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29th March 2017
They shoot horses, don’t they?
Title of film: Sky F1, No More One Horse Race
Director: Sam Pilling
Production Company: Pulse Films
Sam Pilling is a master storyteller when it comes to music videos. Now he turns his filmmaking skills to the racetrack for Sky F1. We catch up with the Pulse director about the challenges of filming a team of horses

We like the metaphor of using horses without a car in sight – how involved were you with developing the creative? What was the original brief?

The original brief had the one-horse metaphor but there was a lot of discussion in pre-production about just how much narrative we should have in the piece. At one point the idea was mooted about using actual F1 footage or filming the cars on the track but we moved away from that pretty quickly. I always felt that it should be as pure and simple as possible.
Are you comfortable with horses or did you scroll through dozens of horse movies to become familiar with how they move? 
There were very strict guidelines when it came to filming the horses and my DP Pat Scola and I spent a fair amount of time looking at how horses have been filmed over the years. The main issue we faced was that the horses were going to be rider-less;  in fact we noticed a clear visual difference between how horses with and without riders have been captured on film. Aside from War Horse where many shots use CGI, if a horse isn’t being ridden in a film, then the camera is almost always very far away, and the scene is filmed with a long lens, in order to get a close up. I was adamant that I didn’t want to shoot the whole spot in this way, as the shooting style we both lean towards is using wider lenses, and being closer to the subject.  
What were the main challenges of the production – were there any surprises on the day of the shoot or did everything go according to pre-prod plan?

We worked closely with the horse Masters and Production Designer Nathan Parker to work out how we could get close enough to the horses to film them in the way that we wanted. For some shots we used a piece of equipment called a Stabileye, which is essentially a man on a horse holding a camera with a remote-controlled gimble. We had a few hours of testing this piece of kit a few days before, which resulted in either the horse or rider kicking the camera at various points, and a broken filter, so we weren’t too confident going into the shoot. However, on the day we managed to get some really amazing footage with the Stabileye, that put us right in-there amongst the whole pack! 
We had to set-up a lot of fencing on either side of the track to ensure that the horses didn’t escape or get hit by the pursuit vehicle, and there were many discussions about what this fencing should or could be. Nathan had the genius idea of using electric fencing that would normally be used in a horse field (but without any live current), which was a godsend, because it was dark green (so blended into the grass) and was fairly low impact visually. But the fencing wasn’t an exact science either and we were constantly trying to shift and move it in order to get our pursuit vehicle in the right position for each shot.
All in all, the shoot schedule (and shot list) went straight out the window, as soon as we saw the horses do their first run / rehearsal. It instantly became clear that we would get what we got, and although we planned each shot very carefully there were just too many variables at play to focus on exact storyboards. We were never exactly sure what the horses would do, and they tired quickly, which meant less and less takes as the day went on.   

Another factor was the weather, which resulted in large periods of waiting around for the short glimmering moments when the sun managed to break through the clouds.
The visual pacing with the audio is spot on – was there a lot of experimentation going on in the edit or did it come together magically?

Luis and I had spoken about a musical direction already and the schedule was really tight so Soundtree came in to the edit on the first day to play through various musical styles and options based on the brief. Dom (the editor) played full takes on loop whilst we listened to a few different songs. Almost everyone in the room felt this off-brief arpeggio-style classical piece was the most emotive and powerful way to go so we rolled with that.

We then edited to a temp track, whilst Soundtree worked on the composition. In terms of the edit itself, Dom and I tried several different approaches, but it was something that seemed to develop naturally as we worked through the spot. Luis, Henning and I worked closely to tweak the music and sound design in the final stages of the mix to ensure it hit (or didn’t hit) all the right beats.
How have you found the transition from directing music videos to shooting commercials? 

For me every shoot (music video or commercial) is different, has different challenges and requires different creative problem solving. Generally I try to keep my working process the same for commercials as it is for videos – becoming excited and passionate about a project or idea and working closely with talented and enthusiastic people to help bring that idea to life.
Is there a particular brand that you would love to shoot for?

I admire what brands like Under Armour and Honda do, but for me it’s all about the idea. If the idea is interesting, then I want to get involved in the project, regardless of the brand. 

Sky F1: New Cars, New Challengers, New Season Creatives: Ed Mallin, Bradley LeRiche Agency Producer: Alistair McGee Director: Sam Pilling EP: James Sorton Producer: Arlene McGann DP: Pat Scola Focus: David Agha-Rafai 1st A.D: Paul McCann Art: Nathan Parker Horses: The Devil's Horsemen Horse Cam: Stabileye Pursuit: Bickers Drone: Flying Camera Company Sound: George McMillan PM: Michelle Kirkman Location: Alistair Vlok Edit: Dominic Leung @TRIM Assistant Editor: Edward Hanbury @TRIM Colour: Simon Bourne @Framestore Post: Ollie Bersey & Chris Redding @Framestore Sound & Music: Henning & Luis @Soundtree