The cockroach, king of the animal kingdom, is featured in Hugh Mitton's new TVC for iconic Australian brand FLICK. Read on to hear Hugh’s experience with directing these most cherished of arthropods (they are only actors in costumes, do not despair).
I took a call from FCG producer Tim Pietranski one November afternoon saying he had received a script from a well known Australian brand's creative agency, the concept was interesting though the budget was low and more importantly, it was their first ever broadcast commercial. I took a look at the script and we agreed we had to do it, the question was how.
The script was for a 30 second brand spot, conceived by agency creative director Mark Lees and was one extended visual gag; people in bug costumes lazing around an unsuspecting woman's home as 'invisible guests' (think the slob of a boarder you wish you didn't take on). When I was a copywriter, my creative director always told me the best brand ads are simply "the truth with a twist" and I felt this script fell into that criterium. The advertiser in question was Flick Anticimex - a pest control service who have been in Australia for almost a century. When I began to mention the production to others, the typical response went along the lines of "ohh really I know them: *enter singing voice* one Flick... and they're gone!" - the precedent was already set.
I've never been one to feel pressure but like any production you have to run through every decision with all stakeholders, which for a relatively fresh director like myself can be a little intimidating. I couldn't have had it any easier though; the agency knew what they wanted, the client knew what they wanted and we were thankfully all on the same page from pre to post.
While the core idea was clean and clear, delivering it visually in a modern and fresh way was the challenge my producer Tim and I wanted to set ourselves. He had worked a few times recently with Tim Tregoning, a Sydney based cinematographer who had been doing some great work and we were lucky to be able to get him on board for this shoot, as well as a brilliant and experienced team of essential crew to complement.
The look I wanted to go for was a balance between a grungy, dirty tone - think murky yellows, greens and shadows while retaining a little bit of clean, crisp, buoyant imagery for our heroine character who needed to stay fresh and homely. We needed to convey that an otherwise clean and tidy home was quietly grubbed by these pests, specifically, cockroaches. A lot of that was strengthened from the performances, but more on that later.
Defining and finding the 'typical' Australian/New Zealand house and shopper are actually two of the harder creative decisions you can make in a commercial - much harder than shooting an entirely fiction-based script.
After a few days driving around various locations with Tim P and trying to sell the script to some mildly hesitant homeowners, we managed to find a nice old house in outer suburban Sydney with plenty of space inside to position equipment and cohere almost exactly with the boards and more importantly - facilitate in creating the mood above.
THE FACES OF THE FLICKED
While casting an archetypal, neutral Australian woman was mostly straightforward, finding faces of cockroaches was perhaps the most exciting casting session I've had to date.
Our casting agent was able to pull together a session of character faces for us, and we were able to get them to audition in duos or trios and the way many of them got involved in the role of a cockroach was truly amazing, entertaining even. I think it was at that point I knew we were on our way to creating some standout content.
Short on time and money, we were temporarily panicked (or rather, Tim was temporarily panicked) by the lack of available and suitable local cockroach costumes, as well as whether the ones we could track down would fit. In the end, he was able to locate a few quality costumes tucked away in Los Angeles, and some out in Western Australia, of all places. Tim is an American by birthright and was aware it was Thanksgiving, enabling him to have the foresight and additional panic of negotiating public holiday shipping delays. Having an internationalised producer is always helpful.
Once they all turned up, I got the pleasure of being the test dummy (though I prefer the term man-nequin). I was actually surprised how good they looked in real life, which meant they were going to look just swell on camera. Phew.
THE BIG/SMALL DAY
Despite all of the previous story, I have to report a fairly uneventful shoot day. Everything went exactly as planned, which makes for a rather lacklustre report (I can tell you the catering was fantastic?) but I would encourage you to check out the work and see that it's anything but.
One of the more exciting aspects for me personally, was shooting on the RED Dragon in 5K and 6K. The quality is absolutely astounding and gives you a little bit of additional scope in post production if you feel like channeling some Fincher or Daniels.
In terms of camera, I opted for a gentle, handheld look to keep it contemporary and casual overall but preserve the visual 'audience realisation' gags you can see throughout.
Without recording sound on the day we needed to insert all sounds in post production, and were lucky to have the assistance of Sound Reservoir in getting us results. On top of that, they were also able to put together a soundtrack and work it into Flick's well-established jingle from their extensive radio advertising as a stinger.
Finally, once picture was locked we took it for a quick colour grade. I don't think many people realise the immense difference in craft and effectiveness a grade can make in a production and I would always urge to get the best colourist you can to finish your work. In this case the opening shot needed some sprucing (we shot cloudy morning, we needed sunny late afternoon) in addition to some minor adjustments for the remainder of the footage.
A big thank you to all.