Mission Impossible

Posted on Jul 06, 2010

First there was MTV. Then there were bands in commercials. Then there were videos on MTV about bands selling out in commercials (which were essentially commercials themselves—yes, we're talking about you, Neil Young). But unless your name is Snookie, the road to stardom doesn't begin with music television anymore. So when the Japanese pop-band Sour approached a friend Masa Kawamura, who happens to be a creative at BBH, about filming a music video for their new song, "Hibi No Neiro" (Daily Melodies), they knew online was the only way to go. Just one problem: the band is in Tokyo and Kawamura is in New York. And there was no budget to fly them to New York. Most people would have given up on the whole idea, but Kawamura and partner Hal Kirkland (with a team of two additional directors) turned it into a brief and came up with the ingenious solution of doing it all via webcam. The result was a stunning and beautifully poetic music video that has been viewed online millions of times and was our One Show Design jury's overwhelming Best of Show. We corresponded with Kawamura and Kirkland about the project and the challenges they faced.

How did the idea of doing it by webcam come about? What was the inspiration behind using and manipulating the squares on the screen?
This song "Hibi No Neiro" is about discovering your own color or voice in this world. It speaks about embracing your individuality in order to open yourself up to what the rest of the world has to offer.

The webcam provided the perfect medium to explore this notion. Not only did it alleviate the challenge of the non-existent budget, but it also allowed us to overcome the fact we couldn't film the band in-person, given the fact that they all live in Tokyo and we live in New York.

Millions of people use webcams to express themselves daily. By their very nature, webcams are a two-way means of communication unlike TV or film, which are passive mediums. So we asked ourselves, "What if we gave individuals the chance to collaborate?" We thought the result could be pretty powerful.

Talk about the production. How complicated was it trying to stitch everything together perfectly?
Choreography was a major challenge. First, we had to plan every movement and action in each square, based on how it related to its surrounding grid. We then created a detailed timeline and animatics of the entire video. We filmed ourselves and made guide movies for the cast to follow. We didn't have a great deal of time for each person, so we needed to give him or her something to practice before we started shooting.

The project took three months total, a time frame that was lengthened by each of us having extremely busy day jobs. The first two months were spent concepting, storyboarding and planning and the last month was spent organizing and filming the cast of over 80 people. It was a complete mission. However, we somehow got there in the end.

It looks like a few BBH people are in there. Was this done mostly in the BBH offices? Who are these people?
Some of the people in the video are our friends from NYC that volunteered to help us re-shoot some of the more complex scenes. It wasn't until long into the process that we'd managed to streamline a lot of our filming. So some of our preliminary cast didn't make the cut due to the fact we'd either gotten very picky about each square or we'd developed a better way to shoot the scene.

For the most part, we genuinely sourced the majority of our cast from Sour's actual fan base using social network sites. We sent out a message asking fans to volunteer for the new music video on the official site and blogs. Surprisingly, the production was inundated with responses from people all over the world, with the biggest surprise coming from a fan from a small town in Portugal.

We sent out our guide videos to each of them to watch and practice their actions. Then we got onto our webcams and shot them one by one as they danced to the guide video.

We certainly owe our many thanks to the amazing and beautiful cast that donated so much of their own time to the project. Without their effort and enthusiasm the production could never have been what it was.

The idea has been copied all over. Did you expect it was going to become such a phenomenon?
We never imagined it was going to be as successful as it has been and as with everything, luck and timing has a lot to do with it, in which case we are very thankful. In saying that however, we did put a lot of thinking into the strategy behind creating something that would be relevant and provide a new way of seeing something within a structure that people were already familiar with.

We live in a time where social media has become a massive part of daily communication, YouTube is the new TV and webcams are our way to connect to people and the world. With the song's theme as the seed, we realized we had a real opportunity to explore this idea of inter-connectivity.

We purposely released it on YouTube only (at first) because it spoke to the online community directly, an audience that would truly understand and relate to the idea behind the video. It's also a very vocal audience and when they get a feel for something that is genuine, they tend to share it with others. We hoped this would happen, and luckily it did.

It's still makes us very happy to receive the positive feedback we've been getting. It's a weird experience being in the middle of a viral hit first-hand, but it's certainly strengthened our resolve and belief in not only creativity, but the strength and potential of a simple and positive idea.

In regards to the numerous iterations that have been influenced by the technique or idea, we're far from offended. In fact we're actually at a stage where we welcome different interpretations of the concept. It's kind of funny now. We can see how the idea is an easy answer to almost every advertising brief that seeks to unite people in a unique yet genuine way. We hope that everyone would trace it back to its original origins, but more than that, we hope that even the ripples of the concept still have a positive effect on the people who see it.


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