... or how I made a series of ads in a very reasonable amount of time and loved every minute of it.
It's pretty safe to say that this post is long over due [what's 25 weeks in internet years?], but it feels fitting as what I'm writing about made it's way onto the airwaves the other night.
As you may know, these types of posts have become a bit of normal on this Scrapbook [See here and of course here]. You see, I love doing a funny, odd piece of work and then finding the time to write a 10-page dissertation about the trials and tribulations of the entire experience - it's part of my cathartic process. Luckily the viewing numbers are up - I’m aiming for a solid audience of 3-4 people this time round and a comment would put me over the edge ... BOOM💥 !
Ultimately, what’s different about this long winded post and, ultimately, the job I’ll consistently reference is the fact that it was an actual gig, with actual people, who actually got paid … including yours truly.
Sidebar:I'm loving my new 24k gold chains, paying for a 2nd class stamp with a fifty-pound note and the perfectly chilled Champagne in my organic hand harvested Frosted Flakes.
This was actually my second project with the super-cool kids over at Mindseye. It goes without saying that this outfit and their roster of directors are seriously off the chain … if you haven't seen their wares I suggest you take a moment and have a solid laugh.
Anyway, that's enough of a prelude ... it's time to put on some music, sit back and enjoy the show.
I'll start at the beginning as it seems to be the logical place to start.
It was a very typical London day [it was probably raining or at the very least overcast] ... I was in the middle of another smaller project with Mindseye. A shoestring budget, and my penchant for creativity, forced me to play Sushi chef with an x-acto knife - you can enjoy my knife skills here.
Please note:My hands have never fully recovered.
Anyway, Hughie [Mindseye MD] provided some respite when he dragged me down to his 'den' of an office [it has bookshelf wallpaper, a portrait of a hamlet like figure and I'm sure I saw a smoking chair in there - he's a classy guy] ... anyway he showed me the printed version of this:
My first taste of the Unshackled.com 100% yellow ...
... the Parrot of Truth ...
... and of course Vinny.
These are just the first three pages, but the following 12 pages read like a crazy bee-inspired dream come true. It felt as if the creatives had tapped into my YouTube browsing history, it's a bit scary, and pasted it into this fairly well-designed document.
But what the heck is Unshackled.com you ask? Good question. Join the club cause at this point I still didn't quite understand what it was either.
The brief was a starting point and it had me dancing in my chair ... but for those who know me, I played it cool [phiff ... hardly].
It pretty much went down something like this:
Hughie: The budget is a bit tight, but you interested?
Moi: [I'll leave it to Kristen Wigg to formulate a decent version of my response].
The people in charge [aka. Hughie and the Agency] battled out the details for a few weeks ... and next thing I know we've agreed to six scripts, a two-day shoot and I'm on a conference call with the boys and girls at Love Creative in Manchester. This is where I first met Jonny Kight - literally the best-looking producer in the business, but don't let his looks fool you ... he's a take no prisoners kind of guy.
I've learned a few things about conference calls over the years ... basically it goes something like this:
The nervous feeling in your stomach is always a good thing - this quote sums it up.
Prepare yourself for the worst hold music in existence ... I'm talking to you Powwownow. Seriously WTF?
If you don't remember a name just speak to the speaker based machine and let the right person answer. People know their roles.
Unlike radio or live TV 'dead air' isn't a bad thing ... it means they're thinking.
The call went swimmingly.
They loved the ideas I put forward, pushed back on others and we agreed the scripts needed development - which they wanted me involved with. I walked away with two words on my notepad: 'BE FEARLESS' ... this was in regards to my treatment that was due in 35 hours and counting.
I’m a bit of an odd duck in that I love writing treatments and love it, even more, when they have serious deadlines. Luckily, I was in the middle of another edit ... the treatment gods were about to make it rain.
