Last month, WCRS and Women’s Aid created the world’s first audience-edited commercial. The ad launched in cinemas ahead of screenings of The Hobbit, using 3D stereoscopic technology to highlight the issue of domestic abuse. Ross Neil describes how the work came to see the light of day.
Eighteen months ago, two members of our creative team were in The Kings Arms. Their conversation went something like this:
Creative: Why is current 3D not in red and green any more?
Tech: Well, the two lenses are still different to each other, but one now has horizontal lines and the other vertical lines.
Creative: So each eye is seeing a different image?
Tech: Yes. Then the brain puts the two images together.
Creative: So, in theory, you could play two different films at once and let the audience edit between them by closing one eye and then the other?
Tech: Hmm, in theory, yes. I think we need to speak to Ross.
So that’s what they did. And I thought it was a good enough idea (plus, I was curious to see if it would work) to put the theory to our TV department, which, in turn, took the question to Chris Vincze at The Moving Picture Company – the 3D pioneer responsible for the likes of Prometheus, X-Men: First Class and the Harry Potter series.
Chris was as intrigued as we were and started testing our idea. Much to our surprise (and our relief), it worked on a still image: you close one eye and you see a yacht; close the other and you see a hot-air balloon. Hooray! Cue a room full of adults sat in the dark making "ooh" noises for ten minutes.
With stage one complete, it was time to take a brief to the whole creative department. What idea would work in total synergy with this technology? Almost immediately, the creative team Naz Nazli and Rob Welch took me to one side to say the answer was simple: "Would you turn a blind eye to domestic violence?"
Not sure I’ve ever had less time for a penny to drop. We had to do it. With one eye shut, you’d see a woman preparing a pleasant meal in her kitchen; with the other shut, you’d see the same woman being brutally attacked by her husband. Rob and Naz wrote the script that very evening, and we took it straight back to MPC with one very simple question: "Could it work?" Luckily, Chris loved the script and thought it was achievable… providing we could iron out any potential hiccups in a moving image test.
A number of weeks passed. Then we got a call from MPC. We went down and were blown away by a full moving image test film that Chris himself had shot. It was amazing, but there were some issues.
First, we needed to get rid of the ghosting. When you closed one eye, you could still see the faint ghost of the other image on the screen. MPC worked out a shrewd way of narrowing this divide with some cunning dressing of location and cast in mid-tones, and by soft-lighting the whole set to prevent any harsh contrasts.
Second, how do you educate people in the act of self-editing? How do you make an entire auditorium close one eye and then the next to get the full impact of this idea? The solution was actually quite simple: a title card that alternates between an apple and an orange to dramatise the two separate images. It was straightforward, elegant and the first thing that made the whole team realise just how good this could be.
Women’s Aid saw the test and immediately recognised the potential. They were on board. We were now full steam ahead.
Now all we needed was a director. But who? Who knows 3D technology like this and can direct? Again, it was such a simple leap. Chris had been with us since the start, he’d pioneered the self-editing technology, knew the 3D element inside out, had shot the test and knew the actors. Did we really need to look anywhere else?
We shot in a house in Wimbledon. It was a painstaking process – in particular, having to rehearse the action so the woman on screen stayed in exactly the same position at all times in both the violent and non-violent scenarios. The actress repeated the action again and again and again, until she knew exactly where she had to be on every single beat. Then, of course, there was the meticulous repositioning of apples and oranges for the two different opening shots playing simultaneously. I’ve never seen continuity quite like it.
Everything was eventually in place and the finished article was presented to the British Board of Film Classification, which then rated it… 12A. 12A!? But we’d been given media space in front of Life Of Pi, a PG. Disaster. Hours of frantic phone calls and some cunning media shuffling eventually got the ad to run ahead of The Hobbit instead. I’m still not sure some of our account team have recovered.
The finished article is something we’re all proud of. It’s a powerful ad for a great cause. But what I’m perhaps most proud of is the way it takes something as technologically advanced as 3D and uses it in a way it wasn’t intended. And still makes it work. Not bad for something that all started in The Kings Arms.
Ross Neil is a creative director at WCRS