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 pharma company’s 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.

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.

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 the two who liked running, I jogged alongside them ‘simply having a chat’ (trying to ignore the DOP also desperately following with his camera on a gimbal).

The cyclist 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.