Remote control merchandise

I’ve volunteered professionally for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand for over 7 years now. While a large part of my work has been driving the expat vote from the UK (read more here), being on the Fundraising & Marketing Committee, both while in NZ and remotely from the UK, has given me quite an input into the brand itself. The most recent and most visible sign of this has been bringing a fresh approach and agency-style thinking to merchandise.

Although it has had its moments, typically Green Party ‘merch’ over the years has mostly been a default of slapping the logo onto bog-standard items like T shirts. To engage members and the wider public supporters (who often don’t want to be just a walking billboard), I knew we could do better.

Every item in the 2019 range has relevance, usefulness, and originality, as well as a step up in design thinking.

heart green party - final - big dots.jpg

I commissioned, briefed and art-directed Wellington illustrators Kemi & Niko to create a design that has a genuine ethos, but is flexible to work across different items with different printing restrictions. Each of the illustrated objects has a connection not just to New Zealand, but to Green values like clean energy and better public transport.

There’s so much that can be accomplished from 22,000km away. Artworking the files for suppliers, briefing a local photographer, and just as importantly, collaborating with other members of the FunMark committee on a social media campaign, and an overhaul of the online store – switching from a clunky embedded format on the Drupal-based Greens site, to its best Shopify glory.

As a side project to this main merchandise design project, I have been really pleased to create a new cross-brand collaboration. In 2016 I helped the Greens partner with Peoples Coffee to launch The Green Party Blend. In 2018 it occurred to me – we’re the Green Party, why don’t we have a Green Tea? So again from my desk in Brighton I connected with another ethical NZ brand, Ritual Tea Co., and launched The Green Green Tea (the product of no small amount of product name thinking!)

Although working remotely and the limitations of NZ printers and suppliers compared to the UK had its frustrations, this has all turned out pretty well. Even before we hit the new year the water bottles had already sold out and other items are really low on stock. So the stage is set for not only another run but using the illustration in fresh new ways, on fresh new items.

A drop in the ocean

Here's a short little piece I played cameraman on a couple of months ago, for Brighton agency Very Tall and their client Red Bull Amaphiko.

The original brief was to take some elderly gents with dementia out for a sail and film them having a very nautical good time. But sadly the weather was too rough for them.

However a backup idea was to still go out for a journey beforehand, to at least get some footage at sea, with just the crew and myself.

I would have been literally tethered to the deck, pointing a GoPro into the face of the weather gods. I was super excited and ready for action! But the wind was so strong they couldn't even get the boat away from the pontoon.

So in the end it was simply filming the old boys enjoying tea and tying knots on the boat bobbing about in the marina (still a tricky task getting a steady shot). Nevertheless, it was a really enjoyable experience firstly seeing the positive effect on them from even sitting on the boat, and secondly meeting and spending time with the crew and volunteers of the Sail Boat Project.

Watch the original post on the Red Bull Amaphiko Facebook channel, here.

Big ideas and small ads

If you’ve been on the ‘creative’ page you will have seen the TSB Bank Flying Lesson TV commercial. It’s one my favourite pieces of my career. But it’s not the only work from this incredibly prolific time working on TSB Bank, and a recent chat with a filmmaker made me think, why not put the rest online.

The entire campaign was founded on a core idea of “You wouldn’t expect this from <insert service>, why put up with it from your bank”, pioneered by the CD at Auckland agency Sugar. While I was at Sugar another two campaigns were needed, still based around the core idea but with the flexibility to also work as retail ads – introducing nuances in the concept and voiceover, and a tasteful bit of negative space in the final frame for home loan rates.

‘Wedding’ is the companion piece to ‘‘Flying Lesson”, and just as beautifully created by Silverscreen, one of New Zealand’s top production houses (sadly no longer with us). Friends have said they can ‘hear’ me in the script and how the celebrant speaks.

But there’s more. I haven’t shown most of these in recent times as they’re showing their age – being the tail end of the 4x3 format era, but also only on file in a measly pixel size file, the best I could get hold of at the time (grizzled TV producer 1, midweight agency creative, nil).

Nevertheless the ideas still stand up (and will look fine on a phone!)

