Another retro piece for PS2 by ad icon Budgen from back in the day when Creativity was a print rag ….
The Ciclope International Festival of Craft kicked off in Berlin earlier this month with inspired talks, panels, case studies and Q&A’s with some of the brightest talent in the industry. The fine art of collaboration, the effectiveness of craft, why craft still matters and the importance of love, passion and happiness were some of the subjects examined over the 3-day event.
Richard O’Neill, Executive Director of Integrated Production at TBWA\CHIAT\DAY gave an enlightened discussion on why craft is still important in the ad game today, referencing challenges he faced aside Ridley Scott bringing the Grand Prix-winning spot “1984” to the screen.
“As a producer you have to know your craft, otherwise you’re in real trouble,” overviewed O’Neill. “You need to be part of that creative process.”
O¹Neill talked of the importance of craft in successful work throughout his career, referencing talent such as Oscar-winning sound designer Randy Thom plus directors Dante Ariola and Rupert Sanders. “Everyone needs to be a terrific craftsman,” he explained.
O’Neill went on to say that technology has made it increasingly difficult for clients to appreciate craft. “It has become problematic explaining where you are in the process,” he offered. “As craft becomes harder and increasingly more technical, so does the duty of explaining exactly what’s going on. “
O’Neill referenced work on the bombastic “Call of Duty – Black Ops” commercials directed by Rupert Sanders following an impressive screening of “1984” that still stands up well on the big screen after a few decades in the can.
He discussed the benefits of in camera effects on both 1984 and Black Ops, revealing how he used mirrors on the famous Apple spot to increase the number of people seen in any given scene. He also explained that glass matte painting was integrating with live-action footage throughout the shoot to save on production costs. The methodology echoed his approach on Black Ops:
“We used real guns, real flashes of ammunition,” he explained. “Shooting real guns helped enhance the reality for both the actors and the post effects. You have to understand what will work practically on set and help the effects in post. All the explosions were live, then post helped the visceral feeling that you get from the whole film – one explosion alone was 650 gallons of gasoline going off.”
“Mankind keeps on evolving and craft has to evolve alongside,” he concuded before wrapping his speech. “That should be our industry’s motto: keep refreshing the world, keep it young through innovation, craft and design.”
Meanwhile, other case studies included director Vellas of Sentimental Films discussing his mesmerizing short “Soul” created for the launch of the Leica M Monochrom digital camera. The work scored at Cannes with a Golden Lion for Cinematography, Silver Lion for Direction, two Bronze Lions for Editing plus Art Direction – all in the Craft category.
“In Gut we Trust” was another talk of note, an inspired speech from Tommy Zee of Massive Music, Amsterdam discussing the challenge of creating internationally acclaimed music for an array of big, eager clients.
“How do you trust your gut?” he queried on self-belief and making the magic happen. “Well, you are what you eat. If you feed on good books, good conversation, good music and the greatest things the world has ever produced, then you can probably trust your gut.”
“But if all you read is Facebook, Twitter, Tublr, Stumblr, RSS feeds – I mean what is a feed? “Feed” sounds like something barn animals line up for. Don’t recycle links on the Internet because you cannot truly nourish yourself. If you do I doubt you can trust your gut because it won’t be there for you when you need it.
“Close your laptop, go outside, feed on nature, listen to the birds chirping, pick up a good book,” he continued. “Who would you rather talk to, someone on Facebook circulating a link that millions of people have already seen, or have a conversation with Marcus Aurelius? It’s easy. Just pick up his book, read his journal and his innermost thoughts.
“Act this way and there’s a good chance when you’re working on your next campaign something you’ve read or seen will give you insight or a golden idea. Then people will ask you, hey, how do you get your ideas? You’ll respond that it’s very easy, that you’re not nourishing yourself with the ‘feed.’”
As for clients defining a craftsman’s needs, Zee explained there is no need to listen to them – unless they make sense:
“Henry Ford said that if he questioned what people wanted they would have asked for faster horses,” said Zee on the subject. “Steve Jobs said that it’s not the client’s job to know what they want. This is what craftsmen get paid for, they help define what the client needs.”
Does doubt slip into the equation when you listen to your gut instead of the client?
“I compare doubt to your mother,” continued Zee. “She loves you and cares for you but you don’t always have to listen to her. You should hear her out, but you don’t have to do what she says. You will know best because you trust your gut.”
He cautioned working hard with impossible deadlines leaves us all forgetting to do something very important – absolutely nothing.
