video shoot studio

Commercial Video Production

I can seldom walk through Manchester without being physically accosted and asked, “What is the world of commercial video production really like?” If I step on the Metrolink at rush hour, within one minute I have been mobbed – “Sean! Over here, tell us about commercial video production! The late nights, the green tea, the beta-blockers we want to hear it all!” Strolling late nights through Manchester is out of the question for me ever since I was approached by a hooded figure with a vacant stare. He fixed my gaze as he shuffled intimately close to me, zombified. I steeled myself and adopted a Capoeira stance. Perched on his slow and pained exhalation I thought I heard my name. He feebly lifted an arm and slid up a sleeve. I glanced at his arm in the last second before I’d prepared to deliver a confounding open palmed strike. I was taken aback. There on his forearm, in blue ink, his tattoo – “why do you love commercial video production in Manchester?”

This has to stop. So once and for all here it is.

Idea Shaping Sessions

A great commercial video production starts with a brilliant brief. There’s nothing better than when we receive a brief that gives us all of the facts but with a big scope for our own creativity. The stipulations of the brief become the rules we must follow while we play a game of imagination in our idea shaping sessions. The brief is like the card you pick up in Pictionary and we must devise the perfect way to draw our picture to convey the message on the card. In commercial video production you only have 30 seconds to convey that message and you have to convey it to a much wider audience than your Pictionary partner who you’ve known since uni. It’s not a perfect analogy but you get the idea. I wouldn’t want to shrug off the hordes of Manchester people who claw at me for an answer as to what commercial video production is like with “like Pictionary”. That would be inaccurate.

Turning a Video Brief into a Concept

Nevertheless, a good brief gives us the facts that only the client can give. Target market, budget and deadline are decisions we’d love to make but in reality, a good brief includes these facts and leaves us room to deliver upon these stipulations in the most effective and impressive way conceivable. Commercial video production is an art form with a world of possibilities but the end goal basically always remains the same. A great brief gives us the parameters that we must work around to ensure that the film does its job, but a brilliant brief also gives us room to flex our creative muscles in devising exactly how we achieve that end. 

Storm in a Teacup?

Brainstorming is a word that I find troublesome. It’s a word that is pretty synonymous with advertising, marketing and communications so it’s tricky to avoid when working in commercial video production. I think bad experiences in the past have meant that in my mind the word has evolved to mean “let’s see who can talk the loudest when we’re all getting a little tired and bored and we’ll just go with that.” One of my favourite writers Jon Ronson produced an episode of his Radio 4 documentary series on Brainstorming and its pitfalls which is definitely worth a listen if devising new ideas with a team is part of your life. Luckily at Groundbreak things work a little differently.

Evolution of Ideas

Whoever is working on the brief will have time individually to digest it and come up with some ideas before we discuss it as a group. We will also often go away again after hearing each other’s ideas to hone our own or take someone else’s forward. A commercial video production is like a baby, you just want the best for it and for it to reach its ultimate potential. You probably wouldn’t make the best parental decisions on the spot while trying to find a long enough break in the crossfire conversation of your colleagues. So, having a little creative incubation time individually before finding a clear consensus on an idea is a precious luxury in commercial video production but in my opinion, it should be a necessity. It helps us each take the brief in potentially different directions which opens up our individual perceptions of what is possible rather than us creating one idea between us in what can easily become a microcosmic echo chamber.

The Groundbreak Way

Our way of working ensures that we take in a good range of creative directions on a brief. We organically find the route that we’re most excited about, we get to a conclusion quicker and we often have a few concepts to pitch to our client so they are sure to be as excited about the production as we are.


Once we’ve shaped our idea, pitched it to the client who have heralded us as geniuses and whipped out their chequebook quick snap, we then get into the production. Excellent commercial video production is as much about communication and preparation as it is about creativity and the art of storytelling. Pre-production is all about ensuring that we are completely prepared to execute our concept to the highest possible standard, including factoring in contingencies. It is also about giving us and our client the clearest and most detailed possible preview of exactly what the finished film will be. Commercial video production is often a sizeable investment from a client’s marketing budget so we like to do everything we can in pre-production; storyboarding, scouting, scripting to guarantee that the client knows exactly what we’re working towards and has any stress taken away from them allowing them to focus on enjoying the process.

Scriptural Psychosis

The best commercial video productions centre around a strong script. Captivating composition and sumptuous sounds are incredible to experience but when a magnificent script ties up the commercial message neatly and provokes an emotional reaction then the whole package becomes something special to be proud of. Scripting a first draft for a commercial video production is one of my favourite ways to spend a workday. I’ll take the tram into the Manchester office and, after fighting past the baying mob of teenagers greedily enquiring how Coronavirus has affected my life in commercial video production. Then I’ll start to think of opening lines for the script. Usually I’ll have the voice of the actor or narrator in mind before anything else. Then I’ll psychotically sound all of my thoughts in their voice and with the emotional tone of the commercial for a while to get a feel for what sounds good.

Being “In” The Script

Once you get the flow of the delivery and one or two lines you’re flying. I am very easily distracted so white noise in noise cancelling earphones is a godsend for me when writing a script. Being “in” the script in this way is something that not only sounds fabulously pretentious but is also a very fragile state of mind. Writing a first draft of a commercial video script is like sketching out drawing lines which you know will be painted over. The eventual script will in all likelihood be quite different to what was originally written but the form, message and structure will remain based in that first draft. Once a solid draft of the script and a storyboard have been signed off, we then have an excellent idea of exactly what is needed for the shoot.

Shooting Commercial Video

I adore commercial video production shoots. Working as part of a commercial film crew is a thrill and joy to behold. Watching all of the pieces and people come together on set is incredibly satisfying as you see the culmination of weeks or months of work come to fruition. Being on set is a heady juxtaposition of moods. There is a palpable sense of fun and electricity that runs tangentially to a sense of focus and heightened awareness.