A bonus creative opportunity came up with this tactical piece, which features some pretty good CGI for the era. TSB Bank ruled the roost for their customer service and a fairly budget press ad to publicise their latest ratings, featuring balloons in the different bank brand colours quickly, er, ballooned, into a TVC. One of the most memorable experiences in this production was the sound design – playing with balloons in a sound studio and getting paid for it is always a good day on the job.

A shout out to my old copywriter partner Grant (now a video editor in Sydney) for the fun times working on these classic pieces of advertising job-satisfaction.

Working out

Hot off the social feed are two pieces of content I shot and edited for my local fitness and yoga centre, Energy for Life.

Having been part of the functional fitness, calisthenics and yoga classes at EFL for the past year gave me a great insight into not only what exercises and postures to capture, but an understanding of the special community vibe that makes EFL more than just a ‘gym’.

Having said that, it was certainly full of challenges and a learning experiences, from shooting in odd lighting and colour temperature conditions to editing for the blink-and-they’ve-scrolled-on Facebook ad environment.

Some of the best clips are yet to see the light of day, but I have no doubt that if I hadn’t shot so much it would have been much more difficult to cover the breadth of demographic, skill level, and activities in the two Facebook ads, targeted at male and female audiences.

On a lighter note, I enjoyed shooting a range of stills across two different classes, capturing some genuine human moments.

Portfolio B: Cork

As a creative, there are often a lot of smaller projects that were fun or came out really nicely, but are too small or too niche to have a place in your main portfolio. I’ve recently been digging through my archives and decided to bring some of these unsung favourites – my Portfolio B – out to see the light of day.

Don’t tell my younger, TVC-stars-in-his-eyes self, but I do quite like a good bit of DM (direct mail).

This giant-scale champagne cork was sent out to invite clients to the opening of Langland’s new agency space in Windsor. Big space, big party! Apart from having time and budget to examine and emulate the (crappy) nuances of champagne cork typography, one of the pleasures was seeing it made from proper cork, thanks to the diligence of the production manager finding an artisan cork craftsman in Scotland. That is, after playing bullish creative and insisting that no, it couldn’t be made from polystyrene (!).

Portfolio B: Australian National Security

As a creative, there are often a lot of smaller projects that were fun or came out really nicely, but are too small or too niche to have a place in your main portfolio. I’ve recently been digging through my archives and decided to bring some of these unsung favourites – my Portfolio B – out to see the light of day.

I have a lot of trade ads under my belt, but while freelancing at Wave Advertising in New Zealand, this one took ‘niche’ to a new level.

The brief was get the attention of top-level Australian defence and government staff and get them to consider Gallagher’s high-end intruder alarm monitoring system for their highest-security installations. Gallagher’s visual house style had a precedent of the illustrative ‘mini-chunk-of-world’ style of visual, so I proposed depicting the whole country purely made of national security infrastructure – power stations, radar & satellite installations, military assets, and all the support bits and bobs around it (I would have loved to add even more detail but there's only so much you push your weight around as a freelancer!


It was a fascinating bit of research and an exercise in detail and credibility – right down to drawing a runway from scratch in Adobe Illustrator and choosing to show the Boeing E7A Wedgetail electronic warfare plane, instead of a more obvious F/A-18 fighter (luckily, and unusually, a 3D software model of the E7A was available to buy, complete with RAAF markings!).

The in-house team at Wave did a great job putting this together in 3D, and though it only ran as an eDM and a print ad, it’s another nice little addition to my Portfolio B.

A farewell, and the transitory nature of talent

I recently learned that Jack Butcher, the 'talent' of my self-shot personal film Tea and Spitfires, passed away aged 95. Of course nobody lives forever, and as his daughter said it was the classic “great innings”, but it’s still a reflective moment for me.

It’s a filmmaking fundamental that for the most genuine interviews, you need to get to know the people in front of your camera. The director of Virunga once advised me: “Lots of cups of tea”.I certainly lived up to that in the production with Jack – despite not being a fan of tea!

Three extra clips from the 'cutting room floor'. Watch the full film here

But when you’re interviewing the elderly and/or those with terminal illnesses, as I’ve also done for various healthcare-agency pieces, getting to know your ‘participant’ can be a bit of an emotional booby-trap.

In this piece Pete says he hopes to make it another five years. That was in 2012.

So every time I show a film like this as part of my portfolio, or a case study, I find myself reflecting on whether they are still around or not.