Sidebar:I remember getting a brief at 4:00pm on Thursday and delivered the treatment at 10:30am on Friday. The only problem ... I was on 8:00am flight to Sydney. I pulled up my bootstraps did an all-nighter only taking a short break to shower and pack. I continued writing in the back of the cab to the airport, on a full economy flight and for the last hour I sat in the terminal finishing it ... thank you daylight savings, free WiFi in the terminal and very patient girlfriend. Needless to say, I won the job ... booyah.
That night I spoke to Grace [you might know here from previous posts ... she's kind of big deal around here] ... I was pretty enthusiastic about it all and told her they wanted me to 'BE FEARLESS'. "Ummm, babe ... they may have said it, but I'm pretty certain they don't mean that." was her response. I think it safe to say she's use to me getting a little carried away with things.
Regardless, I went full tilt. The next morning I had a plan, a young image research to hand and my fingers were tapping fastidiously away as I watched an edit progress in my peripheral vision. The final version ended up something a bit like this:
I've intentionally left out pages with words ... those kind of belong to Moi, but apparently it read as if I was speaking to the reader. I'll take that as a compliment, thanks, Max.
The treatment was submitted and I crashed out after several pints in Soho ... I blame the MSG in Wong Kei's food, not the sleep deprivation or the numerous beers.
A sunny long weekend in the South Downs and a few days later we got the job - high fives all-around. It's really exciting winning a job, even more so when you've just come off the back of another ... I think Publilius Syrus said it best with "a rolling stone gathers no moss" - momentum is a gift of the gods. Although, without this downtime I wouldn't have had the time to put all of this together. Dam.
Anyway, Jonny and I jumped on Virgin Train north to Manchester for a preliminary development meeting. We had few goals.
It literally got grey and greyer on the train up to Manchester. Note to self: Bring a better jacket next time.
We arrived in one piece - it was surprising fast and enjoyable. Jonny was a bit busy, producers always have a bit more on their plate than us director's give them credit for, regardless I made use of my time be reading and doing the work provided by John Vorhaus and his book: The Comic Toolbox. If you haven't read it ... do it.
This brings me to The City of Manchester and Love Creative.
Manchester was plenty cold, wet and grey - London was starting to feel like the tropics. But, within a few minutes of leaving the station it was clearly the place is seriously un-touched. The industrial revolution may have ruined a few things for us in the past, but it left us with some gorgeous architecture. It actually felt a bit like East London, but without the over-trended, try-hard lumberjack and jill, pointless beanie wearing, black and white copycats that occupy most of the decent spaces in the area. Trust me when I say "I'm not bitter".
Moving along. Love Creative was a serious sweet studio ... the door was a bit confusing but seriously, it was pretty slick. There's something about raw brick, large windows and wood floors that makes me get a twinge of an erection - hopefully, no one noticed. Either rent must be low in Manchester or Love makes some serious profits - definitely a bit of column "A" and "B" me thinks. Regardless, the meeting room was filling up with people and the sandwich levels were quickly depleting. If your not familiar ... free food in an agency is like watching seagulls fight over that one greasy chip at the beach - it's fun, awkwardly disturbing and somehow makes you feel like not eating.
With mouths full the team introduced themselves ... it was a full house.
Introducing Patrick and his nostrils ... the enormous Post-it note symbolically represents a sandwich.
After the pleasantries finished we asked the tough question ... what exactly was Unshackled.com? I guess that's the drama of working with a completely new brand ... there's no existing short-hand how to understand them. I'm not sure if that's an omen or conundrum for agencies and production companies - curious on people's thoughts [this is me fishing for comments]. Luckily, we learned plenty after Trevor [Love Creative CEO] spiled the beans and now I'm going to over-simplify it for my audience:
"It's like giffgaff, but shitloads better."
Unshackled.com basically exists to stick to the big boys. They hunt for the best no/low contract deals on SIMs and sells you the mobile phone of your choice separately - hence Unshackled. That was both Jonny and my "Ahhhh I get it now" moment.
Sidebar: Curiously you can finance your phone, among other things, using Zopa - which is an interesting Peer-to-Peer approach to lending. I'm no FA, but seems like an interesting investment ... maybe I switch to Cava with my cereal?
