Feature

Campaign promotion: Film4 Director's Cut Awards the winners

Last week, Channel 4 named the winners of the Film4 Director's Cut Awards. Sony 'balls' and Tango 'St George' were triumphant and will be shown again on 21 June - the longest day of the year.

CONTEMPORARY

Gold: Sony Bravia, Balls, Fallon

Silver: Lynx, Getting Dressed, BBH

Bronze: Honda, Cog, Wieden & Kennedy

Sony Bravia "balls" shone out for Film4's jury as a spot that truly rises to the challenge of the longer-length spot. "Balls" uncut runs for a whopping two-and-a-half minutes. The ad only played out once at full-length in the UK, when it took over an entire ad break at the beginning of the Chelsea versus Manchester United Premier League game on Sky Sports in November 2005. But it has since been viewed by millions online and ranks as one of the most popular ads ever on YouTube. "Balls" kicked off the brand's "like no other" campaign, which, by the end of 2006, had won a slew of awards and helped to put Sony back on top as a leading manufacturer in the LCD TV market.

The ad was the brainchild of Fallon London's Juan Cabral, working with the creative director, Richard Flintham. Cabral's central idea was to create a simple visual celebration of colour, something that could live up to Sony's "like no other" line. Capturing the trajectory of 250,000 coloured bouncy balls down San Francisco streets was a military operation, complete with riot shields to protect the crew from the rubber missiles. The Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig, from the production company MJZ, worked with Cabral to engineer coverage of the balls as they were fired from 12 mortars and tipped from three giant skips, each lifted 50 feet in the air.

The shoot took more than four days, with a complete block in San Francisco closed-off for filming. A group of 50 interns were employed to gather up the balls for each new take. The director of photography Joaquin Baca-Asay and 23 operators in six camera units, shot in slow motion. This gave them a huge number of options when it came to the edit. On the third day, Cabral and Fuglsig saw the first rushes and realised that they had something extraordinary. According to Cabral: "When we shot it, we didn't know how long it would be. I wasn't thinking about it as just a TV commercial, but as a whole event."

In post-production at The Mill, it became clear that a version using the whole two-and-a-half minutes of the Jose Gonzales' stripped-down acoustic cover version of Heartbeats as the soundtrack was possible. "It was only when we put it together that it felt right - you get hypnotised, lost in the ad," Cabral says. "I come from Argentina where ads can be different lengths - whatever is the right length is the right length."

David Patton, the senior vice-president of marketing communications for Sony Europe, describes the ad as having "a cinematic quality ... It redefines the category of consumer electronics and TV in an innovative and exciting way and has a genuine emotional engagement. It rekindles a childlike innocence in everyone who watches it."

The commercial was designed to be a real experience - a rich piece of cinematography, rather than something created in special effects. The impact of watching something real, captured on camera, was important in the making of a truly epic film. "Sony's saying is 'like no other'," Cabral says, "and I think that's the heart of it. We've done it for real, we've bothered. It's not like we've done it in CGI or whatever."

Setting the ad on the West Coast of the US, with significant American visual imagery - such as red fire hydrants and classic trucks on the characteristic San Francisco streets - also gave the film an internationally recognisable look.

"It feels like a pop promo that you could put on MTV," Cabral says. In reality, it has worked just like a promo for Sony, having a life far beyond its bought airtime, both through official Sony channels and in the online world at large. Pictures of the shoot were posted on Flickrblog before the first ad hit the TV screens, acting as a teaser. Since then it has been viewed at various lengths on sites across the internet, including Sony's own, where there is also a behind-the-scenes film of the making of the ad.

Sony's confidence in the long-form has already seen Fallon's follow-up to "balls", in "paint", which was aired for the first time as a 70-second ad in the Champions League match between Manchester United and FC Copenhagen last November. Like "balls", "paint" caused an international sensation.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty's "getting dressed" spot for Lynx takes the silver award for a low- key, but spellbinding ad that builds gently over 90 seconds to a charming conclusion.

Wieden & Kennedy's Honda "cog" spot takes the bronze award, and its position as one of the pioneers of longer-format ads is underscored by the jury's special award to Honda as the best contemporary long-form advertiser.

SPECIAL AWARD

Best contemporary long-form advertiser: Honda

Honda has introduced a different feel into the often-cliched business of car ads. Over the past few years, a succession of beautifully crafted, award-winning long-form ads has given the car-maker an edge on its rivals, despite working with modest budgets for the sector. Its first foray into the world of two-minute commercials was back in 2003 with "cog", developed by the executive creative directors Kim Papworth and Tony Davidson at Honda's ad agency Wieden & Kennedy. "The strategic backdrop was an imaginative engineering business whose objective has always been to try to spend time telling people about their cars," Simon Summerscales, the communications strategy director at Wieden & Kennedy, explains. "It was all about telling good stories and being creative and engaging about Honda ... It's really hard to do that in 25 seconds." Honda and its manager of customer communications, Ian Armstrong, took the risk of showing a long ad in just a few premium spots, dove-tailed with an online strategy. The rest is history. "Grrr" followed "cog", picking up the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2005. Then "choir" and "impossible dream" arrived hot on their heels in 2006, both two-minute-long cinematic ads, helping to win Honda Advertiser of the Year at this year's Cannes.