I can only hope that the content I’ve created over the last few years for various pharmaceutical brands and programmes continues to help and inform others. Though given my personal experiences in 2016, it's a relief in a way not to have done any work recently about cancer.

But at least I do know for a fact that my film with Jack made a difference to him and to his family (I also gave them a DVD with all 3+ hours of interview), plus all these stories that would have been lost in time are now on file in the Royal Air Force Museum. So in a way, Jack lives on.

Tally ho.

Two art directors at a bus stop

For me, photography has mainly been a mix of luck, compulsion, and serendipitous light.

Picking up knowledge from night courses and my personal work has helped me collaborate better with commercial photographers, but also have a healthy understanding of the gulf between my skills and those of the top professionals especially in constructed scenes. But this year I've had a quick challenging dip into that world, to help out an agency and an excellent cause.

Nightstop is an initiative by the charity DePaul UK, that provides emergency overnight accommodation in 30 locations around the UK for young homeless people who are facing the night on the streets, or sleeping in unsafe places.

DePaul's ad agency, 11London, who I’d only just met to show off my portfolio the previous week, asked if I could shoot the images for the latest Nightstop social media campaign:

(me) “Um, you mean art direct it with a commercial photographer?”

(agency) “No we have an art director; we need someone [affordable] with a good eye and a sense of humanity behind the camera.”

I could understand the situation. As an agency you always want to make your work look top-end. But when it’s a charity client with a typical shoestring budget and the images will mostly be seen a few hundred pixels wide, wedged between status updates and cat videos, it’s hard to justify all the bells and whistles and Hasselblads that come with a ‘proper’ photo shoot.

For these bleak suburban compositions in the dark of night, I knew I’d need some sort of lighting. Flash photography isn’t my forté, but drawing on my video experience, renting a good LED light panel, backed up by my own small lights, made all the difference.

Working with 11London’s art director Dave Hobbs was a pleasure (and an interesting experience being on the other side of the art-director/photographer relationship), and allowed me to concentrate on the gear and the compositions while he wrangled the shivering teenage actors and many scene iterations against a finite few hours of the evening.

As you see here the actual ads had to be a far tighter crop for the headline to be readable. But with the low light a prime lens was a must, and the combination of my fastest lens being only 35mm and the annoying necessity of having to be on the other side of the road to not get run over by a bus, I had to capture a much wider scene than seemingly needed. While that's useful from an art direction perspective to have plenty of flexibility for cropping, I quite like how the full images have a chiascuro, Edward Hopper-like potential.

There wasn’t budget for pro retouching, and Dave’s priority was the crop for the ads, so I’ve had a play at bringing the best out of two of the shots, purely as pieces of photography. It’s tricky getting night-time to look plausible, yet moody. Even these carefully tweaked versions can look subtly detailed, or bluntly jet-black, depending on the ambient light they're viewed in and the angle of the screen.

The teenage actors weren’t professionals but with Dave's direction they did a great job, so I took a few moments to grab their performances with a longer lens. I also love the fun, painterly sort of feel of this random mid-shoot moment.

In retrospect there are lots of things I’d do differently and some elements I just don’t have the retouching expertise to fix, but for my first night shoot, I’m pretty damn pleased.

Kit and settings

EOS 5D MkII shooting RAW / Sigma Art Series 35mm f1.4 / Manfrotto 055 tripod with 3-way head / ISO 640 / f2.2 @ 1/30 sec (more or less) / F&V K4000S 1 ft square LED panel / Neewer CN-160 LED camera top-light / Sony CLM-V55 video monitor








Portfolio B: Privigen

As a creative, there are often a lot of smaller projects that were fun or came out really nicely, but are too small or too niche to have a place in your main portfolio. I’ve recently been digging through my archives and decided to bring some of these unsung favourites – my Portfolio B – out to see the light of day.

This niche-healthcare-professional print campaign was such a dense technical brief, I was lucky I had my science-trained copywriter Harry (who even had a stick-and-ball molecule model in his desk) to share the load. 

The joy for me came in the immaculate still-life studio photography, using bespoke resin models and the excellent craft of still-life photographer Andy Rudak, plus a little polish in retouch.

These days it would probably be done in CGI – and probably look much the same and do the same job. But for me this process was a microcosm of what’s enjoyable about working in advertising (and becoming increasingly undervalued) – teamwork, craft, and pride in the work.

