In case you haven’t seen Johnny Kelly’s grillion-times awarded films – from his Royal College of Art graduation short Procrastination to his Cannes Film Grand Prix winning short for Chipotle Mexican Grill – simply tap your heels together and click on Related Content for a spectacular line-up of his work.
His stop-motion animated film Back to the Start shows the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future.
It is the second Grand Prix win for Nexus Productions, following on from Smith & Foulkes picking up the coveted prize for Honda Grrr in 2005.
“The last thing you expect when you make a film about the history of industrial farming practices is for anyone to even watch it, never mind win an award, so I am incredibly grateful to have been honoured by the jury here at Cannes,” Kelly said upon winning the award.
Here we catch up with Johnny Kelly about making his astutely clever and humorous short film, Back to the Start.
Undoubtedly there will be an avalanche of requests now from agencies around the world to do another “Chipotle”. Tempting as that may be we can’t imagine that would be the route you would like to take. Is there something completely else – a concept, a story, a technique – that you’ve been yearning to do but just waiting for the opportunity?
I think the easiest option is to keep doing the same sort of thing, but I have a feeling I probably wouldn’t last too long in the world of freelance direction if I did that. Also I think by my default I’m a pretty lazy person, so I try and counter this by choosing trickier paths (sometimes to a ridiculous extent). I enjoy crazy challenges and trying to learn something new with each project – but also, one technical or stylistic approach simply doesn’t suit every brief. So for example, at the moment I’m working on a proposal for a children’s playground – It’s very early days but it could be a really fun thing.
There doesn’t seem to be an agency credited. What was the original brief and how did the script evolve creatively and visually?
Chipotle worked with CAA, who engineered the ‘Cultivate’ campaign, of which our film is a small part. When they approached us first they asked us if we would like to help make a number of elements of this overall campaign, including a pop-up book, some t-shirts and a music video about farming. In the end we only did the video part, but our designs and characters were used in other things like an interactive computer game.
There was no script for the film per se, but CAA had the idea of a music video centered around a farmer who resists factory farming. We all imagined it would be a comedic thing at first, but when I started working on the treatment it evolved into a darker tale. Chipotle had too many weighty topics they wanted to include – pollution, monoculture, use of antibiotics on livestock are some examples – for us to risk making something that might be perceived as trivial.
By the time we had finished storyboarding it had changed into a kind of ‘history of farming’ with a farmer who actually employs industrial techniques himself, before having an epiphany and reverting to his roots. To convey this amount of information in two minutes without it feeling over-loaded was the biggest obstacle. We knew if we handled it wrong it could have ended up feeling a little preachy.
Was the creating of Chipotle’s Back to the Start a serendipitous production where everything magically evolved or were there major challenges in the production?
At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, it ended up being a series of crazy challenges. The shoot was a very intense four weeks – the longest stop motion job I’ve been involved in. Luckily our producer Liz Chan had been a producer on Fantastic Mr. Fox – amongst other things – so in addition to having experience with this kind of production pace she had many contacts with feature-film standard crew who were able to join us for the shoot.
The music was the trickiest challenge, and although Willie Nelson was mentioned early on by CAA I don’t think we dreamt it might actually be a possibility. In fact, the music track wasn’t chosen or recorded until six months after we finished post-production on the animation! Animating a film without a music track isn’t ideal but thankfully the two worked together well in the end. I can’t imagine what kind of a contractual/logistical feat it must have been for CAA to get Willie Nelson to sing a cover of Coldplay for Chipotle, but we were very fortunate that it worked out in the end.
The sound design was the fun part, and we worked with Sue Harding, an amazing foley artist at Fonic. Fonic is a company run by Barnaby Templar and is conveniently based inside a farm – Hackney City Farm in fact, right by Nexus. This is ideal for this kind of project – when we needed the sound of hay bales being stacked, we simply got a hay bale from outside and dragged it into the recording studio. No pigs were harmed however.
Chipotle, Back To The Start
Production Company: Nexus
Nexus Director: Johnny Kelly
Nexus Exec Producer: Cedric Gairard , Chris O’Reilly Charlotte Bavasso
Nexus Producer: Liz Chan
Nexus Production Managers: Claire Thompson, Alistair Pratten
Director of Photography: Matt Day
Camera Assistant: Max Halstead
Model Assistant: Joe James
Electrician: Aldo Camileri
Model Rigger: Gary Faulkner
Character Animator: Gary Cureton
Set Animator: Matthew Cooper
Compositors: Alasdair Brotherston, John Taylor
Production Designer: Graham Staughton
Art Department: Gordon Allen, Ben Côté, Joe Kirton
Studio Manager: Elizabeth Day
Models: Bob @ Artem
Music Supervision: David Leinhart at Duotone Audio
Music Producers: Justin Stanley and Doyle Bramhall
Content Manager: Liz Graves
Artist: Willie Nelson
Sound Design: Barnaby Templer @ Fonic