There may be some slight apprehension from the cast which is perfectly contrasted and allayed by the Director’s calm and contentment. There is a sense of great importance attached to every task but also an assurance that everything is happening exactly as it should. There is a speedy pace combined with hushed and tranquil voices. Commercial video production shoots have an atmosphere that suggests everything absolutely must go perfectly but that nobody will panic too much if it doesn’t. A collection and collaboration of some of the most creative and resourceful people you will ever meet means that everything will go according to plan, even if it doesn’t.

The Edit

After the wonder of the shoot day we enter post-production. Commercial video production is a process where every phase of the production has to be thought of as where the magic happens. A great concept goes nowhere without a script that does it justice. The script is nothing but ink on paper without a storyboard to visualise it and a shoot to capture it. I don’t know if you have ever seen raw rushes from a commercial video shoot but if you have then you know just how important post-production is. A clip may be 40 seconds long but just one second of that clip is trimmed, colour-graded and made into 3 seconds of the final 30 second commercial.

First Cut

The skill of a great editor is invaluable as they take the vast amount of footage that can be gathered on a commercial shoot and, using the storyboard and script, see the story among the rushes, shiny gems of takes glistening against the gaze waiting to be mined. I would say a commercial video production reaches peak excitement when you are sent the first cut. You know it’s a first cut, you know the client may have amends, you know that you may have notes to give but more than anything else you know that you got it. You know that the commercial you all willed into existence has come to be. It’s a few tweaks and weeks away from being the shiny new toy on your showreel.

On Air

The excitement of a first cut could only possibly be bested by seeing your commercial on air when you’re not expecting it. Then it is truly a complete work. By the time that happens we’ll be deep into other productions, equally excited by them and it’s a heartening reminder of the calibre and purpose of working in commercial video production as you see your work doing its job and making your clients product look and feel incredible.

If, like the masses of Manchester who are banging on our office window cutting through my white noise as I type this, your appetite for what the world of commercial video production is like is still not satiated then you should contact me or Groundbreak HQ directly or visit my more in-depth delve into what we do here.


Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

tv commercial production blog

TV Commercial Production

“TV Commercial Production will become a thing of the past” I am told every single year by all kinds of folk in the world of video production here in Manchester. I’m told TV is dying. Streaming is taking over the world so there is no point in having a standard TV subscription anymore and even less point creating a TV commercial because nobody will see it. This is what I’ve been warned now for many years. Yes, streaming is massive nowadays and especially for the youngsters but that doesn’t mean that TV is defunct, old hat and pointless. It’s all about evolution in my opinion. The way in which we consume our content is evolving. Including our TV advertisements. This doesn’t mean TV commercial production is a thing of the past though. It’s still one of the numerous outputs that can deliver a powerful message, capture the attention of the viewer and help them take action. In our Manchester studio we are still creating a diverse selection of video productions as part of our client’s video content marketing mix and TV commercial production is still often at the core of that.

TV Standard Commercials

I’m certain that everyone I know (apart from my great uncle Humphrey who is a hermit living on the Galapagos islands) has a TV subscription in their house and more often than not still gets a significant part of their viewing fix on a television screen. This doesn’t mean they don’t have laptops, tablets and phones that they also view content on, but they still watch TV on a television screen (for anyone who literally doesn’t watch TV on a television screen I apologise for generalising). Of course, the younger the person the more likely they are to be streaming through their smart TV rather than watching traditional TV on the traditional channels, but these streaming channels also have “TV standard commercials” which I will discuss later in this blog.

Why Do Teenagers Watch Content In Their Bedroom?

There’s a household pecking order to consider. You could call it a viewing hierarchy. In homes following the back-to-front age rule (the older the person the more rights they have to the TV remote control) I can easily see why the narky teenager ends up streaming shows on their tablet in their bedroom. They’ve essentially been outranked. My home is very much 21st century equal opportunities (although I often feel I have the least amount of remote-control clout). We only have one television in our house which is proudly sat in our living room. My daughter gets first dibs without question. Next in line is my wife with little challenge. And when they’re both out at nursery and/or hot yoga I get full control of the remote. The problem is the only time they’re out of the house I’m also out creating our latest video production.

Quality Video Production, on TV or Online

It seems to me that since the launch of social media and streaming platforms like Netflix, slowly but surely “TV commercial production standard” or some similar iteration is a term for high quality video production. Whatever the platform, an advertisement is expected to be of a certain standard. The team at Groundbreak often get asked to create a TV standard commercial for social media. Which essentially means the client wants quality video production, but instead of TV broadcast it’s online output. This brings me to a confusing statement that a TV commercial doesn’t have to be viewed on a TV. Obviously, given the name it would be fair to assume the commercial in question would be broadcast on a TV screen. However, if you just ignore the TV bit and look at it as a commercial it’s the same production, content, crew, talent, campaign, duration and messaging. For us creating these “television” advertisements the only real difference are the settings on the camera to ensure that if it is going to be broadcast on traditional TV then it will playback correctly. I won’t get technical now but suffice to say that it is important to have the right camera settings when shooting for TV broadcast otherwise you’ll run into lots of trouble during post-production. This is the other stage of TV commercial production that is relevant. It’s crucial to have legal video and audio when mastering the final commercial. This isn’t anything that can get you into bother with the police. It’s simply to do with levels to ensure your commercial is broadcast safe. TV commercials need to be approved for broadcast by various bodies who check the legitimacy of any claims within the advert and that the content is not offensive etc. Online ads can be as false and offensive as you like.  

