Likely one of the most in-demand working directors amongst DN’s alums, new additions to Ian Pons Jewell’s music video and advertising portfolios are something we eagerly await here at Directors Notes. Proving we’re far from alone in our love of his brand of filmmaking, Ian’s recent Dare To Become ad spot quickly became the most viewed Nike ad ever in China within days of its release. We somehow got Ian to slow down long enough to talk to us about shooting future tech and dynamic football, and why we should get our hopes up for an Ian Pons Jewell short in the future.
Dare To Become exudes such a strong feeling of playful energy, was that fully present in the initial pitch? How did the concept develop from there?
It really was. The script was phenomenal from the get go. Sometimes you get a brief and it needs a fair bit of work to get it to a great place, but other times, like this, the script is already gold. When it is, it just lets me work in more and more detail and texture to an already amazing base of creativity. The Writers Josh King and Max Pilwat are incredible. I worked in extra stuff as I always do, such as the whole tissue factory part sequence.
The concept was then originally meant to transition from the young player to the older player in a tilt shot. But after we cut the film, we realised people didn’t get it. It wasn’t clear enough that we were going from the future to the present day, via this one character. That’s what prompted my idea to deconstruct the factory scene so that it re-framed the future sequence as an imagined future and we then cut to reality, the current young players who will be the future. The breaking down of the different plates to green screen gives you the sense of the illusion being shown and actually changed the concept a bit, rather than it putting all the money on this being the future, it simply made it more of a dreamlike future illusion.
When it came to plotting out the featured football skills to what extent were they driven by the players’ pre-existing/signature skills vs preconceived as desired actions?
So much of this was down to Eddie McClements, our football choreographer. It was the first time I worked with football sequences so he was paramount to it all. I could talk camera ideas and how long a sequence should be, then he would work up ideas on his own and then with the players themselves. It’s always totally worked to the players. Some moves we had in mind had to be changed as they didn’t work so well once we tried them out. Eddie also had camera move ideas too. Due to the camera being so dynamic and freeform, it meant me, our DOP Ben Fordesman and him could talk together about where the camera would go.
It’s something daunting when you get a Nike spot, there’s a sense of needing to push the boundaries.
The film is peppered with a variety of fun nods to futuristic living, what guided your choice of what future tech to feature and were there any you came up with but couldn’t incorporate into the final film?
We got to incorporate quite a lot actually. The one I was most pleased with is the self-filling pint in the pub. I hope it inspires someone somewhere. The bottom-up filling of glasses exists, but having it on your table would be great no? It’s all meant to be about 15 to 20 years in the future, so it wasn’t too heavily futuristic, but we also had some fun with it too, some stuff purely aesthetic reasoning.
How did you approach the shoot in order to ease the integration of the VFX elements and keep the on-field action exhilarating?
Constant collaboration with Ben as always. We were constantly developing the whole language of the piece. The future part was intended to be solid, meticulously crafted shots. No handheld, no roughness in any way. Then for the present day, I wanted to shoot the football in a way I hadn’t seen before. It’s something daunting when you get a Nike spot, there’s a sense of needing to push the boundaries, especially since Nothing Beats a Londoner https://youtu.be/zQEwKCoy9gY came out, it just put the bar so high for the brand it gets you on edge, in a good way. So I wanted an incredibly dynamic, free form and hair rising sort of camera movement.
We broke down the camera to its smallest possible size and also used an A7 for one shot. It meant we could handle the camera with more ease and run around with it. The A7 camera was used on the end of a pole so that Ben could run with it to follow the ball and I then took over by grabbing the pole after he pushed it through the defender’s legs. The POV of the first strike was also a camera on a pole. We got a GoPro and put it on the end of a long bendy rod and ran with it.
We were constantly developing the whole language of the piece.
How has the spot been received? Have you noticed a difference of appreciation between Eastern and Western audiences?
Extremely good. Over on this side in the West it’s gone down incredibly well amongst our industry, but nothing much outside of that. Filmmakers, ad people, etc. but in China, it hit 170 million views within 4 days on their YouTube equivalent. In four days it was the most viewed Nike ad, ever, basically. It was even on the front page of their national paper. I don’t have any Chinese social media unfortunately so I couldn’t track it personally. I should sort that.
What do you have in store for us next?
I just released a new Three commercial and then have two more big ones coming out. But I should say I have tried and tried to make a music video but it just won’t work out! I often get asked, “When are you doing to do a video?”. Honestly, it’s just such a nightmare. The first project was signed off creatively, we budgeted for ages, then they went cold and told us they sorted elsewhere. The next one was signed off creatively and financially, and they pretty much ghosted us after a month. Literally just went quiet and never heard from them since. Then a third one was shot, in the can, cut, and then the artist bottled it and they canned the whole thing. So, my next non-commercial efforts will certainly be in short film and on my own terms.
We’re optimistic of change in the music video industry though with Dan Kwan starting up some important conversations and a community I would urge all music video makers to join – wedirectmusicvideos.com.