What was the original brief from W+K? And how did you develop this with your treatment? For instance we really like the way you have shot the back view of the runners for the main tvc, was that always in the script?
The brief was to make four short films and a 60” TVC. The four films would delve further into the unique stories of these particular runners which had been on Nike’s radar for a while. The 60” TVC was written as a teaser to draw people into this interactive campaign.
From the very beginning it was decided we wouldn’t see the faces of the runners, but there were scenes in the original script in which you’d see people reacting to the runners. I felt the idea was stronger without the cutaways so in the treatment I incorporated these reactions/moments into these tracking shots, with the runner always centre framed.
I guess it is quite an extreme thing to do – just cut from one shot that does exactly the same thing as the next shot, but it has the effect of making you wonder what’s going on and it sets a tempo for the piece. And I think the repetitiveness of it makes you notice the smaller gestures a little bit more – the wave from the little girl, and the different way they run, the change of pace.
The truth is, sometimes when you condense or simplify an idea it has the effect of making it more complicated from a direction point of view, which is what happened here.
Please tell us about evolving the film for the Blind Runner and shooting it from her pov.
The objective with that film was to take the viewer into the blind runner’s mind. That was the brief. I interviewed Inti and she talked a lot about what she felt while running but also her memories. She lost her sight at 16, so although she was blind now, she knew what a busy market or a bird looked like, she was still even in her blindness able to envisage them. So my idea for this film was based on that notion: that she was blind but she had her memories. I didn’t want everything to be blurred.
After three weeks, Ben Smithard had shot about eight hours of footage. He shot images for the film constantly as we travelled and prepped. The editor Xavier put together this very intense edit where blurred images were intercut with flashes of solid images and we created this really wild distorted soundscape to go underneath. It was very out-there, but I think it scared the agency and they took the film in another simpler direction, which of course is fine too.
What were the main challenges of shooting in China and Taiwan and how did you resolve them?
The shoot itself lasted three weeks in all, but obviously we weren’t shooting every day. We’d move around from city to city, recce locations then shoot and move on to somewhere else and do it all over again.
I find it really difficult committing to locations I haven’t seen with my own eyes and I prefer to do street casting than pull people out of books, and neither of these things went down very well initially with the local production company because the schedule was a challenge and they wanted it all quite buttoned down.
So, finding the right location for each runner was the biggest challenge but naturally then this ended up being one of the best aspects of the job for Ben and I. We found nearly all of them by driving off the beaten track and just really walking around for a long time.
My favorite location was Mr Sun’s. That particular village was about two hours from the Mongolian border. The villagers had just harvested the sweetcorn and if we’d have been a week later we’d have missed it. All the people you see in that sequence are the real locals of that village.
Were you part of the edit – was it done in China or back in London?
I had two weeks to cut four online films and one 60” spot, which was tough, given the amount of footage we had to get through. I had an editor from London based in Shanghai throughout the five weeks. The edit suite was his hotel room because it cut down the traveling time each day.
Your showreel has quite a few major shoots abroad – for instance the BA series and the Adidas doesn’t look as if it was shot locally in the UK either. Have agencies picked up on your ability to capture stories from other cultures or do you simply pitch your treatments in interesting locations?
I could do the same thing in Bradford but agencies don’t write scripts for Bradford.
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai
CDs: Azsa West, Terence Long
CW: Jessica Price
AD: Shaun Sundholm
Agency Producers: Angie Wong, Fang Yuan
Production co: Knucklehead / Playfull Films
Director: Siri Bunford
Producers: Matthew Brown & Peter Maynard (Knucklehead), Wolfie Wong (Playfull)
DOP: Ben Smithard