Portfolio B: New Zealand Certified Builders

As a creative, there are often a lot of smaller projects that were fun or came out really nicely, but are too small or too niche to have a place in your main portfolio. I’ve recently been digging through my archives and decided to bring some of these unsung favourites – my Portfolio B – out to see the light of day.

While freelancing at the agency Wave in 2016, I worked on TVC concepts for the re-branding of New Zealand Certified Builders association.  With this 15-second teaser ad, the challenge was how to make a change of logo visually interesting and feel relevant to both ‘the trade’ and consumers.  

I moved on to take up my role as CD at Essence before I had a chance to be part of the shoot, so it was a nice surprise to see it pop up on TV a few months later, more or less exactly as I’d written and storyboarded. It’s mildly disappointing to spot that the nail gun isn’t actually firing – there are no nails visible at the end– but overall it’s a fun little piece of art-direction-driven creative I’m pleased to have in my Portfolio B.

Music and pictures

In 2017 I toured Europe with NZ Green Party international candidate) Bridget Walsh, hosting pop-up events to encourage expat kiwis to vote in the 2017 New Zealand election. Bridget got used to having my camera in her face, so late last year when the election dust was well settled and we’d resumed our ‘normal’ lives, I took up an invitation to film and edit the maiden live show of her latest songs and brand new band.

I’ve never shot a music gig before, but it was a challenge worth taking. Firstly of course for the filmmaking experience, and secondly to help out Bridget, who had put her music career on hold for many months while championing a change for good in our home country of Aotearoa.

Having at least two camera angles was a given, so thankfully I was able to borrow a second DSLR and utilise Bridget’s GoPro. But all the planning and thinking and widgets can only go so far when the music starts, when you never know quite where or how your main subject will be standing, let alone what the lighting might be doing next.

In some ways it was like observational documentary shooting – capturing the action as best I could as it unrolled in front of me at a furious pace with no setups, no reshoots, no time for hesitation.

My 7D on a tripod at the back of the room captured the essential wide shot, but also meant that I had to lurk in the shadows with the 5D (held arm-achingly aloft on a monopod) to avoid appearing in my own shot – not to mention getting in the way of the audience’s enjoyment of the show.

Post-production was another good learning experience. The ‘promo reel’ is effectively a B2B tool; so the challenge was cutting down and cutting between multiple songs to create something short but with enough content to enthuse promoters. Craft-wise there were tricky moments like getting to grips with the nuances of where to cut a bass riff. Bridget’s ear for (cutting out) moments when things sounded off-key was an eye-opener (er, ear-opener?) – it all sounded great to me!

Editing individual songs was a separate mindset again. The edit of 'Pockets' is not a music video as such, but I brought in as much visual sparkle as possible to try and make it more than just a straight capture of the performance. They’re a fun band to be around, so some behind-the-scenes glimpses from the rehearsal helped add some fun, and break things up visually.

Filming gigs isn’t something I plan to make a habit of, but it was a buzz hanging with the band, pushing the envelope of my editing skills, and gratifying to support great original music.

If you’re in or near London, you can see Bridget live next Friday, 26 February, as part of this launch gig. (Click here for tickets)

Otherwise check out her web page for other upcoming gigs, and her numerous social channels @missbdwalsh. Plus if you’re a musician or artist, take a look at, Bridget's pioneering global online community.



A creative hack

This brief was one of those tricky balancing acts. Ironically for a digital product, it was a completely analogue piece of creative – but one that became a lovely opportunity to do some good old-fashioned print craft.


(Note: this work was done while I was CD at Essence the health agency in Auckland, New Zealand, and I have since moved to the UK – but it's still relatively new work!)

Global pharmaceutical company Novartis created Living Like You, a website designed to support people with Multiple Sclerosis. The New Zealand office was keen to promote this site to New Zealand patients, but had no budget or local infrastructure for digital, or a targeted brief.

The site itself has a variety of functionality and features, so the first challenge was how to convey all of them in a paper-based execution. The solution was classic advertising simplicity – just don’t! Zeroing in on a single aspect of the offering was the best way to drive a clear conceptual route.

Or to put it another way, stop stressing about how to say everything, and concentrate on saying one thing well.

This was a great internal reminder to myself at the time, too. It’s easy to let the ‘noise’ of being a creative director get in the way of actually thinking about the creative.