VINTAGE

Gold: Britvic Soft Drinks, Tango, St George, HHCL

Silver: Levi's, Launderette, BBH

Bronze: Heineken, Water in Majorca, CDP

Tango "St George", the winner of the vintage category at the inaugural Film4 Director's Cut Awards, is a triumph of the unexpected in advertising - a world-beating masterpiece of thumbnail cinema created out of a brief to advertise a soft drink variant.

The ad was made in 1996, with a script by Jim Bolton and Chas Bayfield, then creatives at the legendary 90s agency Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury. "It was initially meant to be a 30-second ad for another flavour for a soft drink - and not the biggest drink by any means," Bayfield explains. "But we wanted to do something that Coke or an airline could get away with. That was the joke, that somebody could feel that passionately about something so trivial."

So emerged the cinematic, single developing shot, starring the marketing executive Ray Gardner, raging at a letter from a French exchange student who is not so keen on the new flavour. His journey, followed closely by a group of his key office staff - swelling to a gathering force of supporters - takes him from his East Croydon office to a boxing ring at the white cliffs of Dover.

The ad's director, Colin Gregg, was just breaking into commercials when he made "St George". Before that, he had directed TV and film drama, so he was well placed to bring some of the values of the big screen to Bolton and Bayfield's script. Gregg was inspired by the masters: "Hitchcock, Scorsese, Coppola all love a developing single shot that grows and grows and grows. It's something that you rarely find anywhere other than in the cinema. But for this we had 90 seconds, so we knew it would work."

Ray's march was divided into three cuts: the first set in the office and shot to look like a corporate video; the second, as he strides past the Tango lorry in the car park, shedding his clothes to reveal his baggy, purple, silk boxing shorts; the third, an aerial shot of the massed flag-waving supporters at the white cliffs, when Ray enters the boxing ring.

The mid-90s was a fast-changing time for computer effects, when morphing was the rage. But for this ad, as well as adding Harrier jump jets to the final scene, the post- production house Framestore CFC used technology to match the three days of filming seamlessly together.

But it was still vital to give the film the right feel. "We knew that once the camera started to move, we had to retain the same dynamic so that the shot was always growing and growing, getting bigger and bigger, faster and faster, moving away," Gregg says. To add to this effect, although the ad was shot entirely on film, the format changed from standard 4 x 3 in the office, opening out to Cinemascope at the cliffs, with the top and bottom of the screen blacked out. The music also builds to a crescendo.

It was vital to have continuity between the three scenes. Bayfield remembers sitting in a truck in the car-park in Welwyn Garden City: "We used a Chinagraph pencil on the monitor to match dialogue, match everything." And the actors were rigorously rehearsed, using a metronome to get the same left foot, right foot rhythm.

The performance of the actors, chiefly Gardner's award-winning role, was vital. It was another reason for using a director with a drama background, who could bring to life the jingoistic rantings of a fat, middle-aged bloke in purple shorts. As the camera pans back from the cliffs, he can be heard shouting: "Come on France, Europe, the world. I'll take you all on! I'm Ray Gardner. I drink blackcurrant Tango. Come and get me!"

Given its controversial use of a French anti-hero as the writer of the letter of complaint, it's perhaps unsurprising that the ad just missed out on the Cannes Grand Prix in 1997, but it picked up top honours at the Creative Circle awards and gained recognition internationally. Among long-form ads, it has been a runaway success.

The ad that came a close second to "St George" was Bartle Bogle Hegarty's "launderette" for Levi's - an advertiser honoured for its body of work in these awards. A benchmark ad of the 80s, it propelled jeans advertising to a previously unheard-of level of popularity. Beautifully shot, and brimming with filmic qualities, the ad had humour, sex appeal and a great Marvin Gaye soundtrack.

The bronze winner was Heineken's "water in Majorca", created by Lowe Howard-Spink as an 80s version of My Fair Lady. In the beautifully timed and cast ad, a Sloane Ranger learns street-credible elocution, aided, of course, by a "refreshing the parts" injection of Heineken.

SPECIAL AWARD

Best vintage long-form advertiser: Levi's

In 1982, an agency founded by John Bartle, Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty opened its doors, with Levi's as one of its first clients. In 1984, it created its first Levi's film, "rivets", which used product detail and the all-important classic American heritage of the brand. "The right message was more important than the media spend," Peter Shilland, the head of marketing for Northern Europe for Levi's from 1981 to 1985 and a marketing consultant to the company until 2000, says. Shilland cites "airport" as a Levi's classic from the 80s, which was followed by the much-celebrated "launderette" in 1985. "It was a portrait of a golden age that translates wonderfully into long-form commercials," he says. Other vintage Levi's classics, such as "creek", "drugstore" and "swimmer", also used the language of film. BBH has worked its creative magic on long-form Levi's ads for decades, with the help of the account executives Gwyn Jones and Derek Robson, planners Emma Cookson and Jim Caroll, and TV producer Philippa Crane.

SEE THE WINNERS AIRED ON FILM4 ON THE LONGEST DAY OF THE YEAR

Film4 is airing the winners of the two categories in two specially created Director's Cut ad breaks on (need you ask?) the longest day of the year - 21 June 2007. There will be a short film about each spot in the director's cut version of Alien, the landmark 1979 science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott. Judge for yourselves whether the basic plot, pitting a small group of humans against a relentless alien creature, reminds you of your daily working lives in advertising. Oh, and if you want to record the ads, set your PVRs for 21.20 and 21.55.

See film4directorscut.com for the shortlist and winners.