40 Times the Charm

By Yash Egami Posted on Jul 06, 2010

Albert Einstein once proclaimed that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. By this very definition, copywriter Justin Moore from BBH London would have qualified as a complete loon. Moore, one of the creatives behind the brilliant six-minute Johnnie Walker film, "The Man Who Walked Around the World," tried 40 times to film it all in one continuous take. That meant actor Robert Carlyle would need to time his monologue perfectly, the props had to be the right distance apart, the cinematographer had to move without any hiccups and the weather had to be perfect, all at once.

But two days and 39 attempts later, in the fading light on the last day of shooting, Moore finally began to have his doubts.

"It was the last take, and the sun was setting, and Robert only managed to get the whole speech in once before that," he recounts. "And I was starting to think something that I insisted I wasn't going to, which was, how can I edit this together? And if it comes to that point, is there something we can do to hide it in post [production]? But when he did that final take and went on that mountain, we cheered and punched the air. Most of the crew was Scottish and that's a very un-Scottish thing to do to punch the air, but we kind of knew we had something special there."

The deceptively simple film, whose idea began as an in-house branding project for Johnnie Walker, has gone on to become one of the most talked-about pieces of advertising of the year. Though it features brilliant writing, intriguing visuals and a great actor, Moore believed that he needed an extra dimension of implausibility to take it to the next level.

"It had to be literally amazing in some ways, and amazing in a way that you couldn't get by putting it in post for three months," says Moore. "If you're going to do a long monologue, and he walks through this countryside and hits his marks at exactly the right moment and these strange theatrical props appear that come up at just the right moment of the storytelling, you go, oh that's not very interesting if he didn't do it all in one go. It had to have a kind of 'how did they do it?' kind of feel to it, and the only way to do that was to go out and film it that way."

It took months of careful planning and scouting. Initially, the film was to be shot at several distilleries to show how the whiskey is made, but then the location manager and director came up with the idea of a rolling hillside in Scotland. With its typically grey and weathered look, the countryside provided "something brooding, powerful and very Scottish" to the film.

"Jamie [Rafn], the director, had a lot to do with the location," says Moore. "He was quite strongly into the idea of the landscape being almost like another character, which a lot of directors talk about, but in this case it really meant something. To just be that stark and simple—I mean it's really just a trek on a farm on a hill that happens to be in the middle of these mountains."

The easiest part of the process was casting the Scottish actor, Robert Carlyle. Carlyle, known for his film and TV work including The Full Monty and Angela's Ashes, seemed an obvious choice for Moore and the director.

"He's the greatest actor of his generation. And the other thing I thought was, we had all this information and history and we not only needed to think of a way of delivering the speech powerfully and interestingly, but on top of that we would need an amazing actor to pull something like that off. We were risking it, and I didn't know if it was going to quite work. I thought, after two days shooting, if I did not have a usable take in the bag, I would need an amazing storyteller at the very least."

But was there really ever a point where he didn't think it was going to work?

"For about three months," laughs Moore. "It's good to get in that place, isn't it? You think, it might not work, but if it does, it might be great. You don't get the chance to take a risk like that very often.


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