That one thing was the MS Life Hacks series – 365 tips, tricks and tools to help the day-to-day challenge of the disease just that little bit easier. Some are quirky, some are obvious, but it’s simple, quick and engaging. Plus an easy way to open the door for audiences to delve into the rest of the site’s content.

Turning clickable page elements into some form of engaging print was simple, in retrospect.


You can give them out in packs, put them on a rack at clinics, put them in tote bags at conferences…and obviously, send them to someone in the post.

Seen in isolation from the site, the functional photography used to depict each Life Hack would have been uninspiring. So the second solution was to use illustration. I’ve worked on MS-related briefs on both sides of the planet now and it’s always so damned earnest, if not bleak. It’s a terrible condition to live with, but people are people and they’re bigger than their disease. So I thought they deserved, and would appreciate, a little joy.

This is where the process really became collaboration, not just commerce. Illustrator Natasha Vermuelen not only brought her unique whimsical drawing style, charm and character to the project, but also her own ideas, with a level of openness, initiative and input that I really treasured as an art director.

If you’re putting lotion on your back, well of course you need to have a crab to hold the bottle!

 As an art director / creative director, you know things are going well when you get shown great work that you know you wouldn’t have come up with yourself. Or wish you had!

As usual I poked the client to make this a grander affair, with digital competitions and installations and beyond (all depicted with one of my infamous flow diagrams), but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, to have gotten three immaculate – and more notably, especially in the healthcare niche, fun ­– illustrations executed and out there (on an eco-friendly stock, of course) was gratifying.

From what I heard before I left New Zealand, the community nurses (always the best barometer of tone of voice for healthcare patient communications) who had been given the packs to then dispense to their patients were really, really pleased.

From a conceptual and art direction aspect, this has been my favourite piece of work from my time at Essence.

Shooting from the past

Last year after my sister Natalie died, I discovered what I believe was one of my father's old (1970s) cameras – hidden away in his old writing desk which had been at my sister's place since he died in 2007.

Dad was an avid photographer but curiously never ever encouraged me to try it or imparted any advice when I did get into it later in life. So there was something really poignant about this find and I decided to shoot a roll of black & white film to see if it still worked.

Photographers always say there's something intangibly special and authentic about film photography, especially with the imperfections of vintage lenses. I haven't really shot film since 2003, and I do enjoy the precision of my DLSR, but I had to see if this old camera would be a pain or a joy. 

It turned out to be both.

Supposedly the Canonet has an auto mode, but I'll be damned if I can fathom how it's supposed to work, even with an old manual off the internet to help. The focusing is rudimental and quite hit-and-miss depending on the subject. The grubby and blurry viewfinder shows an exposure meter with a needle that waves around seemingly at random (when it's visible at all).

In the end I gave up on that and downloaded a light meter app for my phone, which makes for a two-step process, but is a lot less bewildering. It's certainly not a camera for situations needing a quick reaction.

But after getting my first roll of film developed this week, I've been pleased to feel that it was worth it, and worth continuing. There's only 7 shots of the 24 that are decent, but those show a lovely result. I used to shoot black and white film with my old Pentax MZ50 SLR (until it went for a swim in Wanganui river in 2003, forcing in the digital era for me) but those never had the sort of feel that these Canonet shots do. All these shots are straight from the camera too, no Photoshop involved.

The most obvious specific difference between this and digital photography is when shooting for a shallow depth of field – DSLRs have a noticeable 'band' of sharpness, but with the Canonet a shallow depth of field feels incredibly gradual and organic – compare these two shots…(click them to expand)

So there's film grain, natural vignetting and things like that which add to the character of the photographs,  but beyond all those tangible, specific qualities, that "special something" is really apparent.

At NZ$50 just to develop and scan b&w film, this won't be something I shoot with every day, that's for sure, but there's definitely an active life in store again for my dad's camera, decades after he last used it.


The agency Christmas Card

One of the most dreaded briefs for any creative is the agency Christmas Card. 2016* was no exception but in the end I was able to rustle up a little visual that I thought expressed the reality of Christmas for most of us in any sort of corporate world, without any need for the cliche of tinsel, or indeed the fast-becoming-a-cliche New Zealand Pohutukawa flower.

*the lead-up to Christmas was so intense that it's taken me til 2017 to find the will to blog about it!

