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7th March 2019
Space Oddity
Title of film: Visit Earth, Nature, Episode 1
Director: Mackenzie Sheppard
Earth is an amazing place, full of incredible things. But being human, sometimes we tend to forget how awesome our planet really is. Created by Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam for S7 Airlines, VISIT EARTH aims to convince aliens to visit our planet and perhaps, in the process, remind the good people of Earth that we have a pretty great home worth exploring. The long-form episodic content, which has already been viewed over 35 million times in Russia after first launching there late last year, is now available for English-speaking extraterrestrials. Director Mackenzie Sheppard meanwhile beams up answers to a few queries

How ON EARTH did you direct this – there are so many components – Russian backed, out of Amsterdam W+K, transmitted to out of space for alien viewers, and, well, it’s for earthlings too.

I knew this project was for me as soon as I heard about it. It was everything I wanted to do next. Long form, light hearted, and was aiming to bridge the gap between commercial and entertainment. I wanted to dive in head first.

Everyone is always talking about doing a show…or something purely for entertainment. But nobody does it.

But Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam were going for something that had not been done before, and I felt so blessed to come on aboard! Thanks guys!

How did you collaborate with the creative team – were the six episodes locked down before you began shooting? Were you involved in the narrative writing? What was the driving theme behind the episodes – there seems a universal positivity which makes a happy change.

It was a very different experience writing a treatment in comparison to a usual short ad treatment. Usually you are writing on a 30sec or two-min film. So you can get ultra specific about how and what you are going to do. But this was essentially a feature-length project. You just couldn’t spend three weeks thinking about your pitch. I had to write my vision in three days.

I read their brief and just started to riff on all the sequences and ideas that came into my head. Ideas like:

1. Interviewing inanimate objects — since Alien’s can understand frequencies we can’t, we should interview balls, cups, art, anything!
2. Ideas for weird intergalactic commercials or psa’s.
3. As well as a “larger-than-life” shooting philosophy to always stay on WIDE angle lenses and get close to subjects. Never watching things from across the room or safe distances.

My treatment was basically a montage of ideas.

I can’t remember fully, but I believe the scripts for LOVE and NATURE (pre-pro was such a blur haha) and the spine of the other episodes were already well on their way when I came on board.

After I came on, we started collaborating on additional sequences/ideas we wanted to add. This is where things like Interviewing ROCKs and bookending NATURE with Nudists running in their full glory across the plains began to evolve and work their way in.

Chris Taylor was the main man behind all the scripts. He is a genius. And Emma Mallinen (Art Director), Joe Burrin & Evgeny Primachenko (Creative Directors) were the brains behind the whole vision of the show. They’re the best!

What was your process for pre-production – did you scheme everything out in notebooks in detail?

Yes. Before I went to Amsterdam I basked in all the writing whenever I could and would begin to develop my own personal notes for each episode. Filling in margins, making little sketches here and there…I then shared my ideas for certain beats with Chris and the team and we’d discuss what was feeling cool and what didn’t. It was super organic. But we all knew that these scripts would evolve again on location. In fact, we openly discussed how we’d be rewriting scenes everyday—and they were super open to reinventing/slashing/rehashing all the way until delivery day. That was an amazing way to work. And I really loved the process. It felt so right, I had trouble imagining working any other way on a regular tvc afterwards.

Wieden was writing the scripts right through pre-pro up until shooting, so we were getting that writing, absorbing it, researching new characters, locations, stories.

We only had about 2-3 weeks to PREP everything. So…it was an absolute mission to get it all done. Throughout the whole shoot, we basically had a rolling pre-pro that would be happening in the BG for the next country’s shoot. Doing PPM’s per country, and casting sometimes the night before, and a lot of the time, finding people on the day! It was crazy but fun! The whole time I was thinking “NOW, THIS IS FILMMAKING”. It was really empowering—just rippin the camera around, building ideas on the day of. No cookie cutter style. Just being creative 12hrs a day—and collapsing into bed, before being woken up for another PPM, Haha.

What were the biggest challenges of the production and how did you resolve them?

We never did a locations recce — outside of photos sent from our local fixers.

We would just SHOW UP. And shoot. We just had to get it right.

I learned a lot in just making things “work”. No dilly-dallying.

Just arrive and begin to shape things. Taking every piece you had to work within in an environment and building a scene/story out of it. It was very liberating to work like that.

The Creatives would often chime in with their own ideas of things they saw around the corner “Hey Mack, lets interview this lawn mower!” or they would’ve met a very interesting Human that was perfect for an interview.

And other times, they’d be super honest “I don’t think this is working man, let’s move on”. And honestly, sometimes I needed to hear that. We’d then figure out a new angle or hop on the car and drive around looking for something in the area we were in.

Everyday we shot bits and pieces of every episode. We’d figure it all out during our arrival day in a country and just problem solve, reinvent, rewrite, slash, build up, etc. It was insanely fun! It kept us on our toes. 50% of the show had to be inspired and found in the moment to keep it feeling like a Travel Show.

One of my favourite memories was landing in Iceland, and the first priority was going to find a ROCK that we could interview on the beach. I kept thinking inside: “This is the coolest project ever!”

Where did you shoot it ?

All over Planet Earth! We travelled for 41 days across the planet. Iceland, Italy, Thailand, Japan, Russia. In most countries we had a two city stopover in which we’d branch out and shoot all of our vignettes.

PopcornBrain lined and produced our entire shooting journey. Great work guys!

We also did pickups in Amsterdam when we returned after our exhausting 40 day trip.

There’s a lot of post – did you work closely with VFX artists from the get go.

We owe heartfelt thanks to Ambassadors for handling our intro animation and offline edits and Wieden+Kennedy’s in house offline editor (Joe Walton). We were sending drives back every two weeks to them, and they would begin to decipher everything. It was a massive amount of footage. Over 350 hours! The assistant editors must’ve been pulling their hair out!

Emma, Chris, and I were also very hands on in After Effects and Premiere. We would often be dressing up short sketches or set pieces to feed to the offline editors who were in charge of building the rhythm and signature of each episode. It was a lot of fun air-dropping mov’s to slot in from one of our laptops to the editor, and we would see how it flowed. We were always auditioning little ideas. It’s easier to describe your ideas by just making it and get everyone’s opinion on it.

I’ve also never worked with creatives like Emma and Chris before. They are hands on to the max. And I love that. They love to design, write, and reinvent stuff. They’re a super talented duo. Crushed it guys.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’d like to thank the entire team Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam. Doing this project changed my life and view of Humanity and Planet Earth forever.

I’d also like to thank my mate, Ian Pons Jewell, who was originally on board for this project, but he had to step out for scheduling reasons. He suggested me for the project. Thank you so much Ian! I owe it all to you bro!


Director: Mackenzie Sheppard Idea Created by Wieden Kennedy Amsterdam and S7 Airlines Writer: Chris Taylor Art Director: Emma Mallinen Creative Director: Evgeny Primachenko Creative Director: Joe Burrin Director of Photography: Avery Holliday Produced by: PopcornBrain Pavel Ananich Jaime Tan Account Executives: Jorge Fesser Yulia Prokhorova Post Production: Ambassadors Edited by: Joe Walton Meghan Sims Oscar Marmelstein Production Companies: PopcornBrain Republik A Grand Elephant NION Stereotactic Special Thanks to Ian Pons Jewell