How would you like to get inside the head, and office, of one of the most powerful people in advertising, with none other than Maurice Lévy as your tour guide? Stephen Lepitak goes behind the scenes of The Drum’s virtual reality shoot at Publicis Headquarters.
Paris has yet to awaken as The Drum and Unit9, the virtual reality production company, arrive at the service entrance of Publicis Groupe's Parisian headquarters, just across the road from the Arc de Triomphe. The doorway, down a small dark alley, is in stark contrast to the grand front entrance and barred by a security guard who is less than impressed by our explanation that we have arrived from ‘Le Drum’.
Much gesticulating and name-dropping follows until our admittance is eventually secured and our ambitious project gets underway.
The project, once completed, will see Maurice Lévy, chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe and one of the world’s most successful businessmen, offer online viewers a virtual tour of his office while introducing some of the items he keeps close to hand, either for inspiration or as reminders of his decades at the company. The virtual reality tour precedes Lévy’s guest-edited edition of The Drum, to be launched at Cannes Lions in June.
There are many photos of group founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet positioned around the sunlit office and the award packed shelves give some insight into the great success that has been achieved within these four walls.
Despite our early arrival, Lévy has already been at the office for two hours and is full of the joys of spring as he welcomes the crew and is talked through the process of what is sure to be a very unique filming experience.
The purpose of this is to offer viewers a 360° guide of the office where billion Euro business deals are made, with the tour guide being Lévy himself.
During the shoot he chooses to discuss several items around the room, including a Bible that survived the Publicis fire of 1972, a pair of stone doves that perch pride of place together in front of the company’s awards, a jar of candy that is full but tellingly within reaching distance, and a painting by Louis le Brocquy that hangs behind his left shoulder.
Setting up takes around an hour as the 360° camera – known as Johnny5 and comprised of a ball of GoPros – is suspended from fishing wire in the centre of the room just in front of his desk. This is a striking rig consisting of seven cameras, adapted specially to film Lévy by Unit9's virtual reality innovation team.
Each new scenario presents the crew with a unique challenge, they tell The Drum during set up, which means developing bespoke solutions. Johnny5 was calibrated to film interior spaces in close proximity – a perennial challenge in VR that also requires careful blocking of shots. The rig also had to transmit pictures from multiple cameras for playback outside the room to allow the crew and Publicis’ comms team to monitor Lévy, who talks directly to the rig in the room on his own. No one else can be present during recording to convey a personal experience for the user, with Lévy to talk directly to the audience about each item, while enabling them to look freely around the room at the same time.
Joining us again following a touch of make-up from a MAC cosmetics artist and a cover shoot for his guest-edited edition of The Drum, Lévy is ready for his close-up.
The room is then cleared leaving only Lévy and the rig. While this could be unnerving for some, media-friendly Lévy proceeds to address the camera directly. It’s as if he is welcoming a guest to his office, his Gallic charm turned up to 11. He shoots the first take in under 10 minutes, but is happy for a second go which runs even more smoothly. Two and a half hours have been blocked off for the video shoot, but it is in the can within 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time for editing.
An hour and a half later a rough edit is stitched together and, using a Samsung VR headset, he watches himself in action. “Oh putain!” he declares in astonishment as the film begins to roll.
David Crone, head of innovation for VR at Unit9, has adapted an HD video transmitter and drone ground station to remotely monitor and switch between the video feeds. The final, fully assembled 360° video frame is 8000 x 4000 pixels. Lévy agrees he looks pretty good in high resolution.
With that the office is cleared and the team – including photographer Julian Hanford and The Drum's head of TV Dave Birss – reassembled. Content in the feeling something special has been achieved we retire for steak and chips at a nearby cafe to celebrate, before catching the next train back to London.