Smart TV Advertising

A major development in the world of TV commercial production is the revolutionary approach to advertising where different ads can be shown to different households watching the same TV show. Examples of this would be SKY Adsmart or ITV’S VOD to name a few of the big players. This form of TV commercial advertising helps businesses of all different levels of financial clout because it’s generally a more cost-effective way of utilising the power of TV advertising. Businesses can hone in on precise target audiences in specific areas to get a more targeted advertisement like this TV commercial we produced for Vodafone as part of a recruitment strategy for their contact centre in Manchester. It showcases the way in which TV commercials are being aired is evolving and their reach is more calculated and smarter.

As much as the internet is taking over the world there is still room for television and television commercials. Maybe one day this will change but as far as I can see it hasn’t yet and isn’t about to. It’s simply evolving rather than vanishing.

Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss your next TV commercial campaign.

happy man

How Did I Get Into Video Production?

Do You Want a Career in Video Production?

I most certainly didn’t plan a career in video production. The thought never crossed my mind. The truth is I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. Not a clue. All I was interested in as a teenager was sport and most importantly, creative writing. Whether that was poetry or prose, it didn’t matter. I just enjoyed the process and the escapism. Absolute freedom. Putting a pen to paper and writing whatever the hell I wanted was liberating. My handwriting was and still is the laughing stock it deserves to be. To say it was difficult to read would be an understatement. It needed an interpreter. Who cares though? It was the words that mattered as far as I was concerned. I never professed to be a calligrapher like Maeve, our creative director who annoyingly has incredibly elegant handwriting. Thank goodness for computers and fonts for folk like me. More importantly, thank goodness that bad handwriting didn’t hold me back in my video production quest.

Poetry and Mental Health

Some of my poems, especially when I was younger had a dark and abstract theme. Maybe a little too dark at times. I had quite the fight with mental health when I was a teenager and didn’t understand what was going on in my own head. I now look at it as a beautiful, melancholic moment in life that I overcame. In fact, I’m certain it made me a stronger person. Throughout the tough times my pen and paper were always in my pocket and they rescued me from myself. I’m sure many teenagers have issues as they progress through those heady and often cruel years and I was no different, although at the time I was convinced it was only me. I felt alienated and didn’t realise it was all part of the journey of growing up that would eventually lead to happiness. At that point of my life I certainly didn’t entertain the thought I would spend a sizeable chunk of my working life at a fun loving, award winning video production company here in Manchester. Not in my wildest dreams. Poor mental health has a cruel way of sucking all of the ambition and excitement out of you. It stops you dreaming big. It lowers your expectations. It dampens your soul. You can overcome it though!

Why We’re Passionate About Quality Video Production

By my late teens I had done every type of low paid, run-of-the-mill job imaginable. You name it (within reason, of course) and I’d done it. Some were better than others, but when I look back none of them rewarding or particularly enjoyable. They just put a bit of change in my back pocket and paid the rent. I do remember great anxiety in my teens regarding the age-old question of what am I going to do with my life? What is my ambition, my plan? I always responded in the same way. ‘I want to be happy’ and I meant it. That always raised a slightly irritating eyebrow. As if I was supposed to want more. Teachers often asked this question, never my parents. They let me be, and were calm about the big picture. Or at least that was the persona they exuded, but I don’t remember feeling any kind of pressure from them. I think the true relentless pressure always came from myself. I wasn’t particularly bothered about my teachers. I’m incredibly good at giving myself a hard time and expecting the world. I’ve always strived for perfection in whatever I do. Whatever the job, I’m the kind of person that thinks if you’re going to do something then you might as well do it properly and be proud of it. I think that’s why I’m part of one of the best video production companies in Manchester. Our drive at Groundbreak for quality video production stems from my own passion for excellence. Things just mean a lot to me. If I’m involved in something, then it just needs to be great otherwise I’m not interested. Here’s one of our award-winning TV commercial productions ‘crystals’ commercial. I hope you can see the love and passion we put into this for our client. This is what the Groundbreak team are all about. Putting our heart and soul into our productions.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the long term career sense, so I decided the most sensible course of action would be to study English and Creative writing in university. This was a bit of a cop out because I didn’t think it would lead to much, but at least it would give me some direction. I didn’t even know what type of writing I would like to specialise in. When I was forced to choose, poetry was the front runner. Once I’d declared this, I was warned that I’d likely have to move to the Russian federation if I wanted to make a proper career in poetry. Apparently, they take it much more seriously out there. I still don’t have a clue to this day if that is true or not. Maybe they wanted to get rid of me…

Scriptwriting at University

At Uni I was introduced to film and theatre script writing which changed everything. I found to my surprise that I loved them equally as much as poetry. I decided at that moment I’d be a feature film screen writer or staff writer on an awesome prime time TV production as soon as I left uni. I was wrong of course. I did however manage to get my foot in the door of a major broadcaster soon after I graduated. For the first few months I was a glorified brew maker, which wasn’t ideal for a future Hollywood screen writer. I was super enthusiastic though and just got stuck in and because of this my tea making skills were noticed and I started making my way up the ladder. Along with mastering the art of the perfect brew I learned every aspect of video production and television programming during my time as a runner. Finally, I felt like I had a purpose. I was certain this was the industry for me. I flittered around for many years between different broadcasters and video production companies writing, producing and directing. Most importantly, I was learning off some incredibly talented people along the way, many of whom remain great friends to this day. Around this time I had a lot of success with my first indie documentary and that gave me the confidence to take the plunge and form my own Manchester based video production agency. And as they say, the rest is history.

