- Friday, May. 18, 2001
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As the newest installment in ThermaSilk shampoo's "Fantasies" campaign, created by J. Walter Thompson (JWT) New York, the :30 "Dagger" continues the series' theme: fantastical stories of women embracing the power of heat.
French director Bruno Aveillan helmed the spot, co-produced by Lochness Monster Films, Culver City, Calif., and Quad, the director's Paris-based production house. (Aveillan also directed the initial ads in JWT's "Fantasies" campaign—last year's "Dragon" and "Party"—which marked his first U.S. commercial project.)
The visually stunning and cinematic "Dagger" depicts a 19th-century street circus in London. As light snow falls, a knife-thrower—a pale, intense-looking man clad in black—surveys the crowd of spectators and with a gesture invites a wide-eyed young woman on stage to assist him in his act. Standing in front of a wooden circular target, she removes her hooded cloak, revealing tightly ringleted black hair that complements her classic beauty.
Aveillan's choice of camera angles, lenses and slow motion enhances the drama of the dialogue-free story, as does the foreboding underscore composed by Boris Persikoff of Popcorn, Paris. Additionally, the muted color palette and lighting intensify visual interest. The woman appears flatteringly lit and imbued with color; as the spot's focal point, she stands in stark contrast to her dark, dreary surroundings.
"The idea [for the spot] was to have the feeling that you'd have from looking at a painting of that type of scene from that time," said Jacques Lavaud, executive producer of Lochness Monster Films. "If you look at such a painting, you notice it's never bright and sharp. A lot of work went on between Bruno and DP Phillipe Lesourd ... we made some tests in order to get the right texture. It's a mix of the set, what was shot and telecine."
In the spot, tension mounts as the knife-thrower hurls flaming daggers at the target. The knives fly at breakneck speed before landing around the woman's head. As she throws her head from side to side, avoiding their impact, her hair loosens and appears to lighten, until thick red tresses frame her face.
The performer releases his final flaming dagger, seemingly aimed directly at the woman. She catches it in mid-flight—to his shock and the crowd's—then strides confidently away. "Discover how to transform your hair with the heat-activated moisturizers in the new ThermaSilk," declares a voiceover, as we cut to the same woman, now in a modern-day setting, blow-drying her hair.
The JWT creative team included co-creative directors Chris D'Rozario and Ed Evangelista, associate creative director/art director Naomi Taubleb, associate creative director/copywriter Erik Izo, copywriter Liz Donnely and executive producer Darcey Cherubini.
D'Rozario said that the agency came up with the script about a knife-thrower and the notion of the flames from the fiery daggers transforming the woman's hair. Aveillan contributed the idea to set the story in 19th-century London.
Aveillan has an agency background. He rose to the position of executive creative director at Publicis, Paris, before embarking on a full-time directing career five and a half years ago, said Cherubini, adding, "He did a lot of very spectacular work in terms of art direction in his agency career." While Aveillan had little work on his directorial reel when JWT tapped him last year, Cherubini related that what he did have was extremely well thought out and very well art-directed.
The creatives said Aveillan has a rare combination of skills—an "acutely high standard," and incredible knowledge of visual special effects in addition to the ability to shoot beautiful film. Both served him well on "Daggers," since the brief was to make the spots in the campaign (which include the :15s "Dance of the Elements" and "Sorceress") feel cinematic.
"In order for the spots' payoff to work—[to realize] that these are fantasies that are going on—you have to believe in them immediately as a viewer," Cherubini noted. "To believe in them, you have to have no second thoughts in terms of the storytelling, the setting and the action—from the first frame. Bruno understood that and worked on it all the way through," from the initial conversation through postproduction.
The spot was shot over four days in an airport hangar in Prague. "They shoot a lot of period movies in Prague," said Lavaud, "and have many outfits there, and also have many extras with faces you wouldn't necessarily find in Western countries." Producing in Prague also offered financial benefits over other locales, and a large enough space to accommodate the big set populated by 120 extras, and snow machines.
Built over eight weeks, the set itself was "almost as big as a fair. The kind of detail that went into the set was amazing," said D'Rozario, who credited the job's equally "amazing" production designer, Jean Rabasse (City of Lost Children). Aveillan also hired other crew members with feature experience. Besides Rabasse, these included costumers, visual effects supervisor Eve Ramboz (Mission: Impossible, Goodbye Lover) of Paris-based LaMaison, freelance special effects supervisors Phillippe Hubin (Le Tronc), and Jean-Pierre Grandet (Girl on the Bridge).
As a knife expert, Grandet coordinated the throwing of daggers, including those set afire. Lavaud related that many of the knife effects were achieved by the use of rigging, which was removed in post. Hubin supervised the shooting of the rest of the flame footage, which was subsequently composited to create a multilayered effect in post.
According to Cherubini, by working on last year's "Dragon" for ThermaSilk, which featured a fire-breathing dragon, the agency and production crew had learned a great deal about fire effects. This job provided even more chance for experimentation with regard to different fuels and their burn rates. "We needed to know at what level the wood panel target needed to be lit up," she said, noting that the flames had to be believable.
"That was the challenge," added Cherubini. "We had to learn what [flames] gave off the most heat, the most light, the reddest glow, the yellowest glow. [But we had to convey] that it's a heat story, not a fire story. It was important that the viewers understand the poetic connection between the heat of the flames and the hairdryer."