CAMPAIGN CRAFT: THE CREATIVE ISSUE; Are we getting bored of jazzy post- production techniques?

Live-action commercials are de rigueur once again. Emma Hall finds out why

Live-action commercials are de rigueur once again. Emma Hall finds out why

The last action hero is making a come-back. The reason seems to be that

filming live ads is much more fun than sitting in a darkened room

wrestling with computer technology. The novelty of fiddling with Harry

and Flame has worn off for many in advertising and film-makers are

finding their challenges in live shoots.

In the current commercial for Lemsip Power+, ‘cloud’, BST-BDDP uses

traditional special effects to create a mushroom cloud erupting from a

steaming red mug. This involved pouring disinfectant into sugar water to

stage a chemical reaction.

Richard Dean, who directed the commercial through Park Village, says:

‘There is a joy about physical effects, the wonderful unexpected luck

that can produce a minor miracle. It’s all about being organic as

opposed to digital.’

The mushroom-cloud effect is almost as old as film itself - the same

technique was used by Cecil B. de Mille in his epic, the Ten

Commandments - and technological advances are still unable to replicate

the excitement and feel of the real thing.

Scaling the Himalayas in the name of a BT corporate ad certainly has no

rival in a Soho studio. Jonathan Greenhalgh, who directed the ‘Hillary’

ad through Saatchi and Saatchi, is wildly enthusiastic about his part in

the commercial.

Greenhalgh says: ‘Live action is the maverick option. You get things

that you would never storyboard and when certain shots work brilliantly,

you want to take your clothes off and run around punching the sky - it

is such a thrill. A pure high.’

Commercials directors, wary of losing out on certain jobs, are reluctant

to speak of a backlash against post production, but they will all admit

that the mood is veering in that direction.

Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury is widely credited with over-turning flashy

production values and, through campaigns such as Tango and Golden

Wonder, introducing a ‘grunge’ feel, which is still strong in the

advertising community.

James Sinclair, the copywriter on the Lemsip commercial, feels the

market is saturated with ads using sophisticated post production, and

admits that the search is on for something new. He argues: ‘It is like

watching a magician on television - we know it’s on TV so we don’t trust

his tricks. In our business we try to find the reality in products, but

computer-generated images are just another move off into fantasy land.’

Live action can give an integrity to commercials by providing an

antidote to the sterile, glossy, manufactured post-production image. The

straight shoot also puts the onus on narrative and ideas, allowing the

director to take credit for the persuasiveness of the ad.

Richard Dean has a pragmatic view on the attractions of live action

shoots. He says: ‘A director can make a lot more money and get on with

life by moving on from one shoot to the next, rather than being tied up

doing post production for weeks on end.’

Cost, of course, has a large part to play in the making of any

commercial. It is a lot cheaper to pack a crew off to the Himalayas for

a couple of weeks than it is to spend the time creating a film using

phenomenally expensive post-production techniques.

It must also be remembered that post production is not all-powerful.

Landscape is difficult to simulate and the scale of the scenery in the

BT ad, for example, could not have been achieved in a studio.

Daniel Barber was the only director to pitch a live-action solution to

BMP DDB Needham’s script for the pan-European TV campaign for the Sony

Trinitron (left). He wanted to throw a man, clinging to an armchair, out

of a plane and feed off the drama of such a daring stunt. The

alternative, he argues, was to cobble together shots using a wind

machine with footage taken from the air.

When applied liberally, as compensation for the lack of an idea, post

production comes in for particular criticism. Dean says: ‘It gives more

choices, but in a negative sense, because it opens the floodgates for

endless nitpicking. If there is an idea, it inevitably loses its clarity

once the Flame operator, the agency, the editor and the client all get


Post production, he says, is abused when employed as a ‘get-out-of

trouble’ card. But its more general use to enhance images, especially

product shots, is never called into question.

It is at a more fundamental level that directors are rejecting post

production in favour of live action shoots - discarding the predictable

in favour of the thrill of the unknown.

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