Why We Love Video Production

Everyone has their own path. We all find our own route one way or another. Fortunately, I stumbled across the world of video production and it gave me the opportunity to express myself. I wake up every morning knowing that creativity is going to be an overriding theme of the day. It means everything to me that I’m plying my trade in a creative industry. Having that freedom to think and create on a daily basis. Surrounded by other creatives who all have their own aspirations and personalities but ultimately love creating video content in a fun environment. There can of course be restrictions on the videos we’re creating. But in order to be the best video production company it’s important to find creative ways of getting around the restrictions and challenges. At Groundbreak we all love what we do and treat our work as a vocation. If you can find that vocational mindset then I think it can help you on your way to finding what it is you’re supposed to do. We love all aspects of the production process. From idea shaping an incredibly exciting concept, scripting our latest corporate video production, storyboarding an immersive 3d animation that we have the pleasure of bringing to life, or online grading using the world renowned ‘Da Vinci Resolve’

We will do everything to get the perfect TV commercial look or simply editing a brand film or social video after a long but rewarding shoot. There are certainly more serious and important jobs out there, that’s for sure. However, as a creative, finding something that you enjoy and has endless opportunities in originality and imagination is utopia as far as I’m concerned.

In a way, video production kind of saved me in my adult life just like script writing saved me in my teens. Fate has a funny way of opening doors at just the right time. That’s why I love video production. If you’d like a creative team of decent human beings to work on your next video content project, please bear us in mind or give us a call.

2d animation production for television

The Groundbreak Autumn Round-up

Celebrating Manchester’s Best Video Production Companies

Here at Groundbreak we can’t believe we’re edging closer to the end of November. What an autumn it’s been already here at Groundbreak HQ. We spent an evening at the MPA inspiration awards last month as one of the best video production companies Manchester has to offer, nominated for best video. We were pipped to the top spot by a BBC collaboration in the end, but still very proud to have one of our commercials up against the biggest players in the industry. It’s two consecutive years now we have been an award nominated finalist at the MPAs for television adverts we’ve produced from concept to final delivery. Video production in Manchester is thriving and here at Groundbreak Productions we are in the thick of it and loving every minute of producing outstanding corporate and commercial videos.

Video Production For Global Brands

Another great achievement this autumn for Groundbreak has been working with a multi-billion-dollar client from over the pond for the first time. Our new client has impeccable standards and expect quality video and perfection with all of their commercials. It involved a large green screen shoot directed by our in-house Director Geoff and produced by our very own Creative Producer Sean along with the rest of the Groundbreak team. We needed a 35-person crew, a RED Helium 8k and two Arri Amira cameras all shooting in synchronicity. Fortunately, the team at Groundbreak like pressure and thrive under that kind of environment. It’s all top secret at the moment but watch this space for the commercial’s release in the new year.

Animated Videos

It’s been a hectic autumn for our post-production team too. We’ve been creating numerous animations both 2d and 3d. We’re putting the finishing touches to a magical 3d animation imagined and realised by our talented Head of Production Matt  for another wonderful client which will be polished and mastered just before winter arrives. Animating this piece was great fun with it being a highly satisfying and captivating style. However, the most fun part was the sound design. We locked ourselves away for a good few days in our post-production studio and created hypnotic sounds that we’re certain will blow the audience away.

One of the many other animations we have recently created is a fun 2d TVC we produced for another client which has just been broadcast. This is a product animation highlighting an exciting range of security products in a fun style that even briefly includes a fire breathing dragon (no, not the John Lewis Advert!). Due to our client’s positivity towards the final video animation we’ve no doubt it will deliver excellent results for them and we look forward to creating the next one.

Winter – A Busy Time For Corporate Videos

We’re always crazy busy at this time of year because many of our clients want to shoot their commercial, corporate or social videos just before their Christmas parties as part of their marketing strategy for the new year.

See you soon and here’s to a fun and productive winter season that’s just around the corner.

Enjoyed this round up? Have a look at our other video production blogs, including behind the scenes stories, equipment reviews and general video production hints and tips !

head shot used for video blog

Memorable TV Commercials

Last week it was my birthday. I won’t specify the exact date as the team at Groundbreak HQ often become quietly frustrated when I am inundated with flowers, chocolates and negligee from well-wishers and fanatics.

Nor will I explicitly state the year that I was born. When I am occasionally pushed for an answer to this question I daintily wither like a debutante southern belle, offer only “the year of the Dragon”, and nod to indicate that that should suffice. 

A further clue would be that I share a birth year with the most consistently ubiquitous voice of Pop since my early teens and po-faced Bajan – Rihanna. Another still is that I am the same age, height and weight as MMA and Dublin’s Conor McGregor, he has ever so slightly better posture than I do which creates the optical illusion that he is in marginally better shape than I am fitness wise. A third clue, a certain giveaway, is that I have the same year of birth as the unrivalled, unparalleled, the absolute definitive ginger wizard of his generation Sir Rupert Grint. 

As true for myself as it is for BadGalRiRi, The Notorious and GinWizWeasley – since we were born, things have changed. When we four were born television advertising in the UK was only 33 years old (I’m quite old, the Berlin wall was still up) and between then and now TV commercials and marketing have changed significantly.

Old TV Advertisements

One thing I remember being confused by as a child were the advertisements that were seemingly for a generic product that was unbranded. Usually for foodstuffs like the famous “go to work on an Egg” ad campaign of the 50s and 60s (long before I was born). Who pays for those ads? Hens? Were they governmental schemes to push egg sales and if so why? Is that what communism is? Where were the adverts for shoes?

“Remember to buy shoes!”

“Shoes! For your feet”

“Slip in to something lacy”

Remember when the League Cup was sponsored by Milk? MILK! Not Alpro, or Dairy Crest or any other brand. Lactose or otherwise this was a huge national football competition that was sponsored Milk. Good old-fashioned Milk direct to you from the Mad Cows of yesteryear. Bizarre.

Here is an ad that was being broadcast during the year that myself, The Fenty founder, The 170 lbs Irish gorilla, and The Venerable Saint Rupert Grint were born. This ad is a TV commercial promoting that most prestigious of products – Pork. The ad encourages families to “lean on Pork”. This pun seems to hint at pork being less fatty than other meats as well as being comparatively economically priced so when the pantry looks bare you can always lean on pork to get you through the week.

