feels so real and natural that it feels like you called up your grandparents!
Tom> It was organic! I called my grandad, my mum and dad, lots of people, just for a chat. I knew I wanted snippets of conversations to use in the final film so all of the V.O came from real conversations I had with them during week three of the lockdown.
Chris> It’s completely real. The guys at Clouded Vision had already started capturing phone calls with their friends and family. We actually tried putting some scripted ones in but you could tell! And the film didn’t need them. We’ve probably all had numerous conversations like the ones in the film.
LBB> What are your highlights from the production?
Tom> Overall I’m really proud of what myself, Clouded Vision (our production company) and our network of filmmakers have managed to create in such difficult circumstances, I think the final film bridges the gap between natural documentary and advertising.
But going back to all those families and telling them they were going to be in a Cadbury commercial was my personal highlight. I had captured the family of five in the front garden on a walk one day and they were so overjoyed to be included, although tracking them all down was a mission!
LBB> What I love about this spot is that it's just packed with warmth and emotion - it's not about inserting any awkward brand promises. How did you work with Tom to push that emotion?
Chris> Thanks very much! We just tried to strip everything away really. Keep it honest and small. Whenever we tried to be more heavy handed, the story fell flat. You could smell a rat.
So we focussed on showing the little things people are doing for each other and let that play out. No guiding voiceover or anyone to spell anything out.
We all feel the footage. Sometimes it’s what you don’t say, right?