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12th April 2019
Fred’s calling
Title of film: giffgaff, #choosegiffgaff
Director: Fred Rowson
Production Company: Blink
Inspired by Fred Rowson’s work as a writer and director on Years & Years' Palo Santo album campaign last year, giffgaff head of advertising Abi Pearl Ward asked the Blink director to create a consistent fictional universe, full of recurring characters and detail, all interwoven between TV, print, outdoor and digital. The result, with reference to our current climate, is a celebration of democracy and freedom of choice

This is rather a jolly upturn in tone for the usually “out there” brand – maybe we’re over-thinking ghouls and zombies which was of course for their Halloween campaigns.

Well, what could be scarier than modern politics!? Seriously, though, I think this is still pretty ‘out there’, it’s just out in a different visual direction. In giffgaff, I found a brand which shares my desire to be – creatively at least – a little bit mad and provocative. I love to make work that gets a physical reaction, and I think that there’s something similar to be found in giffgaff’s previous Halloween campaigns – whether you’re laughing or shaking with fear, those are both undeniable reactions! So, for me, this was an opportunity to work in that register, minus all the blood and guts. Did you know that smiling and laughing are – in evolutionary terms – very closely related to us baring our teeth as a reaction to something scary? It’s all tied in…

How did the creative come about ?

I had already discussed making – surprise, surprise – a Halloween film, with giffgaff’s wonderful head of advertising, Abi Pearl. That didn’t come about, but following on from those talks, she and I had both been harbouring a not-so-secret desire to work with each other! So she came and gave me a very broad pitch, which was, basically, ‘please write us an iconic TV and print campaign… and direct the TVC’. So, no pressure. But she and I discussed the cultural mood at the moment, and it felt like we were very in sync – people feel massively oppressed by the direction of UK and global politics (whichever way they vote!) and, as storytellers and advertisers, are we doing our duty if we don’t acknowledge that? Simultaneously, everything is so serious right now; can’t we also make something that feels like a ray of sunshine amongst all the doom and gloom? Once we’d focused down onto the desire to reaffirm giffgaff’s famous slogan ‘The Mobile Network Run By You’, and that urge to prod modern politics and decision-making, this idea came about pretty quickly.

Did you work closely with giffgaff’s inhouse team?

Yes, and it was a joy. The process was very open, and our conversations ran throughout production. We had PPMs and Pre-PPMs and all of that nonsense, but we also just jumped on the phone and had informal catch ups all the time, which meant that everyone felt included.

There’s a new breed of directors, and we include you in this group, who can originate and write scripts for commercials as well as direct them. Do you see this developing into a new way of working directly with brands but also with creative teams in agencies?

I see this as… a more honest way of talking about the old way of working. Which is that, by nature, 8 out of 10 times, pitching will involve the director re-writing an agency script to a greater or lesser degree. And this may be even truer for me, with my other foot in narrative work, where I do all the writing myself. I think the honest acknowledgement of this approach is something to be embraced, whether you’re working directly with the client, or with a creative team. This is purely because it meant that we all felt some ownership over the idea, and every single discussion we had about every element of the film boiled down to: “is this decision serving the central idea?” This meant that we all felt a sense of openness, and there were never any disagreements over, say, the colour of an extra’s tie… because we all knew that kind of thing is totally arbitrary.

This latest film for gifffgaff looks as though there were numerous set ups in a studio. Was this a challenge for the art dept?

Never! I had a wonderful production designer, Tim Gibson – with whom I’ve worked several times – and he took it all in his stride; as did his team in Slovenia, where we shot. This isn’t to play down the fact that it was a huge undertaking – it was. But, again, based on the relationship that I had with Abi, I felt like there was a freedom to let Tim be very creative, and work to his excellent taste. This meant that, no matter the scale of the work, it was always fun… which was an attitude that I tried to foster across all of my different departments.

What was the most challenging aspect of the production?

Probably, eventually, the edit – simply because we shot so much, across so many different formats, that when my editor, Sacha Szwarc, and I sat down to go through it all, the cumulative effect was… overwhelming. We were spoiled for choice. So we did have a day of panic, especially considering the fact that the schedule was very tight, and also the fact that – again – every element of the film had to work in service of the idea. Eventually, we had to be cruel and cut some shots and one or two scenes that we loved.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Only my sincere thanks to the team at Blink Productions who, as always, threw themselves fully behind the mad idea I’d come up with. Creatively, Abi wanted me to build a mini-universe of characters and interconnected worlds – much like I did for Years & Years last year, with Palo Santo. The way that both Blink, and my HoDs and collaborators, such as Tim, and my DoP, Jaime Feliu Torres, took this and ran with it felt really special. Like we were all building something in the same sandbox. This is especially true of our second unit director, Will Hooper – also at Blink – who is shockingly talented, and directed all of the social media films: I felt very lucky to have someone of his calibre along for the ride…


Fred Rowson

giffgaff, #choosegiffgaff Head of Advertising: Abi Pearl Ward Head of Social: Layla West Agency: giffgaff Agency Producer: Tracy Stokes @Like Minded Individuals Agency PA: Olivia Anastasiou Creative Director: Fred Rowson Production company: Blink Director: Fred Rowson Prod co Producer: Corin Taylor Executive Producer: Paul Weston DOP: Jamie Feliu Torres Production Designer: Tim Gibson Wardrobe Stylist: Kate Forbes 1st AD: Julian Richards Production Manager: Abi Jones Editor: Sacha Szwarc Edit House: Speade Post Production: MPC Colourist: Matthieu Toullet Producer: Louise Unwin Service Company: BAS Productions Music Company: Eclectic Music Limited Performer: Bow Wow Wow Title: I Want Candy Composer: Bob Feldman/Jerry Goldstein/Richard Gottehrer/Bert Russell Recording studio: Wave Studios Sound Design: Dugal MacDiarmid/Martin Leitner Outdoor Media: Made by Blah Socials Socials director: Will Hooper@Blink Social Editor: Sam Allen @Speade Socials Post Production: Big Buoy