Staying with the food theme, although this time overtly branded, this next and equally odd video features current spouse of the fabulously tyrannical Rupert Murdoch and mother to four of Mick Jagger’s children Jerry Hall. She turns to camera as the narrator whose voice sounds like he is newly recovered from inhaling some water asks us “Are you a Bovril Body?”

Jerry with the sensual air of someone who has never been asked a more reasonable and enticing question answers “With 20 calories a cup, naturally”. She then takes a sip from a double handled, fine china and (one would guess) antique, Bovril cup.

There and then as a babe in my mother arms I unlatched from her breast. Screaming, I declared that milk was for sponsoring football tournaments and overweight people – I was to have a Bovril Body! In the (few) decades since, I have drank Bovril and Bovril only. Another striking similarity between myself and the two-weight world champion Conor McGregor as I’m told he does the same when cutting weight before fights. A marketing triumph.

The above ads are examples of commercial productions that were still in their broadcast cycle when I was born. However, the following and final ad actually debuted in the very same Tibetan year of the Female Fire Rabbit as I did. In a harrowing prophecy of my retirement this commercial features an 80-year-old jogger Walt Stack. He is running over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge topless. As he runs he tells us that he runs 17 miles every morning. He then tells us that people ask him how he keeps his teeth from chattering in the winter time. “I leave ‘em in my locker” Walt quips and runs on by, the guy is a maverick. Walt, as astounding and virile an octogenarian as I’m sure he was, is not the star of this ad. The true star is what follows next. A logo and a super.

“Just do it. NIKE”

This was the very first* usage by Nike of “Just do it.” It was pitched to Nike by a marketing executive who reportedly came up with it by repurposing the last words of a murderer who uttered “Just do it” to the firing squad that were braced in anticipation ahead of him in his last moments.

The flippancy, the attitude, the simplicity, the singularity of focus and determination, the inspiration, the hope, the unsympathetic self-belief of the phrase has entranced and resonated with us ever since. From that day to this, from an 80-year-old jogger running 17 miles because he can to NFL and Nike athlete Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for his national anthem to this day in protest of the treatment of minorities in the US, Nike have found moving stories and branded them. How does an 80-year-old man run 17 miles a day? How can an athlete have the courage to lose his job and millions of dollars to stand up for what he believes in? In the first case and the second, which was heavily marketed by Nike to mark the anniversary of the phrase in 2018, the answer is the same – Just do it.

The birth of a truly iconic and globally successful symbol within the world of advertising… as well the birth of Nike’s Just do it. A fine year of the dragon indeed.

*Not the first use of “Just do it” by any brand. Two years before Nike’s campaign Britain’s very own Weetabix had an ad that could not have been more of its time. Featuring animated characters that made up the Weetagang dancing through dark city streets, a bespoke rock ballad extolls the virtues of a filling breakfast and even squeezes in a brief sax solo, the pavement flags light up as the characters step on them, the song and the ad end when the characters jump in to a billboard Weetabix ad and the singer shout-sings “Wake up with Weetabix… and just do it.” We now know what really kept Walt Stack running 17 miles every morning.

chair featuring in video blog

The Story About The Chair

Seamless Video Production

We take some things for granted. We’re supposed to. When things are well-designed they are supposed to appear entirely innocuous, borne of nature, as though they have lain there for time immemorial and we have appeared among them rather than them among us. This is not only true of physical designs. In video production good sound design can, and is often intended to go unnoticed. A well-crafted visual transition can be so seamless that the viewer stays immersed in the film and unaware of a cut and similarly, production design can often be taken for granted. Even when not subtle or naturalistic, set design and props can be easily overlooked if they are executed well in a video. Whether a set is intended to meticulously represent an actual place and time, or to create an entirely ethereal and symbolic space, if it is well designed we readily accept the world that we are presented with and all things within it. We go to that world without much thought for the strenuous labour of the set builders, prop buyers or production designers. Sourcing props is definitely not work that deserves to go unnoticed, even if it is intended to, as I can personally attest.

Sourcing Props

My friends and family have grown used to seeing me become increasingly incensed at inanimate objects. Worse still, inanimate objects that are not present. In fact, them not being present is exactly what enflames me. I can be heard listing things I need to do, locate or acquire for a project and inevitably the list dips in to the ludicrous at the end with a flourish. The list starts quite normally. “I need to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find-” now this is where the list becomes vaguely bizarre in perfect synchronicity with my cadence becoming distinctly manic. The point at which I say “find” is usually a good indicator that my to do list is about to go awry and I’m going to sound a little panicky. Below are some examples taken from my real life. Verbatim.

“I need to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find-

  • A dozen gymnasts
  • A Mother of Pearl dressing table
  • A church that will let us shoot a blasphemous music video for an Australian political party
  • A Dalmatian
  • An ice truck
  • 12 pews [I found the church but it didn’t have pews. The Director wanted pews]
  • Two snakes
  • A chair

A chair. Or ‘The Chair’ as my friends would call it when enquiring “how’s work? How’s it going with The Chair?” “Have you sorted The Chair?” or “I heard shouting. Is it The Chair?” It’s the most benign sounding item on the list but as with all things on the list the challenge is twofold, first in finding a very specific chair/Dalmatian/dressing table and secondly in finding it yesterday. So having it delivered today! This chair was very specific and very time sensitive. We needed a black leather armchair with a brass frame and we needed it by Sunday. Today was Friday. Both myself and a Production Assistant called furniture shops, prop hire companies and set designers all to no avail. We turned to a little known, secret industry resource called Google. We found chairs that were 2 out of 3 combinations of black leather, brass frame and available to be delivered on Sunday but none that were all 3. The Chair Triumvirate alluded us for hours. We persevered but started to consider alternative options as the possibility of us finding THE chair dwindled. It was suggested to me that we could use one of the chairs that was available to collect and of a similar design and paint the frame and leather to make it the right colours. I applauded the ingenuity and dynamic approach to solving the problem (it was less patronising and The Apprentice-y than it sounds) but said I it could never work. I know Directors and clients are very prescriptive with set design briefs. They want what they want, and we MUST find it.