Māori Language for Londoners

I've never really celebrated Māori Language Week before, but the beginning of this 2016 one means the culmination of a big personal effort, creating and producing a campaign of online films for Kiwi Greens UK, the London branch of the New Zealand Green Party.

Te Reo for London (#ReoRānana) is aimed at New Zealanders living in London. It was inspired by a mixture of the language podcasts I used to listen to before heading to European holidays, and the experience of being surrounded by so many other languages in London – and feeling a bit left out, thinking it would be great to know a bit more of New Zealand's second language.

So in conjunction with the team in London I've spent quite a few weeks planning, shooting, and, editing, plus creating all the design and social media blitz to go with it.

The aim was to find phrases that were relevant and useful, but also have a sense of irony and humour, which is a real challenge to get right.

While it might seem like bad timing with the post-Brexit surge of xenophobia and racism, even for just speaking other languages, the team in London and I agreed that it's even more relevant for Kiwis in the UK to embrace the diversity of their origins. 

Read some more about the project on the Kiwi Greens UK blog post. The films will be released each morning until Sunday (UK time) so you can either follow the Kiwi Greens UK Facebook page or Twitter (@KiwiGreensUK), or just go direct to the Vimeo channel.

Hard work and pagination

I've recently heard that a Hepatitis C patient support programme I worked on in 2014 has won a silver at the PM Society awards in London. Myself and a diligent design team spent many hours striving to create a huge suite of magazines and mailers that would be the opposite of the patronising and cliche work often seen in this niche, with a genuine voice and a strong design aesthetic. And, doing it all using only Getty stock shots, yet still looking plausibly UK-centric and down to earth.

The PM awards are no D&AD pencil of course, but unlike a pure design or creativity award, this suite of print materials has been judged on tangible (positive) effect on people's lives, which is certainly a 'win' and something I'm pleased to have played a key role in.

Tea and Spitfires

Thousands of fighter pilots flew in World War 2. But this one lived in my street.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve met and talked to someone and thought ‘this could make a good documentary’. But when I discovered I had an amiable and able-bodied ex-Spitfire pilot living just 10 doors down from my flat in London, I felt like I had an obligation to make a film about him. An obligation to take advantage of the filmmaking opportunity dropped in my lap; and an obligation to capture the history of someone who was part of World War 2, while he’s still around.

The journey from chat in the street to finished film has been a huge learning curve about the pitfalls of personal projects and procrastination. But now here it is; finished at last.

The first commandment of documentary is "Story”, but I felt if I did the usual route of top-line research and developing a shooting script, I could lose that raw first-time-told quality. So I went in ‘cold’ with camera in hand. But despite hours of interviewing and many cups of tea, a narrative hook never emerged.

Jack had many, many quirky experiences and close escapes, but seemingly went through the war without a single traumatic experience.

Showing an initial cut of the film in a film festival workshop, I was told to bring out the tears and the horror of war. Make the audience feel his pain. But as far as I could tell,* he simply doesn’t have any!

This makes Jack an intriguing character in his own way of course, but it set me on a kind of procrastination and perfectionism loop. With corporate films there is always a brief and a purpose, not to mention a deadline. With this project lacking any obvious narrative, yet laden with hours of intriguing – but disconnected – anecdotes, I wrestled with the balance of doing justice to Jack’s story, yet making something short and watchable for the average (non-aviation-buff) viewer. In the end, I believe I've struck that balance well but it's been far too long a road. Thankfully, Jack, now aged 93, is still around see his final film (and just before I left the UK, seemed as full of life as the day I met him).

I had many positive experiences making this film too of course. From a producing aspect, orchestrating a flight with the North London Flying School at the same airfield where Jack flew in the war was a great bit of visual content. Being given stills and footage from the RAF Museum archives (instead of ripping from YouTube) has made the film something that I know has been done properly and professionally.

As a director, I’ve learned the hard way about the reality of self-shooting: simultaneously maintaining your personal connection with the interviewee, listening for themes and plotting the next question in your mind, and keeping an eye on the camera, lighting, and audio.

And from a personal point of view, it’s gratifying to know I gave an old pilot a chance to take to the air again and tell his stories. I'm an aviation buff myself, and Jack and I shared a mutual affection for the Wellington bomber – which he eventually got to fly after the war, albeit an unarmed version just for training navigators.

