Its funny how you remember things some times but my next job allowed for a very quick break back in Melbourne. Only, I spent much of it in pain as a tooth of mine had to be crowned! It seems typical that my body should break down after coming home to relax, but at least I could go see my family dentist. Barely had it healed enough to eat solid food and I was off again, this time to Singapore.
Good friend and long time collaborator Senior Producer Leollyne Teng at Shooting Gallery Singapore had sent me a script for the ANZ bank‘s launch into Asia. The script was very familiar to me, with strong connections to my own HP work as well as having been based on creative developed in Australia. The Australian TVC’s looked very much like HP’s “hands treatment” originated by Goodby & Silverstein anyway so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that much of the creative had come full circle. There were differences though, namely the entire Actors head was to be in view where as the HP idea revolved around the hands only, cutting off the head. Leollyne had actually sent me two scripts, one for “Platinum Card” and the other for a more “Premium” credit card product that was to be newly launched. That version was dubbed SPB (Signature Priority Banking). Australia doesn’t have this “Premium” credit card probably because anything “Premium” in Australia means “Expensive”?! In any case, it was a nice opportunity to design a new look and feel for this product. Obviously it couldn’t veer too far from the overall look of ANZ branding but it had to stand out from the “Platinum Card” version somehow.
I flew to Singapore in early February and immediately began a series of Agency and Client meetings. I met with CD Mohan Prabhakar and Copywriter Juliana at Agency TBWA Singapore where we started the process of discussing how we could provide a premium look and feel for the second script. Both Mohan and Juliana were keen to try to extend and go beyond what was already created in Australia but I think they came up against fairly sizeable internal resistance. Much of the script was already fixed by the time I got to Singapore, having been researched, approved by Client both in Singapore and in Australia. It left very little room for me to contribute artistically, in a way that could utilise my filmmaking skills to communicate more clearly their offer. Its a common frustration for Directors I feel that limits what we can bring to the party in terms of experience. None the less, I was happy to help TBWA Singapore and their creatives to push as far as we could for innovation and creativity! Just to be clear, TBWA and ANZ Singapore were fantastic to work with. They were both super supportive and great people but as with any global companies, where control lies elsewhere, the unseen forces are often the killer to passion. So the initial work involved extensive testing with Post House Blackmagic Design Singapore, trying to come up with a rendering style that looked “Premium” but still lay close to the ANZ style set in Australia. Version after version was rejected on grounds that it ventured too far from the ANZ style set in Australia. It must have been more frustrating for Mohan and Juliana then for myself because eventually Mohan moved on to other projects. … and so the process went on!
This blog entry should highlight to others how the process of Advertising really works. I think its important to showcase how things really are, in a way that could help others in the future. So much of our work is collaborative and derivative its often difficult to define the individuals contribution. In fact, as time goes on, the role of the Director is questionable at least with its traditional definition of the word. In the past, Directors were hired because of their leading work, design skills, story telling ability and so on. However as business has sought to place guarantees on Clients money, removing the variables has been the order of the day. So everything is researched to death these days, work is revised over and over again by different Copywriters, Creative Directors and so on that no one actually has ownership anymore! By the time a Director is hired, a fully researched and approved storyboard has already been produced! Now I do have relationships with Agencies where this scenario really doesn’t apply but on the whole it is true! The fear of the unknown is so great that often the Cast is already set in stone as well. Removing any element of possible failure by collective consensus seems to be the goal! Off course its not just Directors that suffer, creatives inside Agencies must be equally as frustrated. Much of it is driven by marketeers and business people and I guess the result is that a “no mans land” is created between the worlds of Creativity and Business. Its important to understand that I’m not directly referring to this current assignment but pointing out key issues that are common industry wide!
Finally we arrived at a new look that everyone was happy with and we began the preproduction phase of our job. From TBWA, Art Director Joel joined the production. I had spoken with several other freelance creatives in relation to this job along the way however for now the team appeared to be settled. On the 21/2/2012, we began filming at Shooting Gallery’s studio in Singapore. The first day of our two day shoot was focused on the “Platinum Card” script. I utilised the same techniques I had established on my HP Commercials, making use of Vision Mixers, Monitors and a helper animation for our Cast to follow along to. The “Platinum” script was very dense with script moments and required a great deal of focus on timing, accurate positioning of our casts hands, eye line etc. It was very technical as usual but also required a great performance. Our cast for that script luckily was up for the challenge! He understood the process very well and after several takes, we shot a performance that everyone liked. Because it had to be in one single take, checking for accuracy of hands, timings etc was critical for the animation to work latter on. The Shooting Gallery team luckily is very experienced with this form of production and helped to make the process very efficient and fun. Having the team from Blackmagic Design on set was brilliant as well. Good friend and editor Tammy Quay was on hand to cut the TVC on the spot with her assistant Claire Ang. Using a portable FCP setup, we presented an offline at the end of the day! Client and Agency were very happy!