“Do anything completely unrelated to the problem and insight will come your way when you least expect it,” he said. “NCAA coach Dean Smith said that if you turn every game into a life and death situation you’ll have problems – for one thing you’ll be dead a lot. Remember, it’s only advertising… ”
With close on 300 people in attendance the first year of Ciclope in Berlin was a success. It is slated to return to the same venue next year. “It is both refreshing and exciting to be a part of a festival that is all about the work seen on the screen,” says Sally Campbell, Founding Partner at Somesuch & Co. and Ciclope Jury President. “There is no other agenda at Ciclope but examining the craft that has gone into the work.”
“A huge thanks to the Jury for committing so much of their time to the judging process and awarding some truly remarkable work,” adds Ciclope founder Francisco Condorelli. “Thank you also to the fantastic delegates who came to the event from all over the world – we hope to see you all next year.”
Editor Tracy Hof has inked a deal with Stitch to work on commercial, music video and narrative work. Her credits in the commercial field include Bud Light, adidas, Sony, Toyota, Xbox and DirecTV.
Hof graduated with an MFA from Loyola Marymount University before joining Straight Cut/Santa Monica where work of note includes the Jeff Gorman-directed “Lifestyle” for Cybercash that won a Cannes Gold Lion.
Hof then worked freelance on commercials and promos for HBO, ABC Family, Ross, GM, AT&T, FuseTV, USA Network. She also handled Episodic TV work including The X Files on FOX before moving on to longer format projects with the feature My Insignificant Other, the documentary Ellen DeGeneres: American Summer andduties editing video content for Madonna’s Drowned World Tour.
Hof also produced and edited short and long form projects at Red Car/Santa Monica before her recent stint as Senior Editor at Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network where she handled programming for approximately 80 million viewers.
“I’m excited to be a part of STITCH and focus my energy more specifically in the commercial world,” say Hof. “I love to collaborate with directors and help them find their vision. There is no bigger challenge than finding the essence of the idea in 30 seconds or less.”
Hof’s addition follows a flurry of activity for Stitch with Dan Swietlik, Leo King, Tim Hardy, Tad Fatum, Marc D’Andre and Andy McGraw editing content for Porsche, Greenpeace, British Airways, Telstra, VW, Range Rover, Netflix, Audi, ESPN and The Paralympics.
Swietlik’s latest for Porsche pays spiritual homage to the classic Boxster, a timeless mid-engined roadster that was introduced to the world in the mid-90s.
Directed by Serial Pictures’ Sam Bayer through Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago “School’s Out” follows a magnificent racehorse, a bored school kid and a pristine Boxster itching to rev up their engines. As school bell rings they bolt away in perfect unison, featuring classic cuts from Swietlik that successfully unveil those slick, new curves on the 2013 Boxster.
Leo King’s “Homeless Polar Bear” for Greenpeace is also of note, a melancholic tale directed by Partizan’s Michael Geoghegan that embodies the Greenpeace spirit in a powerful way by directly comparing the plight of an Arctic polar bear to that of a lonesome, homeless one on the streets of London.
The spot also features music from Radiohead and voice over from actor Jude Law, both offering their services for free. The work exemplifies how beautiful ideas distilled down to their purest form can make for powerful viewing.
Olympic-vibed spots for British Airways and Telstra round out King’s latest.
Tim Hardy also edited inspirational work for the Paralympics, digging through 70 hours of footagetoshape a compelling piece that emphasizes the participants’ amazing athletic achievements.
Meanwhile, Andy McGraw keeps busy on both sides of the Atlantic cutting campaigns for Netflix, Range Rover and Sky. while his feature documentary ‘McCullin’ chronicling the world renowned war photographer Don McCullin recently screened at numerous film festivals including Hot Docs in Toronto.
For more information, please contact:
Stacey Altman, EP
1635 12th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404
office + 1.310.450.1116
Simon Wakelin, Publicist
cel + 1.213.864.9439
office + 1.310.857.6977
The Thing is commercials director Matthijs van Heijningen’s first film, a frozen terrestrial nightmare that works as an effective prequel to the much-beloved John Carpenter flick of 1982. However, the project was only a distant possibility for the Dutch filmmaker when he first landed in LA five years ago.
“I came to LA and I didn’t know anybody,” he admits. “I worked with MJZ, but mostly on European jobs. It was Spike Jonze who suggested I talk to his entertainment lawyer. Then my showreel was sent out to various agents until CAA picked me up.”
Van Heijningen began the process of reading endless scripts forwarded by his agent at CAA:
“You read hundreds of scripts that suck because the best ones are taken,” he jokes on the process of finding one worthy enough to direct. In fact, it wasn’t until Zack Snyder came across his reel that things really began to happen for the Dutchman on American soil. “Zack liked my work and handed me this crazy zombie script called Army of the Dead,” explains van Heijningen. “It was a huge project, an insane story set in Las Vegas where everything is overrun by zombies.”
