Your Shot: The Story Behind Telenet's 2019 Version of Bomfunk MC's 'Freestyler'
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When TBWA\Brussels remade the music video to one of his childhood favourite tunes, LBB's Addison Capper couldn't not get the scoop
I was born in 1991. That makes me the ripe old age of eight when Bomfunk MC's 'Freestyler' came out in 1999. I can vividly remember having it on CD single and spinning it more than anything else I owned. I even had a Sony MiniDisc, just like the boy in the original music video used to control his surroundings. It was also huge all across Europe, topping multiple country's charts.
So when this piece of work from TBWA\Brussels fell in my inbox last week, I couldn't not delve a little further. For Belgian telco brand Telenet, they've remade that original music video and given it a 2019 spin, hidden with heaps of modern day Easter eggs. Director Nadia Marquard Otzen was brought on to bring it to life and the original members of Bomfunk MC's even make an appearance.
I spoke with TBWA\Brussels creative director Geert Verdonck and director Nadia to find out more.
LBB> What was the initial brief like from Telenet?
Geert> Telenet wanted to launch YUGO, a telco-bundle - things like HBO, 20GB data, the smartest wi-fi system at home, all controlled in one app - aimed at a smartphone first audience. Millennials and older.
Not an easy product to explain to a target group that’s almost unreachable through classic media. They stream content instead of watching TV, they listen to Spotify instead of the radio, they read online instead of magazines or the newspaper… Our competition was online culture. We knew we had to create something that would get noticed online, travel and become a trending topic.
LBB> Why did you decide to remake Freestyler? Why this specific track?
Geert> We quickly came up with freestyling as a metaphor of what you could with YUGO.
Because replacing the set-top box at home by an app makes it possible the watch, call, listen, text… control whatever and wherever via your smartphone. That image reminded us of the song’s video: a young boy taking control of his surroundings. We just needed to replace the MiniDisc player with a smartphone.
LBB> What part of the idea came first? Was it to remake a '90s music video or was it the idea to focus on this particular track and then frame the campaign around it?
Geert> We started with the song title and its video. This was always the main focus. But we can’t deny that our remake fits in a broader ‘nostalgia trend’. As said: our competition is online culture. We knew ‘90s material gets noticed online. It’s this nostalgia trend you see popping up everywhere. The re-issues of old school gaming consoles for example or the revival of those high-soled Buffalo shoes and other fashion items. The '90s are back. But again, we started with the song title and its video.
LBB> Freestyler was massive across Europe but I'm not sure it quite made it across the pond to the Americas. Can you give some background to the tune and video's popularity when it came out?
Geert> It was one of the last songs that grew big thanks to MTV and, although the original video is not that spectacular, it contains a lot of elements that illustrate that period in time in Europe. The PlayStation controller, the MiniDisc, oversized pants, Oakley sunglasses, b-boys, dreads, etc. In Finland the band still has a godlike status and they decided to play some festivals again this summer after almost 20 years. No idea why they didn’t boom in the States. Probably record label related issues. Their highest place in the charts was number 47.
LBB> What kind of relationship did you have with the track when it came out?
Geert> Let me speak for most of us here: the song is a modern evergreen. It’s part of the soundtrack of an era. The end of the MTV generation, entering the new millennium… it takes us all back to many memories. But still it doesn’t feel that old and it still gets played on hit radio stations across Europe every day.
LBB> Why was Nadia Marquard Otzen the right director to bring this idea to life?
Geert> Since it’s a music video more than an ad we went to look for a director with experience in that field. Nadia is a Grammy nominee for best pop video (Years&Years - King) and does amazing work when it comes to choreography.
LBB> Nadia, what were you thinking when this script first came in? And why was it something you were keen to get involved in?
Nadia> I thought it was a brilliant concept. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that done for an ad. A proper challenge, so of course I had to do it!
LBB> At what stage was the creative when you got involved?
Nadia> The concept was in place but they were still working on the script. I started off suggesting an idea which originally involved a lot more dancing and a precise following of the original timeline with a direct reference to each scene. But it was lacking some of the references to online youth culture which was important for the client. So from then on me and the guys at TBWA\Brussels spent several Skype sessions modifying it to include stuff such as GIFs, fails, phone controls such as swiping and rotating, famed dance moves of last year, references to shows, etc. Spicing it up, basically.