Day two was more or less the same thing but different shit as one could say! Not to belittle the work, since this day was all about the famed “Premium Card” script but the process was largely the same. The difference lay in the style of performance, some “helper objects” that we employed to help our new Cast member visualise the 3D world around him and the more relaxed timings. Our cast did find the role difficult and I spent a lot of time working with him to work through his performance requirements. In many ways because the script was far more relaxed, he found it difficult between the transition moments from one plot element to the next. Its always a thing to recognise on set – where are those awkward moments you know are difficult to kill later in post production! Its made especially true of one shot commercials where every breathing moment of the TVC is out in the open for scrutiny. There’s no shaky, shallow depth of field techniques to hide behind in this style of direction unfortunately. You can’t just cutaway to some meaningless “artistic shot” to cut out the dead spot in performance, staging or framing. However, despite the struggle, our cast did produce a performance that everyone was excited about. Client and Agency once again viewed our Offline on set and went home very happy!
Post production began at Blackmagic Design Singapore …. and then the news! VHQ had bought Blackmagic Design Singapore – not the hardware company but the Post House! It happened right in the middle of our ANZ job! As you can imagine this did make things awkward for me. I had specifically sold in a Post House because of their experience with my HP TVC’s, particular expertise in animation, colour grading etc etc and now I had to support the change. To be clear, I’m good friends with the team at VHQ Singapore as well and have enjoyed handling Post Production with their team on numerous occasions. Initially the takeover appeared to be more of a merger of talent but it became clear that this was not the case. Many of the original BMD team were leaving, including our key animator, compositor, Post Production Supervising Producer and so on. Luckily we had BMD members Derri Ng, Colin Foo, Tammy Quay, Claire Ang and Vincent Yoe staying with the project, at least to its end. Changes still occurred and Daniel Wong replaced Leollyne Teng, Senior TV Producer from Shooting Gallery. She had to leave the production at this point as well. From the Agency, TV Producer Yanti Sannie (six toes) also had to depart on another assignment and was replaced by Freelancers Jamal Paiman and Shareen Thumboo at various stages, while creatives Joel and Juliana were swapped out with Regional Creative Director Gary Steele (TBWA\Whybin) and CD Hagen de Villiers (TBWA Singapore).
All the changes took place because this job took nearly 2 months to complete! The sheer length of time made it difficult for everyone. I think by the end, I was the only consistent team member that saw the project all the way through! It did place me in a position where I was defending earlier team decisions, living with changes made by others along the way! While the results are fine, my vision for the project was thoroughly diluted by the end. It became a project management job and less about designing, creating and directing unfortunately. Still I did enjoy working with everyone along the way. Each had a unique angle and inspiration to contribute but we were all boxed in by the situation. So I would happily work with them again, hopefully under different circumstances. I certainly made some good friends on this job!
If I didn’t write down the turn of events on this job, I’m not sure I could actually write about this experience at all! Glossing it over with a cleansed version would belittle my true contribution, dedication and involvement in complicated environment. There is so much to be learnt from a project like this that to not share it is withholding valuable learning experiences. Not long after we thought that the project was going to finish, it became apparent that the Client wanted to repurpose the “Platinum Card” version and create another TVC from it as a base. That script was called “Travel Card” and was more urgent then the previous two scripts! So suddenly we dropped everything to deliver this third incarnation quickly. However by this stage we had lost Vincent Yoe our lead animator and it was to be the last job for several others also! VHQ quickly responded by putting together a team of people to help out. The Online was a whirlwind of activity and a race to complete all three Commercials. I should mention that we delivered variations of all three TVC’s to Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan which added yet more complexity to the graphic heavy nature of all our animation!
In closing, I don’t want to appear down on the process in anyway but rather share in the experience – my experience – of the extremely complicated role I had to play in this job. Watching the TVC’s you could be oblivious to the process that went towards their creation! I’m told they have performed well so they are a success.
I would like to thank the team from Shooting Gallery Singapore, the many new friends at TBWA Singapore and an extremely gracious Client in ANZ Singapore for your hard work and support.
The “Signature Priority Banking” TVC can be viewed here. I will post the “Travel Card” and “Platinum Card” TVC’s soon.