The project was so good that Warner Bros. gave van Heijningen the green light to direct the estimated $75m feature. Suddenly he was living the dream.
“I was pinching my arm every day,” he says on dealing with the reality of the situation. “All the clichés came true.”
Van Heijningen had an office tucked away on the back lot of Warner Bros. and met with film idol Tom Cruise on the project. “I remember Katie Holmes showing me their baby while I had all these horrible zombie photos under my arm,” he laughs. “The whole experience was like being in a Coen Brothers movie.”
Then the economic crisis in 2008 brought van Heijningen plummeting back down to earth. Warner Bros. had to kill the project, meaning van Heijningen was back to square one.
It’s fascinating how Warner Bros. cleared my office out within an hour of the news, as if nothing had ever happened. I gave in my Warner Bros. pass, my parking pass and shuffled out of the gate alone.
It was when van Heijningen began contemplating which of his favourite films could be ripe for a remake that he discovered a golden nugget at Universal Pictures. “I thought about all these movies I loved and I discovered that Universal were in the early stages of prepping a prequel to The Thing,” he explains. “It was one of my favourites, so I met with the producers and thankfully I became attached to the project.”
Universal gave The Thing a green light in 2009 meaning that van Heijningen was once again at the helm of a big Hollywood project. “I was excited, but terrified,” he admits.
The script wasn’t finished, we needed to get the right actors from Norway, plus we had to figure out the look of the creature. You can spend a month on prep for a commercial, but a film is 90 times longer. It was this huge mountain looming before me. It was ‘don’t look up, just go, go, go’!
Van Heijningen commenced reshaping the script, back-engineering the story so that a compelling mystery starts off in the Norwegian camp, before the parasitic extraterrestrial entity escapes, in the form of a canine, and infiltrates the American research station. “It was like being a detective going to a crime scene,” van Heijningen says about the writing process. “It was looking at all of the evidence in the Carpenter film and making a story out of it. From an early stage we decided not to have a male lead because MacReady [Kurt Russell’s character in the 1982 version] was such an iconic figure. That’s why we cast a woman. It seemed obvious after I re-watched Alien. I always loved Sigourney Weaver. Her character doesn’t care about her looks. She’s maybe even slightly shy about her appearance because it’s all about her intellect. It’s the same thing here.”
Van Heijningen shot the film in anamorphic format, going as far as using old Panavision glass from the 80s to render a nostalgic feel. He used Panavision C-Series glass, small and lightweight lenses often preferred to newer glass by many DPs because they are lower in contrast. “We had to pump out more light on set because they were slow lenses, but it was the exact look I was going for,” van Heijningen admits. The 70-day shoot was an enormous undertaking for van Heijningen compared to an average commercial shoot.
“You have to solve problems three or four weeks away from shooting, so you multitask,” he admits. “It’s a marathon. After 35 days you’re thinking, ‘man, I’m only half way!”
After wrapping up The Thing, van Heijningen returned to commercials, ironically his first spot being a wry tale about a grizzly bear who becomes a feature film director. Bear is part of a comedic campaign for French premium pay TV channel Canal+. Van Heijningen worked through Parisbased production company Soixan7e Quin5e and agency BETC Euro RSCG. The spot sees a stressed film director, in the guise of an animated grizzly bear rug, who runs amok on set. At the end we see the grizzly rug laid out in front of a TV in his days before becoming a director, inspired by films playing on Canal+. “That turned out to be a gem of a spot,” says van Heijningen. “It was all about casting an expressive actor to play the bear for the animation team. The bear animation is the exact copy of the actor’s motions.”
The spot also features the director’s special brand of wry humour. “The bear is funny, but there is also something very sweet and awkward about him,” offers van Heijningen. “In many ways I have an awkward sense of humour. I always try not to be funny yet somehow squeeze it in. In a way it’s being funny by denial. It’s the more awkward, or slightly ironic, humour that interests me.”
His offbeat humour pops up again in Aboriginal, part of a campaign that he directed for telecommunications client Versatel through 180 Amsterdam. The spot features an Australian Aboriginal spinning his bullroarer, an ancient ritual musical instrument used for communicating over great distances. It opens with him listening to the distant sound of a bullroarer from another tribe. He climbs up a large rock, leaving his wife down below at a watering hole, and commences swinging his bullroarer to signal to the distant tribe, but the rope snaps and the roarer flies off, hitting his wife on the side of her head, and toppling her over. A beat on the Aboriginal man pondering the moment nails the comedy effectively.
“The campaign was all about these weird forms of communication,” the director reveals. “We filmed the spot in South Africa, but plucked out a real Aboriginal from the Australian bush. It was even funnier than the commercial. He’d never flown on a plane before, and after 24 hours of travel he was dropped off in exactly the same environment in South Africa as the one he’d left. The look on his face was priceless.”
