Embassy recently worked with Cheil Worldwide out of Johannesburg to produce two Commercials launching the new Galaxy Star phone. The commercials show a young man's journey from his apartment in a large African city back to his family home in the countryside.
The commercial would be airing across Africa and as such, the locations as well as cultures and people shown would all have to reflect this by not appearing too country-specific. The treatment called for a quick and fast-cut edit, adding to the need for multiple settings and an authentic African feeling.
Whilst it is never ideal to recreate any type of scenario, the decision was made to shoot entirely in South Africa. What follows is the explanation as to how and why, and what contributed to the commercial’s subsequent success.
By the time Embassy were called in, the script had already spent more than a month going through rounds of reverts and pitches, with no fewer than 4 production companies across the continent attempting to solve the board from a budget and quality point of view.
Embassy specialise in quick-turnaround productions that seem to defy the Time/Quality/Cost matrix, so by the time Cheil contacted Embassy the brief was simple; can you produce these TVC's in 4 weeks at this budget, while still producing a quality product?
The script was originally set in Kenya, starting in Nairobi and travelling through the country to the foothills of Kilimanjaro, near Amboseli, but in this case the solution was to rethink the approach to the production from scratch. Instead of following the tried and trusted service company-led process, our approach was to mitigate as much production risk as possible, while getting as much budget ‘in front of camera’ as possible.
With only days to go before shooting commenced, a massive collaborative effort between the client, the creative team and art department was the only option to ensure a successful shoot.
A location brief was issued to various scouts for the required locations. Care was taken to avoid easily recognisable South African areas and iconic structures. It must be said this process did take longer than initially hoped, as the creative team were unable to settle for anything less than an exact match to the researched photographs from the relevant African areas.
At the same time the highly experienced Art Department, who
had extensive knowledge of shooting in Africa, were providing
information and sourcing textiles and props to best transform our chosen locations into little pieces of Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana etc.
Casting in Johannesburg for a Pan-African market means that there is a steady supply of talent from across Africa. In this case we were looking for the elusive Pan-African look, which is to say, not too tall, not too dark, not too muscular, but able to carry the performance required across a gruelling 4 day location shoot.
An extensive casting brief was put out to all Johannesburg agencies for a Pan-African-looking, young man. The creative team sifted through hundreds of options before finally finding their perfect lead in 19 year-old Jesse Sentele, just two days before shooting commenced.
The supporting roles were filled through a combination of Pan-African (such as George, the Masai who is originally from Kenya) and street-casting for the more minor roles.
From a production point of view, there were many factors that influenced the decision to shoot in South Africa rather than in another African country. Producer Nicola Bowden explained that from a purely logistical point of view, it is very difficult to film in Africa. Unlike a lot of African countries, South Africa has a controlled and well-run Film Commission. A lack of this in other countries means rampant bribery, which can seriously affect a production budget.
Following from this, the costs were another aspect worth consideration. To shoot a similar commercial in Kenya, for example, would have meant a much smaller crew at a higher budget
Lastly, the above were both affected by the short turn-around time given by the client. Two weeks to produce, shoot and deliver the commercial meant that shooting in South Africa literally gave Embassy more time for less money.
Therefore, in order maintain the integrity of the production as a whole, the decision was made to shoot in South Africa.
Shooting commenced in Johannesburg, where all the downtown city shots would be created, before moving the more rural areas of KwaZulu Natal, namely in and around the town of Piet Retief.
As discussed earlier, care was taken to avoid iconic and recognisable areas in South Africa, rather going for areas with a generic African feel that we could enhance with either props or in post-production. In terms of the latter, a large blue screen was constructed outside the apartment window shown in the opening scene. A cityscape from Nairobi was later added in post-production to get a more genuinely African feeling.
The same thinking was employed for the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro shot. A generic savannah landscape was chosen which perfectly enabled the addition of the mountain in post.
Post-production on the commercial happened almost simultaneously to the commercial being shot, with the editor joining us and cutting the first draft as we shot. This enabled a first viewing the day after we returned from the shoot. Within a week, two 30 second versions and a 60 second version were ready for the client.
The success of the commercial from the initial flightings encouraged a request from the client to make 3 more versions, namely for Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
The original commercials were created in English only, so the regionalisation would consist of translations for titles and voice- over as well as picture changes to include regional landmarks and relevant signage titles.
This would mean obtaining the perfect imagery/footage of these locations and re-editing them into the commercial to create the feeling that our lead character had travelled through these countries on his journey. Again, a continent-wide search was put in motion and within a number of days the necessary footage was obtained, our lead was shot on a blue- screen to get the relevant action, and the 3 new versions were produced.
Despite time pressures, budget constraints and a challenging treatment, the Homecoming commercials were shot and delivered by Embassy on time and on-budget for the client, who was overwhelmed by the success of the commercial.