I must say a big thank you to my friends and flatmates for all the encouragement and patience, and especially to fellow filmmaker Dagmara, who helped with logistics and camerawork on the day of Jack’s flight.

Lastly, like any film release these days, I’ve also put together a few extra clips that didn’t make the final cut – great little stories in their own right. Tally Ho!



Of course this could be ‘stiff upper lip’ or the reluctance of his generation to open up, but as far as I could tell from multiple interviews, two trips to the airfield and many, many cups of tea, this really is Jack’s nature.

If you know your planes, you may notice that there are shots of various different models of Spitfire and different markings/eras. As a fan of aviation, and accuracy, it was a compromise I had to simply endure because of the limited archive footage available. However at least in the clip at 01:12, the aircraft are Mark V Spitfires – just like Jack flew.

Panshanger Aerodrome sadly was sold off to property developers after making this film; so I feel doubly privileged to have captured a bit of history of that place, too. North London Flying School is still going however, operating from a new airfield.




Molecular harmony

In 2010 I art-directed a medical animation which (and I say with genuine modesty) set a precedent for creativity in the pharmaceutical ‘mode of action video’ niche. 

So when I had two opportunities to concept and art direct new films of this type, I was dead keen. While the first, an 80’s-top-scrolling-arcade-game concept, fell by the wayside as the client redefined their brief, the second has finally come to fruition, all lovingly (and patiently – with my ruthless attention to detail and torrents of references) brought to life by my frequent collaborative partners, Finger Industries in Sheffield.

As with my original mode of action film mentioned above, the brief was to show doctors how a new drug works in a clear and compelling way while being accurate with the science – and in this case, in only 2 minutes. Similarly there was again a very conceptual challenge involved, to visualise enzymes and chemicals as tangible objects that move and interact. However with this product an even greater level of precision was needed to satisfy the clients in Japan (the first launch market for this global piece) – who despite their nation’s reputation for crazy advertising, found a conceptual approach harder to swallow without pinpoint scientific accuracy.

With this film I’ve certainly cemented two opinions: that these ‘mode of action’ films can be creatively rewarding, but that the development and animation process is not one that can be rushed or done on the cheap.

Gorillas need all the friends – and filmmakers – they can get.

The Monday after I had finished a six month contract at Hive, my phone rang and Tim from Earl Productions asked "would you be interested in helping out on some films with Bill Oddie* and an animatronic gorilla?"

Hmm, so a mixture of offbeat filmmaking, working with an actor from my childhood TV world, and the ultimate aim of helping promote wildlife conservation? I'm in.

A few months later and here is the result.

* Bill occupied a special niche in my early childhood with his oddball 70s TV series, The Goodies

While the core idea and several scripts were already established, I was able to contribute art direction, graphic design and typography, copywriting, and some broader strategic wisdom from my years in ad agencies. Plus of course helping shoulder the considerable load of production workload, which on a pro-bono project (where everyone is juggling their own need-to-pay-the-bills jobs at the same time), is also really valuable.

On top of that though I was really pleased to contribute a fourth script. Run fits with the main campaign but works in a more tactical way, with the aim of recruiting people for the Gorilla Organization's annual fundraising fun run.

The 'Toby and Hilary' films approach the gorilla conservation message from a different angle than the usual earnest pleading charity ads. With great documentaries such as Virunga out there to educate on the plight of gorillas, and a never-ending stream of worthy causes coming at the public every day, we hope a humourous and offbeat approach will help create cut-through, plus engage a different sort of audience. A continuing challenge is utilising social media effectively to maximise views, without any budget for that either.

Being part of making these films was a hard-working but gratifying experience, and illuminating to see the advantages and pitfalls of a 'flat' pro-bono structure, where there is absolutely no money involved and nobody ultimately calling the shots: an odd blend of democracy and compromise.

With some cunning networking from producer Tim Earl, we even got cutdown silent versions of the ads onto big screens in Westfield Shopping centre in Stratford, East London.

The final films are a testament to how a plethora of people (and companies) can be convinced to contribute their time for free, when the idea is interesting, and the cause is worthy.

Check out the campaign microsite to see all the films and find out how you could help this important species survive. Plus a shout out to my collaborators Riccardo, Toby, Tim and Tom.