Campaign Craft: Technique - Sneade’s deft touch creates an air of authenticity - Skilful editing achieved a real-life look for VW’s Golf film, Jim Davies discovers

Film editing is an invisible art. If you are aware of the editing of a commercial (unless it’s a deliberate parody, of course) the editor has, to an extent, failed; skilful editing should be totally unobtrusive and seamless. True, editing can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but it can occasionally turn a half decent commercial into a great one.

Film editing is an invisible art. If you are aware of the editing

of a commercial (unless it’s a deliberate parody, of course) the editor

has, to an extent, failed; skilful editing should be totally unobtrusive

and seamless. True, editing can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,

but it can occasionally turn a half decent commercial into a great

one.



Sam Sneade says he rues the day he described editing as ’sculpting time’

in the pages of Campaign, but as flowery as the phrase might sound, it

conjures up perfectly the combination of intangibility and creativity

involved in the editing process.



One of the most challenging jobs Sneade has recently been involved with

is BMP DDB’s 50-second ’UFO’ commercial for the Volkswagen Golf TDi.

Tapping neatly into the current obsession for all matters

extra-terrestrial, it’s the artful tale of a bumpkin garage proprietor

and his wife, stuck out in the sticks somewhere in the southern states

of the US, who appear to have had a close encounter with a flying

saucer.



Shot by Frank Budgen through the Paul Weiland Film Company, the ad is

treated in a documentary style, with an off-camera interviewer prompting

the hillbillies to relate their recent experiences.



However, there’s a twist to the tale; they haven’t seen a UFO at all but

a VW that has unaccountably made it into the middle of nowhere. The

endline reads ’The VW Golf TDi. Up to 891 miles between fill-ups.’ The

editing process was more complex than usual because it involved not only

intermeshing a variety of film stock (35mm, 16mm and Hi-8 video), but

also succinctly telling a story that kept flashing back to the past and

returning to the present. ’There were two events running concurrently,’

Sneade explains, ’a double time strand, if you like. There was the here

and now and the documentary evidence, which has supposedly been shot by

the son of the two interviewees.’ In the early version of the commercial

that Sneade shows me, the actress playing the wife explains this,

adding, ’he’s awful clever’. The version that was finally broadcast,

however, dispensed with this line, though ultimately this doesn’t

detract from the audience’s understanding of events.



Sneade describes the VW spot as an example of ’creative’ editing because

there were so many possible options available to him. ’There were a

number of ways it could go, so I was constantly having to make

decisions,’ he says. A major part of the decision-making process was how

long should be spent on each type of film stock and settling upon how to

mix and match them without the whole thing looking like a jumbled mess.

Sneade explains: ’The interviews were all shot in 16mm, and there was a

mixture of hand-held 35mm and Hi-8 for the action sequences, which lent

to the overall sense of confusion. Other parts (such as the dazzling VW

badge you can just make out in a haze of light) had a more ’featurey’

feel and were shot in 35mm.’



The commercial was shot in Texas, about two hours from El Paso, over a

three-night period. The two-pump garage did exist, but had been deserted

for some time and had to be dressed for the occasion. Sneade reckons

that Budgen initially presented him with about 30,000 to 40,000 feet of

film (which, at roughly 10 minutes per 1,000 feet, works out at five to

six hours’ worth). Sneade then made what he calls ’a catholic

selection’, cutting the rushes down to about 25 per cent of their

original length.



’It’s a constant process of refinement, you do trawl after trawl until

finally you end up with your 50 seconds.’



Directors vary in the amount of control they demand during the editing

process. The rise of the Macintosh-based Avid system has, according to

Sneade, ’made the whole editing process more public. More people muscle

in, which tends to work against decisiveness.’ This wasn’t the case with

’UFO’, where Budgen stood back at first, allowing Sneade to ’knock it

into shape and get a handle on it’, before bringing his own ideas to the

table. ’He’s extremely rigorous and really gets inside an idea. He

always brings a good advertising brain to bear on a project, and he

doesn’t like his stuff to be needlessly overcut.’



There are certainly some deft touches throughout - every minor detail

has been thought through carefully. The commercial opens with a

lingering three-second establishing shot of the desolate garage in 35mm,

setting the scene and establishing a sense of tranquillity which, of

course, will soon be shattered. The headlights of the car/UFO were

lights attached to a low-flying helicopter - the speed and intensity

with which they approach the onlookers adds significantly to the drama

of the moment.



In the interview sequences, Budgen actually had a sound boom painted

back into shot, sending up the familiar rough-and-ready,

out-in-the-field reporting style. The slightly hesitant off-camera

interviewer is Budgen himself, ’he was going to hire an actor, but I

thought he’d be perfect for it,’ Sneade says. And indeed, the gently

probing, disembodied voice could have been lifted straight from

Panorama. ’The interviewer character glues the whole thing together,’ he

adds.



For Sneade, though, the commercial is taken to a higher level by a pair

of immaculate performances by the two central characters. ’It’s all the

little ’ums’ and ’ers’ and the way they interact with each other ... the

wife is constantly looking to the husband in a slightly deferential

way.



I don’t know where (Budgen) found them, but they are both quite

brilliant.



You can’t see the cogs whirring around in their heads at all, which you

certainly can in some performances.’



The very last shot where the pair look at each other in a state of

bewilderment after describing the markings on the vehicle (’... kinda

like a vee dubya’) is deliberately cut slightly too long. There’s the

tiniest sense of awkwardness, as if the viewer is intruding. ’We gave it

as much time as possible,’ explains Sneade. ’We hung on that last look

and really allowed it to breathe.



It’s a nice piece of comic timing.’



Though Sneade has probably made his name with visually-based commercials

(such as Tony Kaye’s ’unwind’ spot for InterCity, and the ad for the

wildlife charity, EIA, which won a silver for best editing at last

year’s Creative Circle awards), his experience on ’UFO’ has drawn him

towards dialogue/performance work. ’It’s a case of less is more. On the

visual stuff, it’s more obvious what you’re contributing. But with

dialogue you’re bringing something to the meaning of the piece on a more

subtle level.’



CREDITS

Title: ’UFO’

Client: Volkswagen

Producer: Johnny Frankel

Agency: BMP DDB

Director: Frank Budgen

Art director: Jeremy Carr

Writer: Jeremy Craigen

Editor: Sam Sneade



PROFILE



Sam Sneade studied English literature at Kent University before moving

to London with a vague notion about directing films. Instead, he became

a runner at Jim Bambrick Associates. He stayed there for 11 years,

ending up as a much sought-after editor after working on a series of

high-profile commercials shot by Tony Kaye. Some 18 months ago he set up

his own company, Sam Sneade Editing, and has continued to work with

London’s top commercials directors, including Frank Budgen, Daniel

Barber, Jeff Stark and Gerard de Thame.



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