The dialogue continued for several hours. I even popped out for a quick walk around the block - it's a thing I'm doing nowadays ... clears the head, gets the blood moving. Now I'm not blowing smoke up mine or anyone else's ass, but the workshop was very successful ... it is really great meeting and working with people who genuinely give a flying f*ck. Everyone in that room just wanted the best for the scripts and it was clear that they genuinely wanted our help.
So, we ended up a bit like this:
It was a script/schedule plan, but somehow Jonny and I agreed to seven scripts instead of six in two days. Madness, but it seemed doable ... if I was on my "A" game. It appears had achieved two of our three goals ... now to the pub.
This leads me back to Jonny.
We had several recommendations for a couple pubs in the cool NYC Soho looking area where Love Creative was based, but for some reason, we were coming up stumps. One of us found The City Arms, a pub on the 'Ale Trail' whatever the f*ck that means, it seemed close and we both has "the thirst" [I'll do a blog post drunk one day on this subject] ... so we pushed forward to Kenndy Street with vigor. This is when we got lost ... or at least Jonny got us a lost on more than one occasion. He said something along the lines of "Google Maps isn't displaying directions how I'm accustom to navigating" this was quickly followed by "I took orienteering in Cadets". Sounds like a line I'd use on Grace when we'd be lost in backstreets of Rome or even worse Barrio Gothica in Barcelona. You can't bullshit, a bullshitter. Regardless, we found it ... seems Manchester was a little bigger than we thought.
To be honest, drinking is the catalyst to most male bonding and no matter how 'modern' the modern man becomes drinking will always be there to bring us together - unless of course it's dry January. Here's what I learned from my 1st of four drinking sessions with Jonny: He can seriously drink, for a health conscious semi-vego he loves crisps and he's still fucking ridiculously cool when he's drunk. As you can imagine the drinking quickly got out of hand ... mostly due to the lack of food, but luckily trains in the UK serve a plethora of crisps and more importantly booze on trains. Nothing like arriving at Euston nicely smashed ... that's me in an uber.
Sidebar:The Hemingway quote above was painted on the wall just above Jonny's side of the table. I'm was probably the only person there that realised it existed.
I'll fast forward past the script development and introduce the players. After two rounds of casting we ended up with this lot:
I love how casting stills have this intrinsic ability to make even the most attractive person look like a dog's breakfast. Clearly, there's an art form to making beautiful people completely unattractive.
You might be asking yourself who the heck is Jonny Freeman? If your not asking yourself then clearly you've worked out he's the man inside the 7ft Parrot suit. This was a seriously tough ask for anyone, but Jonny made it look easy. The suit, as most of them are, was a total pain in the ass and with hardly any vision, beads of sweat rolling down his black make-up'd face he pulled it off. Kudos to you sir.
It's a rare thing these days, but thru the magic of Patrick and Chris I managed to wangle a rehearsal with the every funny frontman Adam Fox. This guy is seriously one of the most loveliest hardworking actors I've met. The rehearsal was exactly what we needed ... we didn't beat it to death we just played, explored and found a few rhythms. I love building characters and part of it is taking about how a character stands, moves, his 'isims' so to speak. It was a few hours, but I think the proof is in the pudding cause anyone who's seen the finished product has repeated told me that Adam is 'brilliant' and 'he's going places' - I'd like to think I had something to do with it.
As all of this was going on and we were still deciding which scripts we were shooting I was pushing forward with my boards. This was my introduction to Dan Painter (the irony of his name gets me everytime). Dan is a legend. Not only is he funny, he's quick and just gets it. You see I obsess over my boards ... I've got kick ass templates, I build the edit on the page and keep tweaking them right up to the last moment - maybe it's my inner-Kubrick coming out - who know's.
The only issue was location.