I had an idea. It was not fool-proof but we were nearing the deadline and, as my tattoo reads, momma ain’t raise no fool. We would purchase the exact chair that we wanted but had thought impossible to have on set on time. I would then arrange a same day courier to collect the chair directly from the distribution depot, in Kent, and bring it directly to set, in Manchester, the client would love it and I would relax somewhere near the snack table and enjoy the shoot. It wasn’t an ideal plan but it was by no means a hare-brained scheme. It was certainly more straightforward than the plan to acquire the Mother of Pearl dressing table which involved me personally collecting it directly from the manufacturer… in Karachi. The Chair was approved by the client and Director and purchased. I arranged a courier to collect The Chair on Saturday morning and deliver it directly to set that same day, a whole day before we needed it. There was some back and forth arranging security access for the courier to be able to get the chair from the collection point but it was all arranged and I slept well on Friday night.

The chair was to be delivered to the shoot location before 6pm on the Saturday. I’d sent an email double checking the booking and that all was well at 8am. I’d received an email confirming that I should relax and enjoy a Saturday morning just as I would any other – being beaten up and mocked by my daughter. At 5:50pm I called the courier to confirm that the chair had been delivered. The lady on the phone sounded trepidatious. She said she would give me the driver’s phone number. This never happens. You can beg and plead for the driver’s number. You never get the driver’s number. I became stricken with panic. “Is there a problem with the delivery?” I asked in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice. My daughter mocked me. “You can talk to the driver” the lady said. In hindsight, I only wish the courier company could have passed The Chair to me as quickly as she passed the buck to the driver. I called the driver and asked him if he had delivered the chair. He told me “they were closed” I asked him that if the shoot location was closed would he to deliver it directly to my house and asked if he was still in the area. He said, “no the distribution centre was closed.” He hadn’t collected The Chair. The driver had arrived to collect the chair at 4:30pm. Thirty minutes after the distribution centre had closed. He had planned, in a daring feat, to collect the chair at 4:30pm in Kent and deliver it before 6:00pm in Manchester, a bold bordering on moronic attempt at bending space and time that if achieved would have been a remarkable leap in travel technology and human evolution but was in actuality a monumentally cretinous catastrophe that I seldom needed.

I calmly walked out into the garden to take stock/bare knuckle attack my punch bag. I called the distribution centre. An automated message told me they were closed until Monday morning at 8am. I gently sobbed. My daughter mocked me. I called the Director and explained. There was a potential solution. While the shoot started on Sunday the scene that we needed The Chair for wasn’t scheduled until Monday at around lunch time. I spoke to another courier and asked if they could be at the door of the distribution centre coiled and ready to spring in to action the second it opened. They assured me that they could have the chair loaded on a van and hurtling towards me by no later than 08:05am on Monday, that depending on traffic they could have it with me by around 1pm and that their driver had no ambitions as a scholar of paradoxical time/space continuum equations. I spent the rest of the day preparing the final things for the shoot. I just needed to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find a 4ft x 4ft mirror, a white coffee table that could double as a bench and a 20ft x 20ft roll of flooring and The Chair. I slept less well on Saturday night.

The first day of the shoot, Sunday, came and went and while it went very well it still didn’t have The Chair. Sunday night I dreamt of arriving home to find that I was too late and my house was closed so I had to live outside with nothing but a chair. Vans circled me. I cowered. My daughter mocked me. I woke on Monday and called the courier immediately and asked for the driver’s number so I could harangue him and ensure that he collected the chair on time. They wouldn’t give me his number. I felt confident in this company. I drove to the shoot stopping only to change a tyre because the gods felt that my morning was evidently not stressful enough. The talent on this shoot were only available to be on set for one hour. In one hour we had to shoot numerous ads as well as stills photography and social media spots. We also had no idea when they would arrive and when the hour would start. We knew only that it would be after lunch. If the chair arrived before then I could proudly take my place near the snack table, if not then there would be no opportunity for waiting around, the hour countdown would start whether The Chair was there or not and we would not be able to shoot that ad. These immovable facts whirred in my mind as I changed my tyre with my phone perched on my shoulder calling the courier. The Chair had been collected. Depending on traffic I was going to sleep very well that night.

Lunch time approached. The mirrors arrived, the bench arrived, the flooring arrived. The talent arrived. The 60-minute countdown began. I frantically called the courier. They would absolutely not give me the driver’s number. I was impressed. They called me back. The driver had arrived! He had handed the chair over to someone at reception! I asked someone to run and collect it quickly while the talent were in make-up. Minutes before the talent arrived on set the chair was rushed in and put in place. The talent, a 6ft 3 inch footballer, walked on set and immediately dwarfed The Chair. It looked like a toy. The Director and Client had a quiet chat. I gently sobbed. My daughter was at nursery. It was decided that The Chair was too small.

Despite my stress and anguish and logistical prowess being utterly worthless I would sleep well that night. For while I was attacking a punch bag or changing a tyre or being mocked, the Production Assistant had arranged for the purchase and collection (from Wigan, very close to Manchester) of a chair that was of a similar design to the chair in the brief and had the Set Builder paint the frame and leather to make it the right colours. The Director and Client loved it.

Of course, I had known of this contingency plan and I had known that regardless of what happened we would solve the problem (The Chair WAS delivered on time.) I knew that we’d give the client the shoot they’d imagined in their brief. That never stopped me endeavouring to achieve plan A while working equally hard on plan B but the real moral of the story is that the work of a good Set Builder should NEVER go unnoticed!

video production agency best video award nomination banner

Groundbreak Productions Nominated for Best Video – 2019 MPA Awards

Award Winning Video Production

Groundbreak Productions continued video production work with Brother International has resulted in yet another award nomination. This year started in fine fashion with a European Office Products Awards win in the ‘Video of the Year’ category. And was quickly followed by a triple nomination at the Prolific North Awards.

