In this interview with director Ringan Ledwidge, he lets us in on the secrets behind his blockbuster commercials for brands including Nike, Axe and The Guardian. Ringan shares classic behind-the-scenes stories from film shoots, working with talent and being stuck in crossfire.
Award: Graphite Pencil / TV & Cinema Advertising / 2013
Agency: BBH New York
The gift of this brief was Peter Rosch the copywriter. He’s a really great writer, and it’s (sadly) rare that you get beautifully written scripts. There are certainly people capable of doing it; it’s just whether they get the scripts through.
My thinking was that it needed to feel like memories. When you remember things it’s not an edit in your head; they all merge and blend into one another. I wanted these memories to be one train of thought, to have a dream-like, fluid quality. That’s where my execution came from. That’s what won me the job.
Working out the timings was a nightmare. I wanted to have a sense of drifting and I wanted to have a feeling of being one-shot. In reality it’s five or six shots.
So each take had to be perfect. We were doing two or three of the scenarios a day. It was all quite strange. Usually you can rely on cutaways but this was very much about getting it exactly right.
Three Little Pigs
Award: Yellow Pencil / TV & Cinema Advertising / 2013
Agency: BBH London
Client: The Guardian
I love what The Guardian stands for and I wanted other people to be able to feel that.
I wanted them to be very much like the three little pigs that you would find in a kid’s novel – tweed suits and plus-fours. I remembered going to the Royal Ballet and seeing a production with pigs. So we tracked down a company called Sands Studio in Deptford who make wardrobes for theatre productions. And they still had the original pig mold from the Royal Ballet. So we went down there and remade them.
We augmented it slightly with CGI on the eyes and snout. But the masks were remarkable. I think the Guardian still has them.
Normally when you do a commercial it’s for a big company. When you get something like The Guardian, as a director, you feel an extra responsibility. I had to present to (then Guardian editor) Alan Rusbringer, which was way more nerve-racking than anyone else I’ve presented to.
Award: Wood Pencil / TV & Cinema Advertising / 2011
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
They were paying Kevin Bacon to play someone obsessed with Kevin Bacon – and I thought it was important to have fun with that. So we gave him a comb over and changed his nose. I wanted people to think "that’s really fucking weird, it looks like Kevin Bacon". And I thought for him as an actor playing himself it would be more fun.
He stayed in character all day. Even when we watched it on the monitor he stayed in the role. He took it seriously, and enjoyed it.
Most of the bigger actors use commercials as a way of making really good money. I’ve only had really good experiences. If they can see that you know what you want and know what you’re doing they are great.
Award: Wood Pencil / TV & Cinema Advertising Craft / 2005
Agency: Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam
We shot in Lisbon on a three-day shoot. For the actor running down a hill it was obviously quite exhausting. On the first day, three hours into filming he was in bits: he can’t run, he’s complaining, he doesn’t want to do it… I had to let him go on the spot.
So we were three hours into the day without a replacement
Then, weirdly, a guy walked by who one of the creatives knew. We did a quick on-the-spot casting and an hour later he was our man. And he was an absolute Trojan; he ran for three days solid without complaining once.
And one other thing you wouldn’t know – the hot dog stand was actually a go-kart. There’s a guy inside driving it. We got some pretty funny looks driving back up the hill.
Award: Yellow Pencil / TV & Cinema Advertising Crafts / 2005
Client: Lever Fabergé
The best thing about this was Nick Gill. Nick had already had me pitch for three or four jobs prior to that. I was always up against Chris Palmer or Jonathan Glazer, so I always knew I was third on the list, and I knew I wouldn’t get the job. So I didn’t know whether to go for the pitch.
But the great thing about Nick is that he cares a lot and is incredibly good at his job. So we spent quite a lot of time working it through. A lot of the moments within it were up for grabs, so we’d go through different thoughts and vignettes.
I love scouting for locations. I sometimes like to let the location inspire the scenario, so Nick very kindly let me shoot in Cape Town. It was a really nice experience. We worked closely. He allowed room. So it was a happy job, everything lined up well and we were going in the same direction. The client liked it too. When you get a trusted client you get a good piece of work, which is something a lot of them could learn.
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