Generally speaking, I prefer doing Storyboards after finding a location, but it seems in the strong UK economy [cough ... at the time] it's tough to find a double width shop that's empty. It's funny how much room we need to make something look the way it does ... I think there's a meme about how even in the biggest location imaginable the camera will still be parked in the farthest corner right up-against the wall.
Anyway, we ended up in Croydon after days upon days of scouting ... in-fact I remember it actually being Jonny's suggestion during the brief ... everyone should always listen to the producer. The shop was bare empty. Perfect. But, it had bare white walls ... not exactly what I wanted. We rolled with it and I think it may have worked in our favour.
Loading Bay - Previous, Previous Tenant (aka. Location Irony)
So everything was in check and we were ready to shoot. This is the fun part. I love being on set with new people, old friends and 12 hours to do the almost impossible.
I couldn't have done it without Sam Goldie, Will Jasper, Jonny Kight, Carmen Siu and of course Michelle Sotheren. Thanks guys for making me look good.
Here's a few pics from the two days and a couple during post:
Please note: My monitor on set becomes a piece of art / practical joke / lolly holder / workstation [I'm going to bore you with this on a later date]. The joy is I take a photo of each and everyone I sit in front of ... love the test photocopy of my face. Wish I kept it.
After a tight week of editing with the talented Keith Wright and a bit of TLC with the kids at UNIT we finished up and several of them found themselves available to the world online.
Sadly, only 'Contract' made it to Channel 4 the other night. It seems the advertising standards bureau has a bee in their bonnet about the ads ... a couple of them have been banned from the air [I'm starting to get a reputation] and they've f*ck with Scott Harris' grade. I'll give them 10 points for creativity though.
In the end the masses have started to see all of this hard work and hopefully it will inspire them to stick it to the man.
Here's the first 5 with the banned grade and end frames ... and in-case your interested there's two more lurking.
[I can't wait for those other two to get banned, I mean released.]
So, how bout another watch, a like or even a share ... these spots aren't complete without people like you seeing them.
Well I just finished a massive post summer run and it seems I've discover what it's like to have free time again - working from home is already starting to loose it's appeal. Anyway, expect to see bucketloads of new content soon and like every December and January I'm hitting the keyboard ... except this time I'm actually going to make something of it.
So, watch this space.
Before I go there’s a couple kudos in order.
Mindseye, thanks for throwing me a bone and letting me do what I love. Jonny, thanks for letting me have a Winnebago ... even if it wasn't for me. Tom and the kids at UNIT, you guys nailed it and it was great to be back in the saddle again with Mr. Harris. And to everyone else, I owe each of you a seriously big THANK YOU for helping me make the madness a reality - I've never enjoyed making a series of commercial projects more than I enjoyed making these.
It's been a blast,
CREDITS (only you can make it scroll)
CAST Vinny: Adam Fielding Parrot of Truth: Jonny Freeman Alison: Molly Roberts Uni Boy: Simon Christian MILF: Charlotte Morgan Biker: Patch Hancox
AGENCY Love Creative Creative Director: Dave Palmer Writer: Patrick Harvey Art Director: Chris Jeffreys Agency Producer: Fiona Williams
CREW Director: Jonas McQuiggin Producer: Jonny Kight Production Company: Mindseye Managing Director: Hughie Phillips Head of Production: Max Yeoman Executive Producer: Charlie Phillips Director of Photography: Sam Goldie
POST UNIT Producer: Tom Igglesden Offline Editor: Keith Wright Grade: Scott Harris
Part of my day to day routine is trolling the internet watching and absorbing just about everything I possible can - mostly to further myself as a director, but I’m not going to lie and say I don’t find it somewhat entertaining.
Lately, I’ve been starting to ask myself a question each time I see an advert, web-short or series that’s meant to be funny.
Here it goes:
“Was that piece funny or was it the familiarity of the actor and/or person performing making it funny”
As in is the material funny on its own or is it just the ‘famous’ actor thats making me laugh at mediocre content.
I’m by no means a savant at being funny (yet), but I think I’m starting to recognise laziness in ideas when the truthful response to my own question is seemingly: the ‘famous’ person.