Next month we will be heading back to the MPA Inspiration Awards in Manchester. With the chance to bring home the ‘Best Video’ award for our Brother International food traceability video (below).

Brother Food Traceability

2019 MPA Inspiration Awards

This year’s MPAs will once again be held at the iconic Midland Hotel, Manchester on the 17th October 2019 from 6:30pm. With the award ceremony just weeks away we’d better get our party outfits ready (and maybe the James Bond-style helicopter ride to the ceremony we storyboarded and very nearly agreed on last year!)

And although our team will be thoroughly enjoying the festivities of the evening. We won’t forget to capture the best bits and keep you updated on our social media channels throughout the night. You can also follow what everyone else is doing using #MPAAwards19 on Twitter. 

Award Nominated Concept

This award nominated commercial is in fact part of a series of commercials for our client Brother International. Sticking to the same concept we produced retail and field commercials too. They were also nominated for numerous video awards. Due to their success we have had more commissions for this style of video production.

About the video

As with any complex TV commercial production we needed many months of meticulous planning to pull it off. We had to create something both ourselves and our client could be proud of. With everything happening in camera it was even more necessary than usual. If one foreground, mid ground, background, light or actor moved slightly off cue too fast or too slow we would have to start all over again. The whole point of the concept was to capture everything in one shot without any visual effects. And that’s exactly what we did. Which was a challenge to say the least. Luckily the Groundbreak team are not only ridiculously organised but also highly talented, so managed to pull it off.

snow on trees in daylight

Creating Weather Conditions in Video Production

Dealing with hot weather

For warm-blooded mammals that have been evolving to be perfectly suited to our surroundings for a while now, we do spend a remarkable amount of time trying to adjust those very surrounding conditions to make ourselves comfortable. We need air conditioning and heaters, umbrellas and sunglasses, we need blinds to shade out light but also need to wire in bulbs so that we can see, and then we pop a shade over that bulb just in case that is too bright. We are needy and fragile. We can’t handle dust. DUST! There are mammals that can survive weeks without food or water or shelter or sunglasses, while being hunted by other ferocious mammals that want to kill them. Kill them and eat them. They survive all of this. They survive all of this while being in a perpetual state of pregnancy. If I inhale in the same room as some dust I am immediately bed bound. In short – we are delicate. We need stability and consistency. We need nothing less than a record-breaking heatwave. In fact, we need one thing less than a record-breaking heatwave and that is a record-breaking heatwave when you are trying to shoot a Christmas commercial!

While as a nation we’ve been overwhelmed by the uphill battle of adjusting to our microclimate, this is actually one of the continuous struggles of video production – wrestling with nature to create fake weather conditions for a shoot. Summer ads can’t be shot in summer. The commercial to launch your spring range needs to have been picture locked before winter ends. Easter promos being shot any time after Jesus is born are way behind schedule. So if the challenge of changing seasons on command is an uphill battle, the past few weeks of forty-degree heat have made that hill seem positively Himalayan. To make us all feel a little better I’ve taken a look at one example from TV and one from film which demonstrates the lengths we will go to create the perfect, if entirely fake, weather conditions.

Fake Weather in TV – Fargo

While shooting season 2 of Fargo, the TV reimagining of the Coen brothers film of the same name, the production was halted due to lack of snow. Synonymous with howling whiteout blizzards and the anxious fervour of a small mountain town hit by a crimewave, without snow there is no Fargo. Executive Producer of the show Warren Littlefield told Vanity Fair “We were sending trucks into the mountains to load them up with snow and bring them down to our locations. They’d bring back these huge blocks of snow and then we had kind of a wood chipper that worked through these blocks of snow and ice and then just spit it out into a spray.” Anybody who has seen the second season of Fargo would concede that the snow looked nothing less than pristine and fresh from the skies, which it was, only it was delivered from the skies by dump trucks.

Fake Weather in Film – The Revenant

When shooting Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015) production was halted for five weeks due to the plummeting temperatures. This film has been widely discussed for being incredibly challenging to produce and shoot. Iñárritu decided to shoot the film in chronological order which makes no logistical sense! There is a six-minute one shot, one-take scene which means it has to be performed and captured on camera as though it were live AND it included a bear attack. The cinematographer decided to use only natural light meaning that there was a window of opportunity that could be measured in minutes for each specific scene on any given day. Most interesting to those of us who have sweltered in the heat is that the production employed its very own meteorologist tasked with predicting the weather and cloud coverage to the tiniest detail but equally importantly to find snow. Snow is prevalent throughout the film including one scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character along with his horse dominate the shot while a stunning avalanche cascades and crashes down a mountain behind them. An entirely practical man, Iñárritu decided against popping in the avalanche in post-production and decided instead to choreograph an actor, a horse, natural light, Hollywood scale crew and a helicopter full of explosives for a one chance only take to create a real-life avalanche for the scene.

And I get frustrated co-ordinating the turning circle of my oscillating fan with the width of my bed.

graffiti in cannes

Iconic Film History & Frontier-Pushing Advertising in Cannes

If you have emailed me in the past couple of weeks you may have received an out-of-office response. You may have even wondered where I have been. If you follow me on Instagram however, you will have been spammed with content that could leave you in no doubt. Like anyone whose generally dormant Instagram account suddenly springs into life for a fortnight, I have been on holiday.

Get Away From all Things Film… In Cannes?

