CAMPAIGN CRAFT: CRAFT SECRETS; Armchair thriller of an ad gives Barber the look he wanted

Man and cow alike risked their lives all for the sake of Sony, Jim Davies writes

Man and cow alike risked their lives all for the sake of Sony, Jim

Davies writes

In a sense, there’s no secret to BMP DDB Needham’s spectacular

‘armchair’ commercial for Sony’s Super Trinitron wide-screen television.

What you see is what you get: a besuited man sitting in a red armchair,

freefalling through the air at 150mph. The 40-second commercial ends

with the fall guy plummeting to the ground in his living room, closely

followed by his pet moggie.

The ad was filmed on location on a cattle ranch in the Simi Valley in

California. A team of Hollywood stunt experts was called in for the

four-day shoot. ‘They were a bunch of complete nutters,’ Mike Boles, the

copywriter, says affectionately. ‘But it has a power and intensity we

never could have achieved if we’d used special effects. You’d have seen

the joins and we’d never have got important details such as the way his

hair moves quite right.’

So there was nothing for it but to drop the world champion sky-diver,

Guy Manos - fresh from the Hollywood action adventure film, Drop Zone -

from a Chinook helicopter. Not once, but 19 times.

The stunt cameraman, Tom Sanders, followed him down with cameras

attached to his helmet to capture every nuance. Manos had a parachute

concealed under his suit and baled out at the last moment. The armchairs

weren’t so lucky: around 30 bit the dust. Two drifted off into the

sunset and were never recovered.

The ‘ground rush’ footage was shot from a stunt biplane with a camera

mounted on the wing. But probably the most dangerous part of the set-up

were certain shots which required winching Manos, already sitting pretty

in his chair, up to the required height. If he’d fallen out before he

reached 2,000 feet, he wouldn’t have been able to operate his parachute.

Boles, together with his art director, Jerry Hollens, and the Rose

Hackney Barber director, Daniel Barber, took turns to supervise from the

helicopter - falling at 1,000 feet per second, each jump generated a

mere ten to 12 seconds of film. It was disquieting for them to see Manos

not only pray, but shake hands with the crew as if he’d never see them

again before each jump.

‘He told us it was the most dangerous stunt he’d ever done. Armchairs

are very unaerodynamic objects, he could easily have flipped over and

broken his neck,’ Barber says. Practice jumps were done to monitor the

behaviour of the chairs and customise them accordingly.

As it happened, the only near-casualty was a stray steer, which almost

ended up in World of Leather following a near miss with a falling

armchair. ‘The farmer was very concerned about his cattle,’ Barber

recalls. ‘We asked him how much it would cost if we hit one and he told

us we’d have to pay by the pound.’

Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content