Anthony Dickenson on Working with the WWF
The director breaks down his beautiful new film, which blends music and photography to highlight the message.
Anthony Dickenson's latest project is a beautifully-crafted film for world wildlife and environmental organisation WWF and uses a mix of stunning photography and memorable music to highlight the message, fronted by singer Will Young.
Below, he tells us about the technicalities of putting the piece together and how you can do your bit for the campaign and help heal the world.
What was the brief you received from the client?
The original brief came from WWF and Globe Productions. My producer, Mark Harbour, and I were asked to create a three-minute film to accompany Will Young’s reworking of the Burt Bacharach classic, What the World Needs Now. They wanted to see the artist perform in front of a series of large projections showing the beauty of the natural world, interspersed with staggering statistics of our detrimental effects on it. Mark and I pushed the idea even further, we both agreed that it needed something special to really stand out and capture peoples' attention.
We decided that it was essential for us to put this idea into the context of what the WWF is trying to save: the natural habitats. The process was really collaborative with WWF from the offset. We met up several times and talked about our ideas together. It was great to have such a positive creative relationship with the client from so early on. They are really good people with a strong understanding of the filmmaking process.
What was the inspiration for the ad?
The inspiration initially came from the animals and their habitats… How can we show this in a way that people haven’t seen before but still have it resonate and connect emotionally. Then, when Will Young agreed to be involved and we first heard his version of the track in the Globe Productions office, it all came together. The emotion was there, in the song and in his performance and at this point we all knew that this had the potential to be something really special.
How did you want viewers to respond to the campaign?
Of course, we want people to respond by supporting WWF. Also we want people to feel motivated to do something, to make a difference. I hope the film moves people and reminds them of what is going on in the world outside of what is going on between people. It’s a volatile time at the moment, but it’s important to remember what we have around us and what we are at risk of losing if we don't do something. It’s not too late and people have to feel hopeful rather than hopeless. That was the tone we were trying to hit with this film.
You overlap images and video content. What were the difficulties of using different mediums?
Capturing quality footage of wildlife is notoriously difficult and unbelievably time consuming so it was always going to be our approach to use library footage. That then changed as we quickly realised that those engaging, dynamic, beautifully captured sequences of perfect length just don't exist.. Or they are astronomically expensive. During one of our meetings with WWF they showed us some of Joe Fellows’ amazing work from one of their previous projects. Joe uses a technique called Parallaxing that, in essence, creates a moving image from a still photograph by splitting it into layers of perspective. We all agreed that this was the way to hero the wildlife and have some consistency throughout the collection of images.
It also made our lives a lot easier because now we were just looking for strong photography and not moving image. Our key aim was to find images that would evoke an emotional connection. Eye contact was a big part of this. Especially when it's with a wild animal and can be further sustained using the Parallax technique. The end result feels like the animals are staring out at us and that's what makes some of the imagery so unique and engaging. Mark did an amazing job with the initial image search.
The juxtaposition of Will Young silhouetted against the wildlife screen and on-screen in nature is very effective. Did you have a preconceived idea of what you wanted to create or did your eyes develop with the project?
I did have a preconceived idea of what it would be but there is always an uncertainty when you are making something that is so technically challenging. That can be tricky. Naturally, there are risks involved when taking a huge screen into remote environments. From a production perspective things can easily go wrong. We chose to shoot our exteriors in South Africa as it offers up such a great variation of environments.
Mark and I have a very good relationship with a service company, Farm Films, out there and we knew they would pull it out the bag for us. The weather was always a bit of a worry. Putting up a big sail/screen in a place that is known for its heavy winds was nerve-racking. We were extremely lucky, on the savanna we had completely clear weather, not a cloud in the sky, in the jungle it was perfectly overcast and then at the beach it wasn’t too windy and in the background we had the most dramatic stormy clouds rolling in off the coast… It turns out that was a hurricane coming in, which hit about an hour after we wrapped. A close call, nice one mother nature!
It’s very stylised and cinematic – you contrast the bright colour of nature with the darkness of inside throughout the video. Why did you think that this was fitting?
I worked closely with the super-talented cinematographer, Ben Fordesman, on the look of this. I was really keen that nothing lit the environments or performance space apart from the projection screen itself. For the performance interior space it basically acted as a 30 foot wide, colour changing, soft box to light Will with. So its the perfect beauty light really. We also decided to use reflectors and mirrors to bounce the projection light around when needed.
I suppose it was less about the darkness of the warehouse space and more about the way the projection light would fall in it. We wanted it to pick out and highlight elements of the graphic industrial structure. The idea being that these man-made elements would contrast with the nature in the exterior environments.
One of the biggest technical challenges was always going to be getting enough exposure out of our projection light to combat the daylight when shooting our exteriors. Basically, if your projection screen is lit by the ambient light and you can see that its white then not even the most powerful projector in the world can counter that. The answer is to shoot at night, but we wanted to be able to see the environments otherwise whats the point in being there at all. So, we had to shoot during a ‘sweet spot’ of light towards the end of magic hour, which is very short in South Africa..
Anyway, we got what we wanted by pushing the latitude of the camera to its limit, then Jack Mcginity, wizard colourist at Time Based Arts, manipulated the footage to get exactly what we wanted with a little help from the rest of the TBA team. Im really happy with how it's turned out and it was a real pleasure to work on. Look out for the BTS film which is coming soon and sign up to WWF here.