|★ GAMES ★ DIVERS ★ The Cricklewood Dream Factory ★|
|The Cricklewood Dream Factory||Games Divers|
Ever wondered bow a TV commercial was made? Well, in accordance with W.C.Field's famous advice, actors should never work with children, animals or computers ... William Poel looked in on the glitter and razzamatazz
John Ringham gets in some practise while Michel Gemmell lights up.
If your 40 seconds of advert fail to make the point, then there's a big problem. And the way in which the point is made is so important: it's no use producing an ad that everyone regards as witty and good fun if no one can remember the product being featured. That famous Joan Collins/Leonard Rossiter advert did wonders for all the Vermouth sales, not simply the Cinzano brand that was paying for it!
Armed with a combination of Amstrad's determination to feature the product, and the agency's determination to make an ad that is a memorable monument to their art, the director of the commercial, Ian McArthur, produced shots of every sequence from every conceivable angle. For the two commercials featured in the 6128 and software autumn campaign, there were some 35 different sequences shot. Working out at just over 2 seconds each if they all got used. Editing the footage together to produce 40 seconds of crisp professionalism is the key to whole production task - and with so much material to work from, and most of it technically excellent - the task was not easy.
Greg Delany, of Delaney Fletcher Delaney (DFD in the parlance of the advertising trade), was the agency creative director present during the shooting. Lee Golding the young art director whose 'baby' this was, and who shows considerable promise in a notoriously fickle business. Ian McArthur directed the shooting, assisted by a battery of gaffers, sparks, clapper loaders, lighting and camera men. On the hardware side, the ubiquitous Arriflex 35mm camera complete with fox wedge, Bazooka, Worral, Pancakes and Roll Bar Adjuster - to name but a few. The lighting check list is similarly an unlikely collection of blondes, pups, mizoras, zaps and dimmers. The list is completed by the inscrutably titled 'practical box'.
The Actors: Business and Pleasure
A commercial has a difficult task of choosing faces that are credible yet not too distracting - For the product gets forgotten. After considerable effort at casting, John Ringham was selected as the perfect 'Boss', Gary Rice as the office creep, Emma Myant as the secretary, and Ricky Diamond as the office 'lad'. Each one managed to wring every last ounce from what was already a promising script, and deserve much of the credit for the final result. If you think you've seen 'the Boss'somewhere else, then it's probably as the long suffering father of Penny in the BBC series 'Just Good Friends'. John Ringham warmed to his role like a true professional, and got so engrossed in 3D Grand Prix that he managed to drive around the first three circuits in pole position in between sequences.
In between takes, it emerged that John spends much of his time writing, and was therefore interested in finding out more about the PCW8256, and he even went as far as suggesting a theme for the next commercial featuring a middle aged actor/writer...... In fact, this completely bears out the Amstrad philosophy on the PCW8256 - for while computer specialists are agonising on determining the nature of the marketplace and the conflict with £3000 systems, potential customers who would never previously have thought of setting foot in a Computerland or First Computer store are lining up, eager to lay hands on their first wordprocessor/computer.
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
On a personal note, I find commercials that use 'real life' customers to be unwatchable - and commercials that fail to extol the practical virtues of the product to be quite meaningless - although with products like beer, the ever cautious ITCA (the vetting body) would frown upon a tag line to a commercial along the lines of 'OfTenSlosh gets you gloriously merry' so the commercial tends to be as watered down as the product. Computers have been advertised in a variety of indifferent ways. The Barbara Woodhouse training session, the Commodore Elephant, the Hewlett Packard ads all tended to extol a virtue that was by no means proprietory. The Commodore elephant, for example, looks distinctly vunerable to anyone coming along with a bigger memory product (what price a perfectly preserved Mammoth from Siberia, eh?); and anyone can make outrageous claims about software because no-one really has the time to sit and evaluate a business product properly. And when you do, the result is usually very subjective. The Amstrad 6128 advert manages to extol a couple of typically Amstrad virtues that Amstrad has made almost proprietory in this market, and pointing out the utility of the product at the same time: value for money, and value for money.
Amstrad is the first company to advertise software on TV in a sizeable campaign. (Ocean ? Virgin? Global? - Ed) After the indifference of some of the earlier offerings, Amsoft has actually got a few good-uns together under the Amsoft Gold label, prompting the thought that the rest of the range might uncharitably be described as *base metal'offerings. The software ad was shot in between two days of the 6128 commercial, with Dominic Murphy as the ubiquitous Bob Wilson, and definitely not at all anything like Dickie Davies. I must make this clear because the original intention was for him to appear with a white fleck in his hair like the 'real thing' - but the ITCA said this was not on. I'm glad I don't have to deal with the ITCA for a living, although Greg Delaney insists that the ITCA is a very necessary and wonderful watchdog body with the interests of the general public at heart. (OK, Greg?)
The software ad was made up from set pieces, and so was rather easier to shoot than the action sequence of the 6128. The only problem was the synchronisation of the camera shutter with the TV monitor scan rates. The problem is that the scan rate is linked to the crystal reference in the computer - and although near as dammit 25 frames per second - the difference between shutter speed at 25 fps causes a phase difference to appear as a black band travelling up or down the screen. You must have seen them on TV news reports or other programs without our attention to detail.
The results were actually rather good, as you can see for yourselves if you watch TV-AM.
The actual studios were in Shepherds Bush, but we're allowed a little licence in this business. Contrary to the expectations of many, attending a commercial shoot is about as enthralling as watching paint dry (you have to quite a lot of that, too). In fact, it's very much flying the Atlantic, great anticipation but boring once you're in the air. Like a transatlantic flight, refreshments come along regularly every couple of hours, starting with breakfast, midmorning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea, supper (these events tend to drag into the evening). If some of the accompanying photographs seem to dwell rather heavily on this aspect of the production, it's because the food was one of the more memorable and lasting features.
Shooting a commercial is a trial of many things, not the least of which are stamina and patience.