BBC's Christmas ad freezes time for one magical day by the seaside

Film, by BBC Creative, captures the feeling of time slowing down.

BBC’s Christmas campaign tells the story of togetherness through a magical moment that freezes time at an English seaside town. 

This is the second festive ad by BBC Creative, the broadcaster’s in-house agency, after 2017’s stop-motion animation "The supporting act". It will launch on BBC One on Saturday (1 December).

"Wonderland" is a two-minute, live-action film about a mother and her young son struggling to spend quality time together during the holiday season. But when time suddenly stands still, freezing the surrounding environment and people, the two get the chance to spend a carefree day together by the seaside. 

It was created by Xander Hart and Edward Usher, the same team behind the BBC’s World Cup ad this year, and directed by Sam Brown through Rogue. The original music is Lost in You, composed by Alex Baranowski and performed by Emmy the Great and London Metropolitan Orchestra.

"At Christmas, it feels like everything slows down. We were keen not to make a film just telling people to spend more time with their kids, but when you do have that time, to cherish it," Usher said. "Really, it’s about that feeling you get when you spend time with someone, how everything else drops away." 

The time-freeze device is a "manifestation of that feeling", Hart added. The film plays with the perspective of time from different ages, capturing how it sometimes seems to drag on for young people and feel rushed for adults. 

However, "Christmas is a pause button – it allows people to get together and put normal life on hold," Brown said. 

Activity will include a 90-second version of the film, an ad resembling a movie poster and idents that focus on specific frozen-world moments such as the mother and son driving dodgems at the fairground.

Brown said he was drawn to the script because "the emotions rang truer" than other Christmas ads. 

"I knew I wanted to take an honest approach, to strip away the sugariness of much of Christmas advertising and build characters you could recognise," he said. 

"Wonderland" was shot in Cromer, a town on the north coast of Norfolk. "It felt fresh to do a Christmas ad by the seaside", where many families have memories, Usher said.

This is the first acting job for the boy who stars in the ad. "He was very raw and emotionally open," Brown said.

To create the illusion of time freezing, the actors were attached to wires, which were then removed in post-production. The team avoided approaches such as CG or motion control, because they wanted it to "feel handmade", Brown explained.

"We didn’t want it to be slick. The BBC team liked the idea of doing it naturally and simply, so it wouldn’t get in the way of the story," he said. "We only wanted the magical moment to support the emotional element, not vice versa." 

Like last year, the campaign’s brief was to promote the idea of being together at Christmas and continue BBC’s "Oneness" platform. But Hart and Usher wanted to capture that theme with a different kind of story.

"We saw this as a short film more than a typical ad," Usher said. "It feels like we’ve got more of a right to sell that idea of togetherness than some brands."

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