14 November 2012 - 2:46pm | posted by | 0 comments

Anatomy of an ad: Behind the scenes of Smart's Skate fortwo advert

Skate fortwo was an ad created to celebrate the smart car's two seats. Featuring two skateboarders performing stunts on one board, the ad aired on YouTube in September before a two week run in cinemas across the UK. Here, Weapon7's Jason Cascarina and Anthony McGinty, creative directors on the project, discuss the background to the ad, and how it was conceived, developed and executed.

The brief
We were asked to create a brand piece for smart, with a strong steer to turn a perceived weakness into a strength. The smart only has two seats; how could we celebrate this? We considered some key takeouts being that smart is fun and playful, yet at the same time, the result of methodical testing and rigorous engineering.

Initial idea
We generated all sorts of responses, but the one that seemed the most effortless involved two pro riders performing tricks on a tandem BMX. smart has always been about fun and excitement and this analogy dramatised a unique, exhilarating experience for two. It wasn’t something we’d ever seen before and we couldn’t find anything similar on the internet. We didn’t even know if it was achievable, but started looking for directors who could bring it to life.

Evolution
We tried the script with several production companies and they were all keen to take it on. Director after director enthused about the idea and went off to create treatments. This was where we hit something of a snag. One by one, each company called back to say they had contacted professional BMXers and all of them had said point blank that tandem tricks couldn’t be done.

Turning point
It came to the day before we needed to return to client with a treatment. The way things were looking, we would have to go back and say that, far from having a treatment, we couldn’t deliver the script. Some of the directors had suggested camera trickery and special effects to reproduce the action, but one of the key brand messages for smart is authenticity. We had to do this for real or not at all.

But that afternoon, we had two phone calls. The first was with a director who had tracked down someone who thought it might be possible. A conference call was organised with the rider, who took an hour out from rehearsing at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Whilst cautious about how spectacular the tricks might actually turn out, the pro did give us some reassurance that we could get something interesting on film.

The second call was with Ben Newman from Pulse Films. He had been keen to film our script, but withdrawn after talking to the BMX community about the feasibility of the idea. However, he knew a pro skater called Kilian Martin and had chatted our concept over with him. Kilian had become very excited about the idea of two pros performing simultaneous tricks, but on a skateboard, as opposed to a tandem bike. Kilian really wanted to be involved himself and already had a big internet following for his astonishing floor skate videos (search YouTube: Altered Route). He thought a tandem skate film would be a radical new experience for both himself and the skate community, because it was something that had never been seen before.

Creative Review: 

Sketches from the original storyboard

Sketches from the original storyboard

The presentation
We had all become very excited by this new interpretation of the idea and hoped our client would share our enthusiasm. Sure enough, our lead client had been no stranger to skating in his younger days and was totally into the new direction. The only question that still remained was how spectacular would it look? The greatest thing we had going for us was that this had never been tried before. The biggest thing we had going against us was also that this had never been tried before – so there was no way we could guarantee what we would end up capturing on camera.

Learning process
One of the key directions from Weapon7 was that we wanted to present skate fortwo online as a much richer experience than merely placing a 90 second spot on the net. So while Ben got to work nailing the storyboard and location, we commissioned a second unit to capture every stage of the process, from the creation of a special two-man deck to the first attempts at tricks.

Kilian himself recommended a partner, Alfredo Urbon, another highly regarded trick skater from the professional circuit. We filmed the two skaters as they tried to learn each other’s styles and moves, so they could react as one on the board and see how far they could push the idea. One of the biggest initial fears was that the larger board would break with the weight of two men landing on it. Particularly as we had only managed to get two manufactured in time. While we were nervous that the ad may not turn out exactly as we expected, we were still keen to document the whole process.

Meanwhile, Ben and Weapon7 worked closely on the look of the spot. We wanted a fresh, modern and colourful approach. Barcelona was considered a location for its long, bright days and modern architecture. The idea was to have a muted tone to the background location while having bright, primary colours in the skaters, the board and the car. Ultimately, what we didn’t really want to achieve was just another online skateboard film. It needed to stand apart.

The shoot

The cast, crew, agency and client all arrived in Barcelona for the two-day shoot. The angular, modern architecture of the Port Forum formed the perfect background for the action. There was a carefully planned out storyboard but no one was certain how the marker visualisations would translate into actual footage. In fact, the moment DOP Steve Annis arrived, the location had to change, due to sunlight issues, resulting in a hastily reedited storyboard. But Kilian and Alfredo wowed everyone with their abilities, pulling off spectacular simultaneous kick-flips and wall jumps. They were also effortlessly able to jump on and off the extended skateboard, allowing each other to perform solo tricks before continuing as a duo. The action was so impressive that the client insisted on dropping some of the storyboarded car shots in favour of spending more time filming Kilian and Alfredo in action.

Post
The finished film was far cleaner as a result. It showcased the duo’s skating tricks, only revealing the car and its fun fortwo message right at the end. Ben and Steve combined to give the spot an epic feel, turning The Forum’s location into a modern and expansive urban landscape. The final ingredient was the soundtrack. We’d always had a sound and feel in mind but had yet to find the exact track. Whilst we’d been leaning towards more urban, dance music, when the action was laid back to Hanni El Khatib’s jarring guitar-based cover of ‘You Rascal, You’, it was a perfect fit. Edgy, exciting and serendipitously in time with the guys’ every move, we suddenly couldn’t imagine anything else accompanying the action.

Out in the world
The 90 second commercial debuted on YouTube, before a two week run in cinemas across the country, accompanying new releases including Brave, Looper, The Sweeny and Dredd 3D. We also added a link to the three minute making of directly after the online film to allow people to check the authenticity for themselves.

We also created a suite of video banners and a YouTube masthead that directed people to the skate fortwo video online, plus a full Evening Standard wraparound cover, featuring stills of the tricks and a shot of the car.

Bloggers, skate enthusiasts and industry sites were quick to pick up on the ad and promote it across the internet, with coverage from sources as diverse as Fast Company, Hype Beast, Boooooom! and BNQT.

As a final, experiential execution of the idea, Kilian and Alfredo were reunited at this year’s smartfest in Surrey, to recreate their tandem skateboard tricks live in front of a massed audience of smart enthusiasts.

And what had begun as a unique experience fortwo became an event witnessed and discussed by hundreds of thousands, online, in cinemas and even in person.

Credits
Executive creative director: Jeremy Garner, Weapon7
Creatives: Anthony McGinty and Jason Cascarina, Weapon7
Producer: Adam Walker, AMV BBDO
Account management: Richard Moloney and Adam Morrison, AMV BBDO
Filming was shot in Barcelona by director Ben Newman via Pulse Films with producer Oliver Roskill & live action producer Matt Hougton
Editor: Thomas Grove Carter, Family Editing
Post production: VFX producer Cat Scott, 2D lead artists Roisin Dunstall, and colourist Aubrey Woodiwiss, The Mill
Sound: Anthony Moore, Factory
Music: “You Rascal You”, Hanni El Khatib

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