- Monday, Oct. 24, 2011
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Puma's "After Hours Athlete" struck a responsive chord with viewers and the industry at large--evidence of the latter being its earning the Film Craft Grand Prix at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Set in the karaoke clubs, bars, pool halls, bowling alleys and other p.m. hangouts for sports ranging from bowling to dart throwing to ping pong to foosball to billiards, "After Hour Athlete" is really about the bottom-line sport of the evening for young night owls, socializing with friends and those potentially significant others.
Directed by Ringan Ledwidge via Smuggler for Droga5, New York, the spot unfolds to a symphonic score, accompanied by a poetic voiceover from Urge Overkill vocalist/guitarist Nash Kato, imbuing the action with a nostalgic tone and feel.
"What really drew me to the project was the copy that Tim Gordon [of Droga5] wrote. It was fantastic, so very evocative," recalled Ledwidge. "I loved the truth of the spot--that people really buy sneakers and 'sports' apparel so they can go out and look good. And just as good is that there's a nostalgia to this truth. Whether you are the age of those young night owls or much older, you can relate to it, you can be a bit nostalgic."
Ledwidge noted that he wanted the commercial to feel for an older person like "going through a handful of old photos at a friend's house and rekindling random memories. For a spot to connect on that level with people is what it's all about."
That "After Hours Athlete" was indeed able to make such a connection, observed Ledwidge, was in some respects "one of those slightly happy accidents. The budget was small, it was only a two-day shoot. We had to motor all over quite quickly, which helped create a nice spontaneity. The agency creatives were fantastic. They knew our shooting schedule was ridiculous. They knew the time crunch so they trusted me and let me get on with it. A lot of times we didn't even have time to set up monitors. Droga had faith in what I was trying to capture and things sort of evolved organically."
Ledwidge also gave credit to DP Ben Seresin, BSC. "Ben shot the very first commercial with a real budget that I got to direct some 16 years ago. He was on my wish list of DPs. We worked together and got along great. We've been long-term collaborators ever since. He even shot my movie [the psychological thriller Gone for Universal Pictures]. We have a real shorthand. We don't at this stage need to say too much to each other--only occasional short discussions. He did an amazing job on 'After Hours Athlete,' tearing through locations [in Manhattan and parts of New Jersey] and catching exactly what was needed at each."
Career longevity Handled stateside by Smuggler and in the U.K. via Rattling Stick, Ledwidge remains a most relevant talent as "After Hours Athlete" would attest--a stature not all that easy to maintain over the course of a lengthy career. Asked what the key has been to his longevity and success, Ledwidge related, "I don't really know. I kind of came into directing and hadn't thought of it that much as a career. I was a photojournalist who got the opportunity to direct and ever since all I've tried to do is be selective about those opportunities. I never really chased the money. Maybe I will one day. But for me it's always been more about doing something that I was excited about, that I loved doing."
Towards that end, Ledwidge shared that he has made a conscious effort "to change up the jobs as much as I can. It's exciting to have different challenges, different problems to solve, to work with different ideas."
He most recently wrapped an Air Jordan spot for Wieden+Kennedy, New York, adding to a creative mix that he said "keeps me motivated, which I need in order to stay at the top of my game." A notable entry contributing to that mix has been the ongoing Planters campaign featuring an animated contemporary Mr. Peanut character for New York agency BEING, a unit of TBWA.
These Planters spots represent Ledwidge's first foray into stop motion animation, for which he collaborated with animation director Mark Gustafson of LAIKA/house. Ledwidge thoroughly enjoyed working with Gustafson. As for what lessons he came away with from this animation experience, Ledwidge assessed, "It's all about pre-pro in animation, particularly stop frame animation. What I love most about it is that you get the creative opportunity to create a world from nothing--it's limitless in terms of one's imagination. You have the freedom to create something completely different, unique and strange which is what we did with the first spot ['Holiday Party'] and the follow-up commercials. The level of talent, the level of detail and attention to detail are just astonishing at the animation studio."
As for the many details and nuances in "Holiday Party," consider it a mesh of the nostalgic and modern as embodied in Mr. Peanut himself. This was the first spot to give the iconic character a voice--that of actor Robert Downey Jr. Beyond taking on an oral persona, Mr. Peanut--the dapper Planters mascot since 1916--has become a bit more contemporary in look while still sporting the top hat, monocle and cane which we're accustomed to seeing. His new attire includes a stylish gray flannel suit. Downey was chosen in part because his voice performance could bridge the gap of being contemporary and easy-going while being adorned in a top hat, monocle, and wielding a cane. Indeed the look, feel and voice of the spot expertly balance being cool and modern with the inherent nostalgia evoked by Mr. Peanut.
Underscoring the importance of being contemporary was that the spot itself premiered on Mr. Peanut's Facebook page (facebook.com/mrpeanut) prior to running on television and in cinema theaters.
The commercial is a fanciful eyeful, rich in character creation that goes well beyond protagonist/holiday party host Mr. Peanut, with such alluded to unconventional party-goers as a root beer-drinking grasshopper, and an offbeat bird who is trying unsuccessfully to serve nuts to a taxidermied creature.
Other guests include a mole, a turtle and a butterfly. Mr. Peanut even has a sidekick butler character who too is a peanut. However, he is shorter than Mr. Peanut--with but one nut in his shell rather than two.
Even inanimate objects take on an animated persona. Party guests gasp as a nutcracker enters Mr. Peanut's house.
The nutcracker apologizes to Mr. Peanut for an indiscretion from the previous week. "I don't know what got into me."
Mr. Peanut replies, "Well, forgive and forget--kind of," as he turns to reveal a bandage covering cracks in his shell around the back of the head.
Through it all, Mr. Peanut remains a most gracious host--which is key, along with the right snacks like Planters Nuts, and good friends and family as guests--to holding a successful, fun holiday party.
Of his collaboration with Ledwidge, Gustafson earlier told SHOOT: "I enjoy working with live action directors; they can often bring a fresh perspective to the stop frame process. They tend to come in with fewer preconceived notions about how things 'should be done' and are generally more willing to challenge the thinking. Ringan was a very quick study when it came to stop motion. He felt comfortable pretty quickly and that made my job much easier. He was quite collaborative throughout the whole process. Much of what I did early on was help him understand both the limitations and the strength of working with puppets as opposed to actors."
Thus far Ledwidge has had a directorial hand in three Planters spots--"Holiday Party," "Tree-athlon" and "Alejandro." More work on the animation campaign is likely in the offing.