Other spots in Versatel’s amusing campaign feature a forlorn 18th-century love poet who accidentally throws his carrier pigeon into a closed window, killing both the bird and l’amour in one fell swoop. The campaign became big news in the Netherlands, featuring in newspapers, talk shows, and TV and radio news. The work successfully sells the premise that Versatel makes communication easier in today’s complex world.
Masterpiece for Stella Artois also demonstrates van Heijningen’s ability to direct witty, off-beat humour wrapped in classically lensed material. The spot follows the angst of French writer Marcel Dupont, despairingly toiling away on his masterpiece through a harsh, cold winter. Spring arrives, and he finally emerges from his writer’s den to announce his masterpiece is finished, but when the penniless artist brazenly asks for a Stella Artois at the local bar, its lazy-eyed keeper sees an opportunity afoot. The forlorn writer must trade his precious script for a glass of exquisite European hops, proving yet again for Stella that ‘perfection has a price’. With cinematographer Joost Van Gelder, van Heijningen captured a beautiful organic feel on the spot. “That was a tricky commercial,” he recalls. “There’s actually a cool, organic look to parts of it because the film was accidentally exposed to light in transit.”
Such ‘happy accidents’ on film are something van Heijningen lives for. As for digital in its many variant forms, although he doesn’t shy away from it he prefers film. Interestingly, it has little to do with image quality. “Of course, I’ll use digital if the job dictates it, but I prefer film,” he observes.
It’s not so much an image thing for me, as the fact that I don’t like to see the results immediately. I need to stay with ideas in my head. Sometimes it’s better not to know exactly what you’re doing. Seeing it straight away and analysing it can destroy the creative process. I like to stay in the vagueness of my own thoughts. Imagine composing music and having an orchestra play it immediately. It’s disturbing. It’s better to have it mapped out in your head, to hear it all in your head.
As for other elements that make for compelling viewing, van Heijningen believes backstory and character are imperative ingredients in the creative visual mix, even in commercials. “ You have to set up character, so that the audience can identify right away,” he asserts. “Without character it’s just a series of events.”
A previous spot, Clowns, for Netherlands insurance company Centraal Beheer is an excellent case in point. A nerdy French street cop discovers, via walkie-talkie, that guys wearing clown masks are robbing the local bank. He immediately accosts a driver and passengers on the street, requisitions their car and races along Parisian streets toward the bank. As he flies along, the camera subtly glances over his shoulder to reveal clown masks on the back seat. “The story of a Parisian cop who steals the wrong car and thinks he’s a hero, but he’s not,” laughs van Heijningen. “To identify with him I added some of those little, simple things, like him talking to the flower girl at the beginning of the spot before he runs off to save the day. Saying the flowers look nice means he talks to her every single day.”
When shaping his work, van Heijningen often works alongside editor Jono Griffith. A trusted ally, the two have worked together on projects for more than a decade. “We [grew] up together and have the same sense of style and humour,” says van Heijningen. “He knows why I shoot something in a certain way. Plus, he offers creative suggestions because he understands my language as a director. Finding the music, the rhythm and everything else with someone new is always extremely difficult.”
Between MJZ’s offices in London and Paris production house Soixan7e Quin5e, van Heijningen keeps busy, eyeing boards and pondering the future. For now he is content to nestle close to European business, but he’s keeping his eye on the American film and commercials market.
As for his next feature, horror seems to have hooked its scaly claws into him: “I’m drawn into stories that start normally then descend into something weird,” explains van Heijningen. “That’s why I’m drawn to directors such as Roman Polanski and his films like Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion, where everything slowly goes into this other weird dimension. Maybe my next project will be something like Polanski’s, with dark humour and some deliciously dark comedy. Something like American Werewolf in London, which is, in a way, just a weird story about love and friendship wrapped in a crazy horror movie.”
Whatever it is, van Heijningen’s many fans will be sure to be watching…
STITCH editor Leo King worked closely with Partizan director Michael Geoghegan to create “Homeless Polar Bear.” It’s a melancholic tale that embodies the Greenpeace spirit in a powerful way, directly comparing the plight of an Arctic polar bear to that of a lonesome, homeless one in the streets of England.
The powerful spot also features music by iconic Brit boys Radiohead who allowed Greenpeace to use “Everything in its Right Place” free of charge, the song further tuning us in to the plight of the female beauty wandering the landscape.
Jude Law also puts in free time, flowing eloquent in hushed tones at the end of the sad spot, stating:
As the Arctic melts, the rush to exploit its resources is starting. No one will listen to her; but they’ll listen to you. Join the movement, save the Arctic…
See the spot here: