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Directing the 80s in 2017: inside Vaughan & Anthea’s Christmas reunion for House of Fraser

Vaughan Arnell and Anthea Benton, the darling directing duo of the 80s and 90s, went 20 years without speaking after they split in 1996. Now they’re not only back in touch but are working together again, selecting House of Fraser’s Christmas story of sisterhood through the decades as their first spot of the 21st century.

The festive ad was created by 18 Feet & Rising as a marked departure from the upbeat, choreographed creative of the brand’s Christmases past. Driven by story more than aesthetics, ‘Bring Merry Back’ focuses on the bond between an older and younger sister across two timeframes – the 80s and today – and aims to revive the festive joy felt by children in House of Fraser’s adult audience.

The choice of sisters over any other familial relationship was an important one for the indie agency’s executive creative director, Anna Carpen.

“I don’t think the sisterly bond has been represented in advertising that much because I don’t think people know how to write it, actually, without it being cheesy,” she said. “One thing we didn’t want was two little girls dressed up in pink dresses. That’s not how girls behave – they run around tearing up paper chains and causing chaos.

“We really wanted to show girls and women being themselves and not being part of a stereotype that advertising believes.”

The biggest challenges for Arnell and Benton were recreating the flat, graininess of 1980s cinematography and finding a cast of two young girls and two women with the right facial similarities. The directors found these two production briefs were interlinked, with the latter solved by casting two real young sisters with minimal acting experience and pairing them with a duo of unrelated but comically connected actors.

“The vintage look [came] more from the casting,” Arnell told The Drum. “People’s facial structures were different in that [80s] period. Once we found the real sisters we could then design the look, the costume and the colours. We based it on people’s real photographs from the 80s. We took those and examined the grain and the whole look.”

How was it working together after two decades apart?

“It was like nothing had ever happened,” said Arnell. “We’re much stronger than we used to be and we’re just gagging for more opportunities.”

The hero ad will go live on Sunday (12 November) during ITV’s The X Factor. Its digital and social spin-offs will roll out on the same day.