Feature

My Campaign: the making of The Guardian 'Three little pigs'

Droga5 London chief creative officer David Kolbusz recalls how in 2012 Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s 'back-up script' was turned into an epic vision for the future of journalism.

My Campaign: the making of The Guardian 'Three little pigs'

What is truth any more? If the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that adopting an ontological approach to fact-finding can result in the accommodation of multiple realities. I was asked to write about the making of “Three little pigs”, an advertisement I shot with Ringan Ledwidge in 2012, but it got me thinking – all I can speak to is my experience making the film. Is an account of someone’s experience making a piece of film nine years ago more or less reliable than several people telling the same story in different ways? I almost suggested to Campaign that we should adopt an oral history as an approach but even though the format pulls from a variety of sources, it rarely offers conflicting viewpoints. An oral history still serves to construct an authoritative record of an event.

Jason Gonsalves (former chief strategy officer, Bartle Bogle Hegarty): That’s ridiculous. Oral histories have conflicting viewpoints.

David Kolbusz (former deputy executive creative director, BBH): OK, fine. But the point of them is never to establish an alternative narrative. They’re more often used for dramatic tension.

Lynsey Atkin (former strategist, BBH): This is dull. Can you just talk about the ad? Why don’t you tell the readers about how it wasn’t even supposed to be presented in the final pitch?

Richard Furness (former head of marketing, The Guardian): It’s true. BBH was tasked with communicating Alan Rusbridger’s vision for “open journalism”, which posited the theory that a published news piece wasn’t the end of a story but the beginning – growing and changing as other voices and perspectives expanded on the source material. We needed a serious piece of work to impart this message. Some people in the room felt “Pigs” was too silly.

Gonsalves: But despite initial reservations, the Guardian team let us take it in as a back-up, in case the first script didn’t go over well. And thank god. Rusbridger was not happy with the first script.

Alan Rusbridger (former editor-in-chief, The Guardian): It was a load of pretentious twaddle. I got bored halfway through and started coughing.

Kolbusz: We were told in advance that was how you knew the meeting was going badly. “If Alan starts to cough, you’re in trouble.” And he did. It was terrifying. Here was a legend of journalism bored by our presentation. Something had to be done, so I asked permission from David Pemsel to read the other script.

David Pemsel (former marketing consultant and, later, chief executive, The Guardian): We were fucked otherwise. I told Kolbusz to go for it. Thankfully, Rusbridger loved it. It was approved then and there.

Matt Fitch (former copywriter, BBH): It was the better of the two scripts. We were not-so-secretly hoping the first one would tank. After that, we went straight into production.

Dav Karbassioun (former head of production, BBH): The agency had a good relationship with Ringan Ledwidge. Which was important, because it needed to happen quickly. The turnaround on the project was ridiculous. We wanted to bring an ally on board.

Kolbusz: We’d always imagined it being shot in a fairytale-esque style but Ringan’s treatment was much darker than we’d anticipated. It was not easy to sell in. But to the client’s credit, they took the plunge.

Furness: We were all in lockstep. We had to be. Yes, the treatment made us nervous but we had a world-class director on board with not a lot of time or money.

Ringan Ledwidge (director, Rattling Stick): All the live-action footage was captured in two long, painful days. Both of them 20 hours or over. But we got what we needed.

Gemma Humphries (VFX producer, The Mill): It was a brutal visual effects job. We went for weeks without sleep. There were multiple teams working around the clock – from the subtle movements on the pigs’ heads to animating the tweets, newspaper headlines and infographics.

Richard Orrick (editor, Work Editorial): Hang on. You just skipped over the editing bit. That was painful too. I put a lot of effort into this one. It was a proper jigsaw puzzle.

Humphries: You can’t answer me back. These interviews were meant to have been conducted separately – such is the nature of an oral history. By responding to my quote, you’re effectively exposing Kolbusz as an unreliable narrator.

Orrick: The “unreliable narrator” is a literary device. This is not literature. This is an account of the making of the “Three little pigs” ad.

Sir John Hegarty (creative founder, BBH): The greatest ad BBH has ever produced!

Kolbusz: Wow! I’m flattered. BBH has a history of so much great work.

Hegarty: And yet here I am, stating it for the record.

Gonsalves: It’s surprising to hear you say that, John.

Hegarty: Please. Call me Sir John.

Ngaio Pardon (account director, BBH): Sorry to put an end to this circle jerk but there’s a word limit on this piece and we still have to cover how the ad was received and how everyone’s lives were changed afterwards and blah blah blah.

Atkin: Let’s talk about the Channel 4 roadblock. It debuted simultaneously across all Channel 4’s media properties.

Mark Lewis (art director, BBH): You just want to talk about Channel 4 because you work there now.

Atkin: Shut up, Lewis. It was an objectively impressive launch for an ad.

Gonsalves: It wasn’t an ad, it was a vision for the future of journalism.

Pardon: And how did that future turn out?

Gonsalves: Look, it’s not Rusbridger’s fault. He didn’t open Pandora’s box. He just tried to define what was in it. And the message of “Pigs” is still valid. Just because the variable nature of truth has had its limits tested by loosely regulated social media companies and a handful of bad actors looking to exploit the impressionable masses doesn’t mean we could or should go back to a world in which capital T truth is defined by an elite intellectual class. “Three little pigs” will stand the test of time. It’s a great film.

The ghost of John Edward Taylor (founder of The Guardian): I still like BMP’s “Points of view” ad better.

Kolbusz: Fuck you, Taylor.

Editor's note – after the publication of this feature a spokesperson for The Guardian asked Campaign to make it clear that this is not a transcription of a real conversation.

Picture: Mark Lewis

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