Global Pharma vs Airfix kits

The received wisdom in the creative industry is to always present and showcase your work like it is The Best Thing Ever. To tell how you Nailed The Brief. And certainly never let on that you aren’t The Master of All Things.

 This isn’t one of those types of case studies, or one of those pieces of work. At the end of this project in 2018, this was a film I wanted to bitterly bury and forget.

But in recent months I’ve been reflecting on this in a different way, and how my filmmaking and creative work is a lot like building Airfix (and the many other brands!) model kits when I was younger.

Airfix’ new Wellington bomber kit released last year is getting rave reviews by modellers and maybe one day I’ll build one. But I do remind myself not to get carried away by the perfection of the finished one in the PR shots!

The sense of excitement at the beginning – so many parts to consider, but the anticipation of something superb waiting to be made real. The sense of achievement when getting fiddly bits to fit. The sense of breaking the rules by coming up with your own spin on the default paint scheme. Yet somehow at the end the final result is disappointing.

Like some of my Airfix kits, the final result of this film was a disappointment. But now, I’m celebrating the experience and what I brought to the process.

This 30-minute internal corporate film was aimed at creating excitement and pride across the Roche global network. It showcased the launch of a revolutionary Multiple-Sclerosis patient-data-gathering app, data-sharing network, and the international talent behind it all.

From what was a one-day freelance gig working on a storyboard, my responsibilities suddenly exploded into devising an entire narrative (the client brief was ‘cinematic’, which I interpreted as wanting a storytelling arc and characters – but actually they meant…lens flares) and directing creative and crew in Switzerland and London. I worked with a talented young DOP, devising b-roll sequences on the fly, wrangling locations, and operating a camera and sound as well.

In the London phase I directed an actress in a strange faux observational-documentary setup complete with a ‘race across town’ storyline, taking a quirky little dog to the vet, and edited a ‘cinematic’ title sequence.

With all the proprietary information in it, I can’t show the final film in the public sphere anyway, but here are few moments of highlights showcasing the human engagement I was able to bring to this piece.

Unfortunately when it came to post production, “the wheels fell off”. And like wheels on a model plane, you can never glue them back on quite right again.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty or pointing fingers, but it was certainly a sound lesson in the pitfalls of trying to be all things to all people – while I was spending weekends on paper edits and obsessing about the narrative, the VFX guy was off on an unsupervised tangent. The creative industry is littered with the ‘Embrace Failure’ trope, which is great in theory, but you can’t put failure in your portfolio.

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But looking at it all in hindsight, I’m realising – and valuing – not just what I brought to the production process, and the human connection I was able to infuse into the film.

At heart this was a typical ‘talking heads’ piece. But I knew if an audience would engage with thirty minutes of people talking, if they got to know those people first. Instead of launching straight into the corporate content, we ‘meet’ each of the contributors first and find out who they are as people.

It’s a classic documentary trick to interview people while they’re doing something to elicit more genuine and spontaneous answers.

So not only did we shoot b-roll of the Roche executives on the move (a great synergy with MS issues) but I interviewed them literally on the move too. Driving was an easy one. For Johan and Shibeshih I ran alongside them ‘simply having a chat’ (trying to ignore the DOP also desperately following with his camera on a gimbal). This approach was also briefed in and duplicated by a local team for the San-Francisco-based interview.

Estelle however was the most fun. Filming her riding and talking in the beautiful rural outskirts of Basel was a start, but to get that proper intimate interview connection, I went riding off into the countryside with her, the radio mic on her beaming our conversation into the audio recorder in my backpack.

One day I imagine I will get back into making model planes. And like creative direction and filmmaking, I think I will be able to approach it with a much wiser viewpoint.

Montages and Voxpops

Late last year I worked on two pieces of film that came from very different industries, but were connected by a sort of ‘yin and yang’ vibe.

My friend and collaborator Riccardo Sai and his agency Mesago created two films showcasing the work of SaniService in Albania. The original brief was to write a voiceover and create some title graphics for a classic montage style corporate film.

But apart from finding myself taking on a strategist/account director niche to dig up the core insights and a strategy, I realised that the film really needed to hear from the people in Albania to engage audiences in Albania – seeing and hearing from the hospital staff, brought a human touch to what would have been a sterile (!) corporate montage.

There were two versions, a full-length B2B film and a shorter consumer-facing 60 second version, as here

Meanwhile in London, I directed and edited the first ‘showreel’ for Digital Leadership Forum. I knew from shooting stills for several of their events that there was a great vibe waiting to be captured. But their existing video content, via a quid pro quo with a digital content agency (who provided the camera operator), wasjust simple voxpops for social media bursts.

So my proposal was the inverse of SaniService – bring in the montages and tell a visual story, not just a verbal one.

Kit-geek note: It might be of interest to some to compare the looks – the SaniService was shot on a Canon C300, and DLF on a Sony FS7.

Behind the behind the Scenes

I’ve always been a fan of behind-the-scenes, and last year had a couple of opportunities to shoot and edit some for two very different brands. Although not on the same scale as the actual productions, creating good ‘BTS’ films with any substance is no quick and dirty job – as much thought and passion goes into these edits as anything else I work on.

For Earl Films, the brief was to showcase the complexities of talent, technical ability and time involved in creating a slick piece aimed at healthcare professionals in the eyecare sector. Shooting with a 5D in such a well-lit, roomy studio created mostly nice-to-have challenges of how to choose from lots of good shots, and keep the film short.

For London PR giant The PHA Group, the brief was to provide social media content to pique the interest of fans of ‘influencer’ and model Erin McNaught and tease the launch of the Link Nutrition range in the UK.

For this shoot I rented a small Canon XA35 ‘Handycam’ style camera to avoid the faffing around with lenses and rigs. Although the difference in image clarity from my usual camera choice was a little disappointing, being able to squeeze around all the goings-on in a really fast-paced day was invaluable and the final films were still really well received.

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.

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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.