It’s almost as if when we see these people its an automated response to laugh … this is of course is license to print money and content creators know that.
So, what does this mean?
I think it means that we are now relying too heavily on ‘famous’ talent to polish a turd that wasn’t ready for the screen - improv excluded.
Look, I’ve polished many a turd in my life. Some people might even say I have a knack for lifting turds out of the proverbial porcelain bowl, but it seems to me that we’ve forgotten the ideology of a good set of words on a page … a script, or even better an actual good idea.
Take an unknown in the flesh stand-up comedian.
They get up on stage and read the crowd … gauging it as they go. If the piece isn’t working they get immediate feedback and adjust it on the fly - hopefully walking off the stage with a ounce of laughter and a shred of dignity. So, one might concur that an unknown person can be funny with good material and more important the right crowd. The content is pinnacle, because he/she has nothing else. But, seeing a ‘famous’ standup comedian do a gig and generally their material is set (they make DVDs of it for god sake) … it’s their thing, they don’t appear to adjust or adapt. Your paying money to see them do their thing. And in this instance it starts to feel like the content becomes second and they become the pinnacle.
I know what your about to quip and it’s true: since the first time comedy was on film we’ve relied on ‘famous’ people to carry pieces and one could argue that they are by the very nature of comedy the piece. After all, characters and their experiences are the reason we’re compelled to watch something in the first place.
Now take the ballooning, but still awesome, site know as ‘Funny or Die’. There is some serious knee-slapping hilarious sketches, ads and even photos on this site, but there is also some serious fucking turds too. Oddly, enough the turds are the ones that solely rely on high profile talent to forcibly make something funny - they even have photos of the ‘famous’ funny people so you can narrow content down based purely on the familiarity of their image. I get why audience would like it, but I for one find it strange.
A well known comedian with some very shit material isn’t funny to me, no matter how hard I try I just don’t laugh … but oddly other people are finding it funny - hence why content creators keep making this crap and it seemingly gets millions of views on the Yubes(my new shorthand for YouTube).
The notion of ‘what is funny’ is all very subjective … it’s fucking confusing in-fact. Making people laugh is an art form that is completely unexplainable, but I get the feeling that we’re tricking audiences when we, the people behind the camera, start believing that there’s a prescribed formula … of putting someone on screen who we all know and get them to do their bit. Some ‘famous’ people transcend this, other sadly do not.
What am I going to do about it? As a young writer/director I would like to think I’m actioning ideas that don’t need to pull in a name to make my work funnier (mostly I can’t afford them). My current slate of work, in my opinion, needs to work on a higher level and just be funny - this is by no means easy and probably why no one does it.
Maybe I’m over analysing it all or maybe some of the punchlines are just above my pay grade - writers are incredibly smart people. But if I was being completely honest it's probably a bit of jealously masked with the easy of being over critical - it's always easier to not like something than to like something.
Regardless, the very fact that I’m taking this extended moment to analysis all this means that I’m deliberating thinking about comedy, and ‘what is funny’, and no longer laughing - its the cross I have to bear.
Just my three cents (or pence for my english readers),
A group of us have formed a bit of a collective. We've affectionately called it 'CHUBBY' ... it's meant to mean that we're fat with ideas rather than a morning stiffy - I'll explain more once we figure it all out.
Anyway, I posed the 'What's you Top 20 Films?' question to the guys a few days ago. I wasn't fishing for the classic 20 films that define cinema over the last 100 years, it was more of a get to know your film tastes Top 20.
There was a strict NO judgement policy.
Here's mine (in no particular order):
The Wolf of Wall Street The Castle The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Fight Club Step Brothers 40 Year Old Virgin A Serious Man Pi (Mathematical Symbol) LA Story Punch Drunk Love There Will Be Blood Kingpin Ghostbusters Back To Future I Natural Born Killers Spinal Tap Birdman In A World Lars and the Real Girl Life Aquatic