LBB> As a director, how did you find the process of crafting a new take on an already existing film?
Nadia> An interesting process, dissecting the original and coming up with suggestions to replace it. It's a fun dogma to work within.
LBB> The biggest part of the remake was giving it a 2019 spin. Talk us through how you did that and the different elements involved?
Geert> Apart from a higher production value, we wanted to stick close to the original storyline. A kid with dreads controlling their surroundings with a device, but indeed updated to the now. The MiniDisc player became a smartphone. The possibilities of control aren’t limited to freezing and rewinding. You can swipe to Tinder, you can launch top notch entertainment, etc.
But it’s 2019 and times have also changed. Not only technology, culture has changed as well. The most notable change is that we made the main character a girl. What many people don’t know is that some quite famous Finnish people had cameos in the original clip. That’s why we stuffed the new video with hidden elements referring to online culture and current day entertainment. Sometimes subtle, sometimes very present.
Nadia> It was mainly about shooting it in a way that is contemporary and making all cast and actions feel relevant to today. There’s nothing like dance moves that represent certain decades. So for example, updating the female dancers from the original to three kick-ass dancers with attitude, who can do Afrobeat, felt like a cool update and very much of the moment. Overall the concept was ‘same but different’. It was about having a bit of fun, taking the audience on a ride forwards and backwards in time.
LBB> There are heaps of Easter eggs hidden in the film - how did you decide on which modern day aspects you should focus on here?
Geert> People follow their own interests online. Some like fashion, others look for art and so on. That’s why we hid stuff from different fields of interest. Fashion lovers will be interested in the fact that the main character is dressed by Sebnem Gunay, one of Gigi Hadid’s favourite upcoming designers. Meme lovers have probably noticed that Average Rob, known for his Obama subway meme, is also in the metro. Dance fans can see references from the dab, the hype dance and the swish when the three girls are dancing. With all these different angles the video taps into many interests hoping to get noticed by different groups of people.
LBB> Someone has already made a side-by-side version, comparing both of the films. Was this something you hoped might happen? Why? And what other types of reaction have you seen?
Geert> Once you throw something online you make the internet its new owner. And if some people love an ad piece so much that they’re willing to spend their time re-editing it, you can consider that as a compliment! Our aim was to revive people’s memories so they would start sharing the video and looking for the Easter eggs. Many people literally say they know it’s an ad but that they still enjoy every second.
LBB> The casting is super important here - the girl is super similar to the boy in the original! What was that process like?
Geert> We cast for a bold girl. It’s 20 years later and it felt right to give the hero role as a girl. She must be old enough to look confident, yet young enough to see the wonder in her expression. Milica Bajcetic is a 16-year-old dancer from Belgrade and accidentally happened to have white dreads, which made the decision quite easy.
Nadia> I suppose my main attribution to this film was to cast a girl and not a boy for the main part. With the concept ‘same but different’ in mind, it felt like a fresh approach to feature a cool girl with attitude, now that we’ve seen it with a boy already. So when this funky little girl came into the casting - and even had dreads (!) - I thought, there she is! She looked like she could be the sister of the original boy. And she could move, which was so important.
LBB> Aesthetically, what were your main aims and inspirations?
Nadia> I wanted to do something that was less stylistic than the original, more real life, less music video. And when it came to effects it should have that digital feel, as if manipulated by the phone. It was a massively technical shoot. Almost every shot involved layering and compositing. But I still wanted a feeling of scenes being chanced upon and not fabricated.
LBB> The original members of Bomfunk MC's feature in the video - what was their reaction like when you first approached them with the idea?
Geert> They were sceptical at first. We had to pitch the idea in detail to convince them we wanted to make a music video more than we wanted to use them for an ad. But as the process evolved their enthusiasm grew and even after the first rough vision Raymond B.O. Dubb even said that he liked the new video more than the old one. He was deeply touched by what we made of it.
Being released online on YouTube, the clip has been watched almost 2 million times in less than a week. This summer they will start touring again and the music video will be a part of their new show. Let’s say that also helps their career a little.