In a bizarre twist, while taking a break from video production and commercial film I headed directly to Cannes, France. But isn’t that the home of the world-famous Cannes Film Festival? Correct. Isn’t it also the host venue of Cannes Lions the world’s most prestigious advertising festival? The very same. So while I contentedly cycled along the Côte d’Azur quaffing champagne and cracking crème brûlée I would periodically be transported back to the world of advertising and film production. Whether it was one of the many murals around Cannes celebrating film production (which show far too many crew members strenuously holding equipment for my holiday disposition) or some of the incredible photographs of Hollywood stars and screen sirens around the town such as Phillipe Ledru’s still of Sean Connery and Roger Moore enjoying a drink and a cigar, I was never far from a reminder of film production. While I will concede that the latter of these two examples has a glamour that few of our – or anybody’s – productions have (two Bonds!) it was a reminder nonetheless.

The remnants of Cannes Lions festival, which had closed two days earlier, were also peppered throughout the town. Posters and stages, interactive displays and pop up bars lay quiet like ruins. Ruins that memorialise the marketing and advertising executives who had filled the town to promote, network, party, and blur the lines between the three. With marketing and advertising zeal and an industrious Hollywood drive in the air it was hard to forget about commercial video production, nor did I want to. In fact, I saw a whole new working life for myself. I could pick up emails anywhere. They have 4G in the French Riviera. With this, I started to formulate a plan for Groundbreak Cannes. The plan started with me eating black truffle camembert and has remained in incredibly preliminary stages since then. Watch this space.

Controversial Advertising

To give you a sense of the heady mix of iconic film history and frontier-pushing advertising that Cannes offers I need only to point you in the direction of one of this year’s Cannes Lions more controversial winners, and my all-time favourite historical Cannes Film Festival scandal (everybody has one!)

Taking numerous prizes at this year’s Cannes Lions was Burger King’s The Whopper Detour promoting Burger King’s mischievous offer of a Whopper burger for the price of one penny if you purchase it via their app and, crucially, within 600ft of a McDonald’s store. The offer was widely received as a masterpiece of trolling a rival by Burger King. The video showcases this perfectly as it shows pixelated hidden camera footage of people arriving at a McDonald’s drive-thru to buy a whopper. The McDonald’s staff, who range from confused to passive aggressive, deliver some perfect soundbites including one lady who explains that they could try and make a whopper but it wouldn’t be as good as Burger King’s. What more could Burger King’s marketing team hope for? C’est Parfait!

This marketing ploy reminded me of the story of Simone Silva. Silva was a young Egyptian-French actress whose star was still rising in 1954 when, having been crowned Miss Festival at Cannes, she was asked to pose for photographs with already bona fide Hollywood star Robert Mitchum. Seeing an opportunity to cause a stir Silva promptly took off her top to reveal her breasts. She cupped her breasts and posed and postured with Mitchum who was reported to have “played along’ although the pictures taken suggest he was at least mildly confounded. Seldom is a man unexpectedly presented with breasts and remains composed – Hollywood star or not. Even less composed were the photographers who scrambled and allegedly injured each other in the furore to get the perfect picture. Simone Silva, along with her breasts, became recognisable stars overnight.

Silva’s 1954 marketing ploy much like Burger King’s 2019 campaign shows a risqué, provocative move that aims to piggy back on a bigger name and cause controversy in a bid to promote oneself as a rebellious disruptor. With 73 years of film and advertising notoriety (the festival started in earnest in 1946 after a false start in 1939 due to perennial nuisance Adolf Hitler invading Poland) one could begin to wonder – is there something in the water in Cannes?

One could begin to wonder this, but I can confirm that after my own stunt of topless posing resulting in being stung by a jellyfish, that yes indeed there is something in the water and it will be more handsy with you than Robert Mitchum.

Like this blog? there’s more quasi-film-related blogs here!

famous quote

Poetry in Advertising

When I was 7, or rather when I was one of the ages in an approximate three-year span that I refer to lazily as 7, I wrote a poem. I should make it clear at this point that said poem will not feature in this blog. It is lost to the hands of time. And it didn’t rhyme. That’s always been a problem of mine which, while hard to define, still plays on my mind. It was called A Recipe for Winter. Seen by many of my classmates as the pre-cursor and chief inspiration for A Game of Thrones, which was coincidentally* also written in 1996, my poem was more of a literal recipe. Essentially an exhaustive list of all of the things that I could think of that were associated with winter. However rather than simply transcribe this list, I chose to write it in the style of a recipe. “Toss in an unused ice cream van” was one obscure highlight that I remember. By stirring scarves, whipping wellies and mashing mittens I created a work that was, as one teacher fondly remembers it, “an exercise in the use of verbs and adjectives at a Key Stage Two level.” And since then I have been hooked on poetry.

Recently at Groundbreak, we’ve been working on a commercial with a poetry based script. Writing the script for this video is some of the best fun we’ve had working on a production. However, it was also challenging. How do you write a poem, something so fluid and nebulous, yet ensure that the video serves its marketing purpose and delivers your client’s brand messages? With our final script signed off and well into pre-production we’ll soon be able to show you how we did it. Until then here is a list of some uses of poetry within video advertising and marketing that we particularly admire.

Nationwide’s brilliant campaigns have championed diversity while supporting artists by collaborating with poets from across the country to create commercials filled with charm that are beautifully shot and leave a lasting personal impression. My personal favourite is this piece written and performed by Croydon based SugarJ.

While Nationwide commissioned bespoke poetry for their Voices campaign Director Daniel Barber paired Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night (1951) to allegorise breaking free from the humdrum of the rat race by driving a Ford Mustang.

This ad from Giff Gaff is performance poetry at its purest; One performer delivering poetry to camera in one take. It has a live and intimate feel and delivers a message that feels homely and honest. The stunning mise en scene adds a dreamy and cinematic quality that draws you in and romances you. It’s not A Recipe For Winter but it’s a bloody good effort.

*Groundbreak’s legal team have advised me to say