How a film-maker adds value to the original idea
It seemed as if all the creative work was cut out for Prasoon Pandey, ad film-maker. The brand’s founding proposition had already been made: dress differently. The print campaign had already sold Allen Solly as a new-age brand of relaxed office formalwear. And it’s hero had already been characterised: he was cool, collected and self-directed. Someone with a mind and style of his own. Someone with the guts to defy the dull uniformity bred by abject corporate conformism. The TV campaign was well thought out too. The storyboard was ready.
The brief had been to communicate the Allen Solly values and Shilpa Mhatre (associate creative director) and ManMohan ‘Mac’ Anchan (creative director) of O&M, Bangalore alongwith their team translated this into a potent concept: a man’s attitude towards his clothes reflects his attitude towards life. He would stand out, distinguish himself and he would have crowds itching to ape him.
So what was there for a film-maker to do? Could he add value? Well, Prasoon Pandey (then working with Highlight Films) was sure he could. And he did.
‘The overall treatment, recounts Pandey, ‘was as important as the finer details. I realised one has to slow down the pace when this Allen Solly guy walks in. First, depict a dull, yet fast-moving corporate world, and then break the monotony with this bright Allen Solly guy.’ How did he do this?
Prasoon created the atmosphere of a humdrum, fast-moving mechanical world by relying heavily on editing. The film was 50 seconds long, but the number of shots used were more than 70, and this is what increased the pace. In fact the film features dozens of fleeting images of high-buzz activity…interspersed with sublime images of the Allen Solly man. Whenever the Allen Solly guy walks in, everything starts to move relatively slowly, the pace slows down, in a kind of unreserved reverence. This effect was achieved by making these shots lengthier during post-production, using a technique called a warp. ‘The warp is like taking a breath,’ explains Prasoon, ‘to slow the pace of that second.’ For example, a part of the frame is shown sinking while the other is stretching.
The film is also tinted with a greenish hue (a telecine coloured green, more metallic than the kind seen in the current Cher and Madonna videos), to give it a suitably differentiated futuristic look.
The music is a techno track and no, it does not slow down when the Allen Solly man enters the frame – but instead speeds up. As though representing the hero’s state of mind. It is also another way of bringing out contrast between the Allen Solly man and his environment.
Another visual device used was the blur. Large portions of the film are out of focus, giving the effect of a blurred world swirling around our hero. Significantly, the Allen Solly man himself is out of focus in the beginning, and is revealed to the audience as the film progresses.
How was this done? In technical terms, it was done by using a ‘shallow depth of field’ (as opposed to a ‘wide angle’). Using the camera this way creates an additional effect – of space.
The story progresses
The story is certainly not a regular once-upon-a-time tale with sequential shots to show where the hero is and what he’s doing. In fact, while everybody knows that the action is happening at a railway station, the actual geography of the station is not shown. It is left to the imagination of the viewer.
For one thing, there is no wide-angle shot of the station or the train either. Prasoon has only shown bits and pieces of the station at a time. One shot focusses only on a signboard (the rest blurred), another on the grill, and another on the staircase.
Although some 10-15 split-second shots of the station have been shown, this didn’t take up extra time. ‘If we’d shown a wide angle of the station, it would have had to be a 3-4 second shot,’ insists Prasoon.
Shot in Sydney
The film, which was shot at Sydney’s St. James station (for the old style British look), begins with a shot of the tunnel interior. The camera was kept inside the motorman’s cabin, while the train was in motion. In the next shot the train is on the platform.
That’s when the viewer experiences the first split-second warp – the left part of the frame is shown sinking while the right is stretching. Next, one sees people through grills. People dressed in black and white. Here, Prasoon had to control the colours.
One also gets fleeting glimpses of faces inside the train. Very fleeting. But there’s a reason. ‘When one sees the people inside the train again, the mind connects it all up,’ says Prasoon. Retrospective subconscious recall.
A yellow blob
Then, for the first time, the viewer sees colour. Yellow. A yellow blob of colour. Blurred, but striking against the bleak background. It’s a shirt we surmise. As it walks along the platform, moving amongst the black and white clothes, the second warp occurs. At last we find out who the shirt belongs to. It’s a handsome man (an Australian model), who walks causally down the platform, and then up the stairs, flinging his coat coolly over his shoulders in a stylish gesture.
Warp again. The man is still out of focus, with the props in sharper relief. Again, a shot of people in the train. Intercuts of train zipping by (an effect created by the multi-layering of stationery train shots – to speed up the pace of the film.)
As our hero moves into a subway, the camera focuses on the shirt for the first time (this time the rest of the frame is out of focus). Then, a shot through the legs of the man walking behind him. The glimpse of yellow. Then – a top-angle shot of the Allen Solly man going through the ticketing machine. The focus is on the machine. Cut to shots of faces inside the train. The mystery is being built up.
Finally, he comes into focus
The suspense nears the climax and the whole man comes into focus. His face, his smile, yellow shirt and maroon tie. The doors of the train slide open and he enters the compartment.
We are shown the commuters’ and their expressions. A nerdy looking Japanese with thick spectacles taps his neighbour as the yellow shirted man passes by. People start looking up. The Allen Solly man walks up the stairs to the next level in the train.
Warp again. As he seats himself, everyone in the monochrome crowd stretches their neck – as if on cue – to get a better view. The Allen Solly spell is on. As a bespectacled commuter bends forward, an out of focus Allen Solly label on our hero’s pants enters the frame. This comes into focus, and goes off the screen. Cut to the shirt collar, which also gradually comes into focus and goes off the screen. Ditto, the pockets. A stupefied face watches, agape.
The Allen Solly man crosses his legs. The others copy him. He puts his bag down, and so do they.
Cut to tunnel. Train and platform warp, increasing the speed of the train and of the film.
Again, shots of commuters. Hero pulls his sleeves. The others follow suit. He pulls out a paper. And they? Likewise, as Simon says.
As the journey nears it’s end, the Allen Solly man puts on his coat and walks confidently out of the compartment. Warp again. The passengers’ awe-struck eye-balls trace his exit path. Shot of an empty platform and an Allen Solly hoarding on the wall.
The last shots
Cut to next day. The Allen Solly man again is now dressed in a red shirt and yellow tie. The compartment door opens. He enters, as cool as ever. A sardonic smile crosses his face. They are all there. Sitting pretty, quite pleased with themselves. Gazing at him in profound expectation. As if expecting his approval. Each one of them in yellow shirts and maroon ties!
(This was published in the Advertising and Marketing Magazine (A&M) under the title To be Seen and not herd. The thumbnail photo is sourced from agencyfaqs)
Note: Prasoon Pandey graduated from the National Institute of Design (NID). Today he is an ad filmmaker at Corcoise Films. He has a large collection of awards from the Clios, Cannes, New York Festivals and Asia Pacific Adfests. He has also been on the jury of many international advertising festivals including the Cannes in 2006.
He has been ranked as amongst the Top 100 advertising film directors of the world by Advertising Age. Then the last Gunn Report (based on Donald Gunn’s survey of the world’s top advertising awards) ranked him at No. 24 in a list of the best and most awarded ad film directors (2001.)